Avaya Amps Up VoIP Strategy

The telecom powerhouse is unveiling its next-generation voice-over-IP platform, called Aura, which features centralized session and connection management.

J. Nicholas Hoover

March 30, 2009

4 Min Read
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Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy

With Nortel Networks muddling through bankruptcy protection and Cisco making waves in the server world, Avaya believes it can grow by sharpening its focus on voice over IP. This week, the company plans to announce the next generation of its VoIP platform, now called Aura.

As VoIP has matured, many companies have found themselves patching together global networks of various legacy and IP phone systems, managing and administrating each separately. Before the recession, a wave of VoIP consolidation began, but expensive rip-and-replace initiatives slowed to a crawl, forcing companies to look for new ways to save on communications.

Enter Avaya and new technology that's part of Aura. Instead of requiring each link in a company's enterprise telecom network connect to each other link just to communicate with one another, features called System Manager and Session Manager act as one-stop shops to connect and manage every element centrally.

These will greatly ease the connecting of elements such as multiple contact centers, multiple PBXs, and IP PBXs, video and collaboration apps, and load balancers. Indeed, the new features mean that one administrator working centrally will be able to, for example, set up a global dial plan across branches and subsidiaries, manage least-cost routing, and centralize resources such as voice mail, audioconferencing, and call center software.

"Communication moves from being a connection to a federation with applications and other resources on the network," new Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy said in an interview. "This new era of SIP-based trunking and session initiation is actually a moment in time which will allow CIOs to address costs and footprint and make it easier to migrate from one generation of technology to another."

System Manager is the administrative tool to manage the entire VoIP system by way of Session Manager, which is a SIP server that all the different pieces of the system connect to. Session Manager, in essence, translates the different languages, flavors of SIP and otherwise, that the different pieces of the system speak, into one universal SIP language. That makes management easier and greatly reduces the number of expensive SIP and location-specific trunks a company needs. System Manager can even speak with non-SIP devices via SIP gateways.

"This technology is taking different flavors of SIP and making them look uniform to the system so the system can interpret the various flavors of SIP," Gartner analyst Jay Lassman said. "Nobody is really falling in line with each other, but this transcends that."

Looking forward to an era when unified communications is the norm, Session Manager also stores user profiles for apps such as IM and voice mail, to which users are given access. These centralized profiles in turn let users be more mobile and not have to depend on their own computer or phone for access to the communication tools they use.

However, in order for this architecture to evolve for customers -- for example, to make user profiles show up on Cisco phone screens as well as Avaya phone screens -- users will need to have SIP applications on their laptops and phones, and that's not yet entirely the norm, admits Lawrence Byrd, director of unified communications architecture for Avaya.

Aura also includes the next version of Avaya's Connection Manager IP PBX and a presence server. The company says Avaya can scale to 250,000 users over 25,000 locations. Aura will come in three editions: the Standard Edition, a higher-end Enterprise Edition, and a version specifically designed for companies with many similar branch offices.

Competitors will likely follow, and Avaya's plan still requires more cooperation from third-party vendors in spots. Avaya can connect Nortel, Cisco, and a few other IP PBXes to its system, as well as legacy PBXes. Avaya Presence Services can aggregate Microsoft and IBM presence. However, more partnerships, like those for applications, are yet to come, and some device-specific features, such as hold and transfer, also will have to be handled through the existing PBX for now. "This is new, and the market for this is big," Lassman says.

Aura's innovations -- which Avaya CEO Kennedy paints as part of his goal to keep Avaya a real-time and near-real-time communications specialist -- could give Avaya an edge while Nortel sheds employees and businesses and Cisco pursues other big revenue opportunities.

Avaya currently has about 200 customers testing Aura, which will be generally available in May. Other new products Avaya will announce this week include a new call routing product, a new desk phone with a touch screen, and a new consulting arm for companies looking to deploy Avaya products.

About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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