As virtualization extends to the desktop, it comes up against one of its biggest challenges: handling real-time voice and video communications.
Voice and video can coexist in virtual environments, but on the desktop some enterprises are finding challenges in maintaining quality of service and scalability for softphones and streaming video clients.
Briefly, the problem is virtualization pushes the packets all data through the data centre. But VoIP and streaming video were designed to be peer-to-peer applications to avoid network congestion. Going through a data centre does the opposite.
On Tuesday Ottawa’s Mitel Networks, which makes unified communications applications, and virtualization specialist VMware Inc,. announced they have found a way to conquer the problem.
VMware has created a new API (application programming interface) for the interface of its View desktop virtualization software, while Mitel has rewritten its Unified Communicator softphones to make voice and video traffic stream directly to endpoints.
The solution isn’t exclusive – any telephony maker can take advantage of the API, although VMware has chosen to work with Mitel first. Nor will it be commercially available until later this year after trials with customers.
However, Jim Davies, Mitel’s chief technology officer, said in an interview that “we’ve overcome the barrier.”
“If you’re using a Mitel UC solution on top of a VMware desktop virtualization piece you can have softphones, and you can scale it up to hundreds of thousands of users.”
The solution will be demonstrated Tuesday at the annual VMware WMWorld conference in Las Vegas.
Art Schoeller, a unified communications analyst at Forrester Research who has been briefed on the effort, said that it could put Mitel ahead of competitors. Cisco Systems Inc., for example, has a hardware-based solution, he said. “One of the key things they (Mitel and VMware) have done is to break up what you do with voice and video technology of instead of it all happening in the data centre there’s a piece that can reside on the thin client.”
On the other hand, he disputed claims from the pair that this will unlock the freeze that some enterprises have put on adopting VoIP in environments that have virtual desktops. “I’m not hearing virtualization come at the tip of the hit parade of what’s stopping them,” Schoeller said.
Still, he said the new VMware API might be useful in contact centres, where hundreds of staff may have virtual desktops. Companies have found that in these environments, networks can’t handle the voice traffic of hundreds of people online at the same time. That might be overcome with new softphones.
Davies said the Mitel softphone should be compatible with most versions of the company’s Unified Communicator platforms. More details will be announced shortly.