Are you familiar with SIP? SIP, which stands for Session Initiation Protocol, is the protocol that provides the backbone for most VoIP and unified communications platforms. SIP binds multiple media types together and allows for the seamless integration of voice, video and IM. In a recent Reality Check podcast, Elaine Hom spoke with Jon Arnold to discuss the top 5 things you need to know about SIP. Listen and learn- Reality Check: Five Things You Should Know About SIP.
I have used some form of Windows Mobile phone for almost 4 years. During that time, I did flirt briefly with the iPhone- trading my AT&T Tilt with my wife for her iPhone for a few months. The iPhone had a coolness factor and some ‘gee-whiz’ bells and whistles, but I really missed having my mobile phone be an extension of my laptop environment.
I wanted Office Communicator Mobile and the ability to view Presence status of my contacts. I wanted native Office application compatibility (ability to view and work with Word and Excel files). I wanted my email to look and feel like the Outlook I am used to on my computer. So, I eventually reclaimed my AT&T Tilt and returned the iPhone to my wife.
That is not to say that there is not room for improvement. Significant improvement. So, it is with great anticipation that I have been looking forward to the next release- Windows Mobile 6.5. As you can imagine then, I was disappointed to read Joe Schurman’s thoughts on what he saw in Windows Mobile 6.5 while attending the 2009 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans.
Oh well. It may fall short of what it could be, but it will still be better than what it is now. I guess baby steps are better than no steps at all.
VoIP and unified communications each have a lot of promise in and of themselves. They each deliver innovative tools that allow businesses to operate more effectively and efficiently. As the Executive Summary of this presentation states though, deploying UC is not without challenges.
Too often, organizationsgo down the path of deploying new technology with old technology principles in mind and UC is no different. Many of the early adopter deployments of VoIP and UC were designed exactly the same as the old systems, severely limiting the overall value of UC, which is a highly flexible, IP-based solution.
Migrating from traditional trunk lines to SIP trunking is a very simple, cost-effective change to open doors to other advanced services that can enhance a UC deployment. SIP trunking will allow companies to recognize the following benefits:
- Dramatically lower the overall cost of communications
- Extends UC to software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications and other cloud-based options
- Accelerates UC deployments through the simplification of network design
- Easier migration to other advanced services such as mobile integration and MPLS networks
For more about SIP trunking and the impact that SIP trunking has on a successful UC deployment, check out this TechTarget presentation: SIP Trunking Is Key to Accelerating Unified Communications Deployments
I will start by simply quoting from the presentation and letting it speak for itself:
Unified communications (UC) has been the main focus of the VoIP industry over the last few years. And over the last twelve months or so cloud computing has become a big driver of enterprise software. The big transition for UC over the last year was its transition to software. So, if you believe that UC is a software market, and most people believe that, and you believe software is moving to the cloud, then the next step is that UC is moving into the cloud.
You can check out the slides from this Smoothstone / TechTarget webcast by clicking here: Using Cloud Computing to Accelerate Your UC Deployment
It is difficult to completely isolate a voice network or VoIP server. By design they are intended to initiate and receive communications from the outside world. Attackers know this as well which is why VoIP servers represent an attractive target.
There is a variety of information that can be gathered by an attacker just by sniffing network traffic and placing calls to your network. There are also tools available to enable attackers to conduct vulnerability assessments and penetration tests against your voice network to find the weaknesses.
Read Locking Down VoIP for more about the security issues facing VoIP networks and the steps you should take to proactively identify and secure any holes in your voice infrastructure.
Unified communications is more than just a collection of whiz-bang tools or a hot new technology. Done right, unified communications can help an organization save significant amounts of money while simultaneously streamlining business processes and enabling innovative new communications tools adapted to the needs of the business.
The blade of that sword cuts both ways though. The downside is that merging the traditionally separate voice and data networks exposes each to the risks of the other and creates new vulnerabilities and exploits unique to the merged voice and data infrastructure. Read Voice Convergence Saves Money, Increases Risk for more about the security issues you should be aware of.
A couple of years ago Microsoft created an innovative team with the goal of thinking outside of the normal corporate bureaucracy of Microsoft and coming up with a communications system for SMB’s (small and medium businesses). The result was the Response Point system.
Response Point was a powerful tool, offering SMB’s enterprise-class communications features at a cost-effective price that wouldn’t break an SMB budget. Unfortunately for Response Point they were also aggressivley developing Office Communications Server 2007 and their Unified Communications platform and the two are not compatible with each other. That lack of integration or upgrade path from one to the other is a significant part of why Microsoft has decided to kill Response Point.
SMB’s still need communications though. Joe Schurman, CEO of Evangelyze Communications and author of Microsoft Voice and Unified Communications, wrote a blog post with a sort of post mortem assessment of Response Point and some advice for Microsoft on how to proceed to capture that same SMB market and get them migrated to OCS 2007 and Microsoft UC.
In many respects comanies have it easy. Not that organizations don’t struggle as well to keep systems as homogenous as possible, but some for some entities- such as college and university campuses- it is virtually impossible. Universities want to be connected and provide cutting edge services for students and faculty, but providing a network infrastructure that supports that goal means opening the network to the external Internet and increasing the exposure to risk and potential compromise.
University campuses with a combined total of more than 250,000 students and faculty have chosen Sipera’s UC-Sec appliance to enable them to provide cutting edge unified communications while maintaining a secure environment.
“College campuses are progressive adopters of UC networks and applications, for both students and staff communicating internally and externally,” said Andy Asava, Vice President of Worldwide Sales at Sipera. “We have a number of IT professionals at our education customers who are sleeping better knowing Sipera is protecting their UC networks, students and staff, and mission-critical communications.”
Check out this press release for more details about how the Sipera UC-Sec appliance is being used to protect university campus communications.
Microsoft has developed a tool, actually a collection of files including a customer questionnaire, the Excel-based Business Value Tool itself, and other supporting documentation, to help UC and voice partners explore and accelerate customer opportunities. It can be used to identify business objectives, demonstrate how unified communications can help the customer reach business objectives, and assess the financial impact of deploying Microsoft unified communications solutions.
The Microsoft Unified Communications Business Value Tool is available on the Microsoft Partner Network site. Joe Schurman, CEO of Evangelyze Communications and author of Microsoft Voice and Unified Communications, has put together an extensive online video walking through the Business Value Tool in step-by-step detail.
Networking has always been a more or less imperfect science…perhaps more of an art? The TCP/IP suite of protocols are designed with the base concept that transmitting packets of data is prone to errors and the protocols need to have mechanisms built in to manage dropped packets, latency, and other issues.
With normal data networking it may not be a big deal if packets arrive out of order. As long as the TCP/IP protocols can reassemble them in the proper order there may be a millisecond or two of lag but the data will get there. However, with voice and video a millisecond may as well be a millenia. With VoIP, and audio/video conferencing it is much more important that data arrive quickly and in order.
Microsoft provides a comprehensive amount of guidance and documentation including Troubleshooting Enterprise Voice: Approaches, Procedures, and Tools.
One valuable tool for monitoring and troubleshooting network issues is a network analyzer (also known as a protocol analyzer or packet sniffer). I recently had an opportunity to work with the Capsa Enterprise Network Analyzer and would recommend it as a powerful, cost-effective tool for troubleshooting VoIP / UC, as well as other network issues. You can learn more about Capsa Enterprise from this review (there is also a link to a more extensive product white paper).