In my perfect communications world there are no gateways, analog and digital trunk cards, ringtone generators, T1 clock controllers, or any of the other components of a TDM infrastructure. Everything runs on off-the-shelf servers, using standard operating systems, across an IP network. Of course, my perfect world is pure SIP and because of some recent strides by top communications vendors, I may live in it much sooner than I thought.
As you may have already guessed from previous blog articles, I spend a lot of time with Avaya products. That’s not to say that I don’t have exposure to communications systems from folks such as Microsoft and Cisco, but quite a bit of my daily grind keeps me immersed in Avaya Communication Manager, Session Manager, and yes, G450 gateways. For most of my working life, all that software ran on proprietary hardware that you were forced to buy directly from the manufacturer. Even when an Avaya server was in reality a repackaging of something from IBM (remember the Avaya 8800 server?) or Dell, you couldn’t just go out and buy it on the open market.
In the last few years all of that has been changing. With Avaya, it began with version 6.0 when they began virtualizing their software. Okay, it was still on Avaya hardware and a virtual platform specific to Avaya, but it was a step in the right direction. In terms of the midsize enterprise offering, Avaya put a number of previously separate servers on a single piece of hardware to create nearly a one-box PBX. The same was true with a Local Survivable Processor (LSP), where one processor ran Communication Manager, Session Manager, and a number of other essential services.
This limited and still somewhat proprietary way of offering virtual communications was finally replaced with the real thing in version 6.2. With 6.2, Avaya moved nearly every one of its services to VMWare and removed the requirement that you buy the hardware from them. This was a major leap forward. Now, the same virtual server farm that runs your email system can now run your communications system. All you needed to do was configure a virtual slice with the proper CPUs, RAM, and disk space, load the appropriate OVA file, and you were ready to rock and roll. For years Avaya and other vendors were calling voice just another IP service and the move to VMWare proved it.
In addition to Avaya’s core telephony components, the rest of the communications world is headed down the same virtualization path. One of the most exciting things that I’ve come across in this area is Sonus’ announcement of their SBC SWe (Software Edition). The SWe is a virtual SBC that scales up as big as the biggest SBCs on the market today. In fact, Sonus claims that it supports an unlimited number of sessions. Until now, their biggest physical SBC, the Sonus 5200, stopped at 64,000 sessions. I recently spoke with a Sonus engineer and he claimed that session counts in the hundreds of thousands are potential with this new product. That means that you can install an SWe for a small trial and by simply buying more licenses and increasing the horsepower of the virtual slice, it can handle all the SIP trunks of a huge enterprise. Acme as a virtual SBC, but it stops at 250 sessions. The older Avaya Aura virtual SBC only went to 750 session. The ability to scale forever is mind blowing.
This is only the beginning. In the very near future I anticipate that just about everything will run on a virtual server and performance and capacity will rival the dedicated, physical appliance counterparts — with the exception of those gateways and TDM cards. All of which leads me back to my perfect world — my perfect world that can’t come soon enough.