Plugging the Communications Time Drain

Two unified-messaging systems--Cisco Unity and Interactive's Communité--can plug the hole.

February 17, 2003

27 Min Read
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Fly Like a Leagle

To investigate enterprise UM products, we developed an RFP based on a fictitious legal-services company called Legal Eagles LLC, or Leagles to its friends (see "Legal Eagles on the Hunt").

Leagles has offices in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Seattle and specializes in providing high-quality, low-cost research and information services to law professionals nationwide. But the company feels constrained in its efforts to support clients, office workers and remote professionals with its current messaging infrastructure, which uses separate e-mail, fax and voicemail systems.

The San Francisco office is moving to Oakland to reduce operating costs and take advantage of a more favorable business climate. The Bay Area office leverages Active Directory with a Microsoft Exchange 2000 e-mail system and Captaris RightFax facilities. The legacy TDM (time-division multiplexing) PBX that supports the office's analog phones and voicemail has reached the end of its useful life. The new Oakland location provides QoS (quality of service) for voice and data on a Gigabit Ethernet (TCP/IP) backbone with switched 100-Mbps network connections to every desktop.

Leagles is looking forward to the benefits of a converged network and VoIP (voice over IP), but its immediate need is to get a grip on messaging via an IP-enabled UM system that supports SIP (Session Initiation Protocol). Then Leagles will be able to ride the next wave of Internet multimedia services. SIP will put more intelligence in PDAs and wireless data appliances to improve mobility management and extend true multimedia sessions to remote professionals. Getting a head start on this technology will put Leagles in a good position to increase its multimedia publishing efforts as it pursues possible mergers and acquisitions in the legal-publishing industry. Until then, SIP should improve LAN-based call and session management for a VoIP implementation.After a successful implementation of UM in Oakland, Leagles will investigate UM for its other locations. We sent our RFP to Alcatel, Avaya, Captaris, Cisco Systems, Comdial, Interactive Intelligence, Microsoft, Mitel, NEC, Nortel Networks, Siemens and Vertical Networks.

Alcatel, Avaya, Interactive and Cisco responded, but only Interactive's Communité and Cisco's Unity met Leagles' minimum requirements for unified messaging: IP-enabled solution with SIP support; single message store for multiple message types (e-mail, fax and voicemail); single point of administration; and Web-based access. (Check out our complete RFP and responses)

Alcatel's Unified Communication system is still in beta and will not be available until later this year. Avaya's Unified Messenger, like Captaris's CallXpress, Comdial's Interchange, Mitel's NuPoint Messenger, NEC's NEAXMail AD-120 and Siemens' HiPath Xpressions, lacked SIP support (see more on Avaya). Vertical Networks declined to participate, without offering a reason, and Nortel could not free up the resources to participate. Microsoft responded that its UM solution is offered via partners.The UM RFP embodies Leagles' goal to enhance message management for staff and client communications both in and out of the office. By giving mobile professionals access to e-mail, voicemail and fax, Leagles can deliver relevant information to clients and employees regardless of their location. The RFP also detailed a number of objectives to achieve the goal, which became the grading criteria.

Each vendor was asked to detail the message-management features and functionality of its product. This category included the TTS (text-to-speech) functions of UM servers that let end users manage their messages from a TUI (telephone user interface). Speech commands let mobile professionals access a variety of tasks from any telephone (wireless or wired). With a TUI, users can access e-mail, fax, voicemail, contact lists and calendars. And in the near future such access may also drive business applications to wireless phones. It was interesting to note that both Interactive Intelligence and Cisco provide a rich set of TTS features with only slight differences between them.

Message-management information also included descriptions of AA (autoattendant) and IVR (interactive voice response) features. AA provides DID (direct inward dial), DNAS (dialed number authentication service), and ASR (automatic speech recognition) for caller ID. DID lets callers ring an internal telephone extension without needing an operator; DNAS enables authorization of a connection attempt based on the number dialed, such as an 800 number. IVR provides callers with voice-menu trees for call routing. Interactive's IVR is built into Communité; Cisco requires an add-on product.With the mobile professional in mind, we required vendors to supply a Web-browser interface. Both Interactive and Cisco went one step further by providing SSL access. Also, both had strategies for configuring filters and notifications to let you route critical messages to remote users in real time while relegating noncritical messages to voicemail.

Vendors at a Glanceclick to enlarge

The RFP also required products to support SIP to facilitate call management in the enterprise and reduce the overhead for adds and moves. With SIP phones, users can register their locations in the office or on a remote cellular device to receive calls (see "The Benefits of SIP," below). We also looked at how each vendor provides a single point of management and administration for all message types and leverages current IT infrastructure elements, such as IP PBXs, directories, and e-mail and fax servers.

Both vendors provide standards-based, IP-enabled products, letting an enterprise choose a best-of-breed UM package that fits with site-specific requirements and resources. Otherwise, you may be limited to a single-vendor approach that's an outgrowth of the legacy PBX, using proprietary protocols and vendor-supplied phone sets.

We asked each vendor for its best solution to replace Leagles' legacy PBX. Both Interactive and Cisco gave us their next-generation UM switches that provide PBX and telephone-switching capabilities in a standard PC server. Interactive went with its Customer Interaction Center, or CIC. CIC is an "all-in-one," software-based contact center that includes all the functionality of a PBX and also supports UM. But note that Interactive's bid is based on the stand-alone version of Communité, not the product that ships with CIC. The UM product bundled with the CIC is not as feature-rich as the stand-alone Communité. Cisco recommended CallManager, its software-based call-processing application that ships on a Cisco Media Convergence Server.

