iCore Networks: Voice and data services over a private IP network.
Part 72 of Phone for Rent: Understanding Hosted PBX Services The private, managed network provided unmatched security, reliability, and call quality.
iCore Networks, Inc., headquartered in McLean, Virginia, is a privately held firm that specializes in managed networking and Voice over Private Internet (VoPI) technologies. (No, this is not a typo more on their technology later).
iCore also has a satellite office in Columbia, Maryland, which was launched to better serve their Mid-Atlantic customers. The firms target market is small to mid-size businesses, with current clients ranging from associations to construction firms to government contractors to retail.
The customer installations are backed by a 4,000 square foot network operations center (NOC) that houses a state-of the-art facility with a fully functional lab consisting of BroadSoft, Cisco Systems, and Linux based systems.
The company has garnered some significant industry recognition for its service, including ranking number 29 on the Inc. 500 List of Fastest Growing Private Companies for 2009; ranking number 10 on the Washington Business Journals Fastest Growing Companies List for 2009, based on revenue growth over a three-year period; and a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2009 for the greater Washington region.
Since signing its their first customer in 2004, iCore has grown to seventy-five employees, with an approval rating of over 98 percent from their over 27,000 current users.
iCore claims to be the only company specializing in VoPI, which boasts the advantage of a secure network with higher call quality, advanced features, and disaster recovery plans already in place. Unlike standard VoIP (over the untamed Internet), VoPI provides a managed, secure, hosted, end-to-end voice and data system, solving many of the problems inherent in consumer-grade VoIP, utilizing private, point-to-point circuits to carry its customers voice and data.
The company claims several key advantages for this architecture. First, network security is enhanced because iCores customers traffic travels only on iCores own secure network, making denial of service attacks, call flooding, hacking with protocol analyzers, or eavesdropping very unlikely. Secondly, the private network can ensure a higher call quality, with iCores Mean Opinion Score (MOS) rating for call quality averaging 4.49, much higher than the quoted industry average of 4.2. Third, the system provides more voice and data features at a lower cost, with technology that is pretty much infinitely scalable. When clients add employees or locations, the network goes with them, eliminating the need to purchase additional servers, switches, routers, or any other equipment.
As backup, iCore has deployed two full-mirrored NOCs, which provide protection against the threat of cyber attack and outages caused by man-made or natural disasters. Customers are connected to the iCore network access center (iNAC) in Ashburn, Virginia by private T-1 lines. The iNAC is located in the same hub with the local exchange company, the five leading long distance carriers and all seven level-one Internet backbone carriers. The facility also serves as the hub for all Internet traffic in the east coast. It is a Category 1 Homeland Security Facility powered by two redundant power plants with multiple diesel generators as backup. iCores network is also fully meshed with completely redundant systems for call management servers, voicemail, voice gateways, conferencing, and firewalls.
iCores VoPI solutions provide customers with local telephone service, long distance, and Internet access, plus audio and video conferencing on an all-in-one basis. The hosted network becomes responsible for all maintenance and upgrade issues, including managed data security service and a hosted firewall that runs on Cisco ASA 5500 series adaptive security appliances.
A Web portal, provided with the system, allows for simplified configuration and management functions, helping telephones and computers to perform more synergistically. Support for Cisco smartphones allows for a full range of voice and data features, including stock quotes, employee directories, and wireless connectivity. Customers can also grab their iCore IP phone, plug it into a reliable Internet connection and theyre all set with all network functionality intact (switchboard, call transfer, direct dial numbers). They can also travel to remote locations with nothing but their laptop, and use iCore's softphone application to connect with co-workers just as they would in the office.
The iCore VoPI network also includes some interesting features not often found with competing services:
- DSL Back-up is a DSL circuit that provides connectivity to the Internet when normal connections are lost.
- Call Jump lets a call seamlessly "jump" from a Cisco handset to a cell phone in the middle of a conversation.
- The Websense Web Filter allows organizations to control and monitor the websites, content and operations to which uses have access.
- Finally, iCores Network Monitoring System is a tool that monitors and analyzes network performance for routers, switches, servers, and other SNMP-enabled devices.
Pricing for the iCore service depends on the system requirements, and is quoted on a customer-specific basis. Further information on the iCore Networks solutions can be found at www.icore.com. Our next tutorial will continue our review of various service providers hosted voice solutions.
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.