It’s Not Just for Phone Calls Anymore

Yesterday, Siemens Communications Inc. officially announced release of version 3.0 of its HiPath 8000 Real-Time IP System (translation: softswitch).

“Today’s VoIP is yesterday’s news,” trumpets the company’s press release. Indeed, Siemens would like to focus potential customers’ attention on the fact that issues about voice transport technology are essentially behind us, and that the future of communications is about how it fits into the larger business picture.

Siemens director of global marketing, large systems, Graham Howard, echoed the thought in a conversation with “The real pressure from businesses is to move on to the next level,” he said. It’s not just about the voice transport. It’s about the features and how you can easily integrated them directly into your business processes. How you can go for a data-center type deployment rather than a traditional telco type deployment.”

One of the distinctions Siemens claims for HiPath 8000 is that it is the industry’s only native SIP-based softswitch. Not only is it built on SIP, it runs on the Linux operating system, using industry standard hardware.

The product line grew out of past work Siemens did for the carriers, Howard explained. Accordingly, it is inherently reliable. “Reliability—not just reliability; resilience to overloads, very rapid recovery—are all qualities that businesses need in their systems,” he pointed out. “If something ever goes wrong, it never loses a single call and it never loses a single piece of billing data for any call in progress. [23:18] So, it’s built for the next-generation data center, concentrated IP-based communications world.”

As suggested in Howard’s remark, the platform is designed for centralized deployment, rather than the site-by-site architecture associated with traditional PBXs. It is also massively scalable—”from about 300 users up to about 100,000 on a single platform,” Howard explained. If you network HiPath 8000s together, capacity is “pretty much unlimited,” he told

But what of version 3.0? According to Howard, “with version 3, we’re actually introducing more than 40 new features—ranging from user and business features, application interworking features, right through to having the necessary management layers behind that.”

In fact, though, development of HiPath 8000 has been duplicating this cycle every five or six months since the product’s inception a couple of years back. “A very accelerated feature release program,” as Howard characterized it.

Furthermore, Howard pointed out, “when we do these software releases, half the content comes from customer requests after the definition of our target feature set is done. So we’re trying to be extremely responsive to our customer base.”

Among the feature enhancements of version 3.0 are feature interworking with Siemens’ new SIP phone product line, OpenStage, as well as application interfaces to other Siemens packages such as the OpenScape Unified Communications and Presence system and the recently launched MobileConnect application; improved security, and expanded management/administration capabilities.

But the point that Howard returned to again and again is the platform’s embrace of a Web-services interface and adoption of a service-oriented architecture (SOA) to allow customers integrate communications functionality into their business applications.

“This is what a lot of our customers want for sustainable competitive advantage,” Howard asserted. “They feel that communications is so important to their business that they want to be able to embed the functions directly into the business processes.”

“We’ve sold a lot of these systems to banking and insurance companies—companies with large distributed branches. They want an incredibly reliable system, becuse in the financial world, if something’s not working, it can get very expensive very quickly. But they also want to be able to embed these things into their own back-office systems.”

Siemens has designed HiPath’s integration tool set “to make it available so the IT-skilled people can integrate the communications into those IT applications,” Howard explained, side-stepping the old model in which CTI programmers take months—or sometimes years—to write custom applications.

Continuing to spin out the competitive advantage theme, Howard turned to managed service providers. “A couple of our big customers in Europe are service providers to the insurance industry. They host insurance applications as outsourced services, and they’re adding communications to that portfolio—so they can really get more of the pocketbook share of the customers, but also so that they can provide differentiation.”

Finally, Siemens has honed its pricing model to create a more direct relationship between what a customer uses and what that customer pays for. HiPath entails some fixed startup costs, including a minimum base number of users. “Then we have per-user pricing—in increments of one,” Howard explained. If you have 1,724 users, you pay for 1,724. If you have 1,725, well, you get the idea.

“There are a couple of interesting twists,” he went on. “One, is we have a global licensing model, not tied to sites. Your users can be anywhere in any combination. The other thing—in version 3—is it’s based on dynamic licenses.” That is, you pay for as many SIP users as you have connected to the system. “So, if someone is operating a big hot-desking environment and they’ve got 500 employees but only 300 are connected at once, they only have to pay for the 300.”

While, as Graham Howard expressed it, “the 8000 has really been aimed at the larger, more advanced, IT-oriented companies,” it gives the rest of us a view into where IP-based communications systems are heading.

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