Vendor Network Architectures�Part LVI: Sphere Communications
Sphere Communications, Inc. is headquartered in Lincolnshire, Illinois, and has been in business since 1994. Their first telephone system was installed in 1996, making them veterans in this relatively young VoIP industry. Sphere targets the enterprise, small and medium business (SMB), education, and government sectors with its software-based, enterprise-class IP PBX and unified communications solution. These systems have been deployed with as many as 20,000 users across 200 locations.
Spheres flagship product is called the Sphericall IP PBX unified communications software, It is an open system solution, running on industry-standard servers that have an Intel Pentium 4 processor and support Microsoft Windows Server 2003. No expensive proprietary hardware is required, and there are no dependencies on the underlying network infrastructure. So, rather than presenting customers with the expensive prospect of clustering servers or duplicating hardware switches to achieve redundancy and reliability, Sphere's software is deployed across multiple servers, automatically load balances throughout the system, and provides remote office survivability entirely through software.
The core of the system is an enterprise softswitch that provides call control and advanced communications services, independent of the underlying communications devices and the media gateways that it controls. This distributed software architecture delivers the highest level of reliability and scalability, and has achieved the elite Joint Interoperability Test Command's (JITC) PBX1 certification from the U.S. Department of Defense for reliability, security and interoperability. The DoD certification process represents the most stringent system testing available, and ensures that the Sphericall IP PBX is approved for use in mission-critical environments. Sphere provides key features critical to emergency response and command-and-control environments such as Multi-Level Precedence and Preemption (MLPP), which ensures high priority or emergency communications can always take precedence over low priority calls.
Sphere's software scales to 30,000 ports per system and offers the flexibility to migrate and grow at the customer's pace on a per-port basis. The system supports standard telephony features including caller ID, call transfer and multi-party audio conferencing, but also includes a full-featured voice mail system, unified e-mail/voicemail messaging, multiple auto attendants, and departmental call center features such as call distribution, queuing, and recording. It has an extensive list of administrative services, including class of service user profiles, multi-level user security, trunk and line monitoring, automatic and configurable trunk testing; plus call accounting and call detail reporting. Key industry standards are especially strong with this system, with support for the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP), and SIPConnect (for SIP trunking) included as part of the package.
Furthermore, the Sphere system interoperates with a wide variety of communications end points including IP phones, USB phones, Wi-Fi phones, third party gateways, SIP trunking, and more. Thus, as some communications endpoints become commodities over time, network managers have the ability to select the best of breed endpoints that both meet their communications requirements and still respect their budget constraints.
Sphere has opened its core technology to enable the creation of customized business solutions through a process they call Sphericall Web Services. This process enables the tight integration of other enterprise class applications with the Sphericall IP PBX, through standards-based development environments such as the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP/XML). Sphere's Web Services Description Language (WSDL) lets developers, Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), and OEMs easily bring advanced unified communications and call control into their applications or purpose-built solutions, without the need for deep technical expertise in the underlying PBX, SIP stacks, and related VoIP technologies. Rather than brute-force application-to-application integration through low level API's, Sphere's Web Services is consistent with advanced application integration methodologies and supports an enterprise Services Oriented Architecture (SOA). The Sphericall Web Services Software Development Kit is freely available on the Sphere website at http://www.spherecom.com/software_development.php.
Further details on the Sphere Communications products and architectures can be found at www.spherecom.com. Our next tutorial will continue our examination of vendors architectures.
Copyright Acknowledgement: © 2006 DigiNet ® Corporation, All Rights Reserved
Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet ® Corporation, a Denver-based consulting engineering firm. He is the author of many books on networking technologies, including Voice over IP Technologies, and Internet Technologies Handbook, both published by John Wiley & Sons.