With a promise of increased scalability and reliability – in addition to a whack of new features – Cisco Systems recently released the Cisco Unity 3.0 unified messaging software solution designed for the enterprise.

Based on Microsoft 2000 and Exchange 2000, Unity 3.0 enables users across the enterprise to seamlessly access and manage voice mail, e-mail and fax messages from any device. Also based upon Cisco’s Architecture for Voice Video and Integrated Data (AVVID) along with the company’s strategy for delivering IP solutions to enterprise customers, Cisco says that Unity increases productivity and responsiveness to the customers of its customers.

“It really provides a simpler way for businesses to respond to their customers,” said Bob Cordes, product manager for Cisco Unity. “What we do is put voice mail in the same inbox as e-mail and faxes so the benefit to the end user is, of course, that they have a single point to get all their messages.”

Cordes said that among the new features of Unity 3.0 is the ability to support up to 100,000 users in an enterprise directory, and it is equipped with up to 48 ports per server to support 5,000 users per server. Unity 3.0 also introduces support for AMIS, a protocol that allows Unity to work in conjunction with existing voice mail systems. Cordes says that generally with a large deployment, enterprises will not typically replace all voice mail systems at once. Support for AMIS allows the enterprise to phase Unity in without disrupting day-to-day operations.

Also new with 3.0 is an expansion of international localizations, which now include Mandarin, Chinese and Japanese. Cordes said that previous versions of Unity already included support for French, German, Dutch, Spanish and Norwegian, and added that Cisco expects the support for the three new languages will allow Unity to push more directly into the Asia-Pacific market.

Unity 3.0 integrates with Cisco CallManager clusters to ensure call delivery and up-time, and also includes a pre-message transfer agent (MTA) to take messages and give basic message access while the Exchange server is offline. Cordes notes the addition of pre-MTA directly responds to the fact that although prior versions of Unity would continue to take messages while the Exchange server was offline, users would not be able to collect those messages until the server was back online.

“We are starting to see deployments now with very large enterprises,” Cordes said. “What we see really driving the rate of adoption is the spread of IP. That is something that Unity is really uniquely positioned to take advantage of with the tight software and pure IP integration we have with the CallManager IP phone system. We use dual PBX integration to migrate people from their older legacy PBXs to IP PBX with CallManager. What is really nice about Unity and CallManager together is that Unity has the ability to integrate with two phone systems at the same time. (Our customers) need some way to that they can move their users over at a pace that is appropriate for them.”

According to Jeremy Depow, senior analyst with Kanata, Ont.-based the Yankee Group in Canada, there is a definite interest in unified messaging capabilities, however businesses are not making it a priority at this point.

“The technology still needs to be perfected,” Depow said. “But, from an administration point of view, unified messaging is easier to manage and reduces total cost of ownership.”

Cisco Unity 3.0 is shipping now and pricing starts at US$145 per seat. Pricing for voice mail-only starts at US$70 per seat.

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