Those of you with more than 20 years of experience in computers and communications will remember the “architecture wars” that raged in the early 1990s. First, there was IBM’s Systems Network Architecture (SNA) vs. Digital Equipment Corp.’s DECnet. A few years later, LAN operating systems became the hot item, and skirmishes between Novell’s NetWare, Banyan Systems’ VINES, and Apple Computer’s AppleTalk made the rounds. In present computing circles, two systems—open source Linux and Microsoft Windows—create a great deal of discussion, with proponents on either side of that fence extolling the virtues of their choice. But can an enterprise operating system influence the purchase decision for a voice communication system?
Yes, and to a significant degree if you are a network manager that is also responsible for your enterprise data center and its operation. Microsoft has dominated the current desktop computing environment for some time, and by all appearances, this trend will continue into the future. This being the case, a strong argument could be made for the selection of a voice switching system that integrates closely with Microsoft environment, thus leveraging the computing power that is already resident within most IT environments.
One firm that has built their business upon that premise is Objectworld Communications Corp. of Ottawa, Ontario, with its flagship offering the Unified Communications Server. Shipping since April 2006, this product is a software platform that provides a comprehensive, low-cost solution to business communications. Targeted at the small to medium business market, Objectworld has sold and installed UC Server systems supporting from 5 to 1,800 stations. The product comes on a CD, installs on Windows operating systems, and provides administrative integration with Microsoft Active Directory, allowing IT managers to manage the entire communication system with the same user accounts and security policies used within that Windows environment. Server hardware and peripherals, such as softphones and gateways, can be provided from a number of standards-compliant third parties.
One of the greatest potential benefits of this tight integration is the system’s ease of installation, in that UC Server is designed for rapid deployment within Microsoft Windows Server System-based IT infrastructures. UC Server operates like most other infrastructure software within Microsoft Windows Server System with active linkages into Active Directory and Microsoft Exchange Server. As a result, the developers were able to highly automate the product’s installation and configuration using a simple, multi-step wizard similar to other IT applications. In addition, UC Server automates telephone deployment by detecting and configuring telephones from leading vendors including Polycom, Aastra, and Snom. Due to this highly automated process, UC Server itself can be installed and configured into existing Active Directory/Exchange environments in as little as 20 minutes, with a target time of one hour for a 50 user system.
The UC Server architecture consists of eight key components:
- Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) Telephony for Business: incorporating a SIP server—supporting SIP telephones, softphones, video phones, fax machines and PSTN gateways—and compliant with the RFC 3261 SIP standard.
- Unified Messaging: integration with Microsoft Outlook/Exchange Server, Lotus Notes/Domino, plus other e-mail clients, providing the ability to retrieve and manage voice, fax and e-mail messages from an e-mail client or any telephone.
- Fax Server: including a full fax server with advanced features such as Direct Inward Dial (DID) fax, and individual fax on demand, and supporting the ITU-T T.38 fax standard.
- Speech Engine: a text-to-speech engine that enables the user to read e-mails from any telephone, and speak text to a number of applications, including auto attendant and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems.
- Active Directory Administration: UC Server administration is integrated with Active Directory, allowing the IT staff to manage business services using the same user accounts and security policies used in the Windows environment, thus simplifying Adds, moves, changes and other administrative functions.
- Legacy PBX Support: routing and unified numbering capability via analog, digital, or IP-based gateways, allows interworking with existing legacy communications systems, such as PBXs and key systems.
- Auto Attendant and Personal Call Control: provides the users with a “drag and drop” interface for personal communications environment management.
- ODBC-Enabled Business and Personal IVR: facilitates the development of custom Interactive Voice Response (IVR) applications, using formats compatible with Open Data Base Connectivity, or ODBC-compliant databases.
Further details on the Objectworld architecture and products can be found at www.objectworld.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.