Finally, to maintain low costs while satisfying all RFP requirements, we asked each vendor to estimate the cost of UM per 200 users. Interactive logged in with the lowest price: $283 per user compared with Cisco's $407. With the low bid and high marks in each of our categories, Interactive gets our nod to supply Communité to Leagles.Interactive Intelligence's Communité was our top pick thanks to its integration with traditional TDM-based and IP-enabled PBXs and its ability to leverage enterprise directories and e-mail servers. Besides supplying the lowest bid, it delivered the highest return on features for message management and remote access.Communité, like Cisco's Unity, runs on standard Intel-based processors supported by Microsoft Windows NT 4 or Windows 2000. Although both UM servers scale to several hundred ports or sessions (simultaneous, active calls) per server, Communité leverages LDAP-supported directories as a central repository for user information and attributes. Different versions of Communité, for Exchange, Lotus Notes and iPlanet e-mail systems, work with Microsoft's Active Directory, IBM's Lotus Domino directory, and iPlanet's Directory Server, respectively. It can also use Novell's eDirectory. Information like e-mail addresses, preferences, telephone numbers and message notification rules are stored in the directory. Likewise, details on features such as "follow me" and filtering or call-screening are also stored in the directory.

Unity stores a small subset of subscriber information in Active Directory, the Exchange 5.5 directory or the Domino directory. It uses a built-in SQL 2000 database for the bulk of user information and attributes. (The Cisco Unity Administrator is accessed from the Unity box itself using a Web browser.) Communité is managed from a snap-in module to Active Directory, the Domino directory and database administration forms, or Interactive's Interaction Administrator. There is also a plug-in for the Microsoft Management Console if you use Communité for Exchange.

Because LDAP-supported directories can be used as the primary user database, Communité servers can be deployed in each of Leagles' locations to share a common LDAP directory. In the alternative, different versions of Communité could be deployed in site-specific implementations--for example, Communité for Lotus Notes on the East Coast and Communité for Exchange on the West Coast. Interactive's version 2.2.2, scheduled for release in summer 2003, will support Chicago's open-source LDAP and IMAP4 resources, so they won't be left out in the cold. For high availability, an N+1 server configuration can be added to each site, as with Cisco Unity.

Leagles plans to replace its aging PBX, but Communité's broad support for PBXs may delay its end-of-life status. Communité supports all the leading PBXs, from Avaya to Siemens; and, like Unity, it will support any SIP-enabled PBX. While both vendors support legacy voicemail using AMIS (Audio Messaging Interchange Specification) and VPIM (Voice Profile for Internet Mail), Communité integrates fax services with the UM server. And like Cisco's product, it can support third-party fax servers like RightFax. In the event Leagles needs to upgrade its RightFax servers, it has the option to rely on Communité's onboard fax services.

Interactive and Cisco advised Leagles to run both digitized voice and call control on the same IP network as data. In that vein, Interactive recommended SIP phones on the desktop that have the same features as most proprietary digital sets. Users can move from phone to phone and simply log in from their current location. Administrators need not spend time shuffling or adding users as they move within the office, or even outside the office when roaming with a cell phone. Users can keep their analog phones and still get the benefits of UM because Communité comes with a softphone for the PC. And with SMDI (Simple Message Desk Interface) support, message-waiting lights can still illuminate LEDs on the desk phone. Although Unity also supports SMDI and message-waiting indicators on desk phones, it does not include a softphone without deploying CallManager.Although both Communité and Unity have software applications that integrate with popular e-mail client software, Communité has the broadest support, including Microsoft Outlook and Express, Lotus Notes and Novell GroupWise. In addition, Communité has client applications that support handheld devices running Microsoft Pocket PC, Palm and RIM Blackberry. Unity supports only Notes and Outlook e-mail clients and Windows CE and Pocket PC for handhelds. Communité also has a solution for voicemail-only users. With XML, it can use a standard file system as a single message store in addition to the inboxes on the supported e-mail platforms.

For Web-browser access to the system, Communité uses Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Server) to support an integrated Outlook interface. This interface also allows Web-based URL access to configure personal settings, such as status-based call handling; contacts; and conditional rules for routing inbound calls, fax messages and notifications. Web-browser access for both Communité and Unity is not limited to reading messages. You also can listen to voicemail as long as a media player is installed. But with Communité you can also reply to a voicemail message with speech using a voicemail form that runs in a browser. However, it requires Microsoft COM technologies and runs only in browsers under Windows.

For network managers and systems administrators, both Communité and Unity optimize network utilization and storage and support management consoles. Communité uses TrueSpeech technology to compress voicemail to .wav files using approximately 1 KB per second of recorded audio. For example, a 30-second voicemail message takes approximately 30 KB of storage on the e-mail or file-based server. And unlike Unity's adherence to NetIQ's voice-management solutions or an add-on ITEM (IP Telephony Environment Monitor), Communité offers a wide variety of third-party management tools that may already be installed in the enterprise--for example, BMC Patrol, HP OpenView and IBM Tivoli. If you lack these you can also use the Microsoft Management Console or any SNMP-based console. In its forthcoming version 2.3, Communité will support a real-time SNMP interface to set and view alerts.

Interactive also addressed Leagle's inquiry into customizing UM, a feature not addressed by Cisco. At its base, Communité is an event-processing engine. When a condition or event occurs, Communité takes action using a "handler." For example, the TUI is a handler that executes when an incoming call is detected. Communité's Interaction Designer is a graphical application generator that can customize handlers and direct the logical flow of calling information. The Designer can also create new services to tailor UM to specific needs, such as extracting data from a database. Interactive also offers an add-on module, Mobilité, that acts as a wireless application gateway. Mobilité lets system integrators create applications and generate forms for handheld devices to interface with CRM and ERP applications using a Microsoft COM API.

When it came to price, Communité could not be beat, coming in at a total of $56,571 for 200 users, or $283 per user. The total list price included the UM server software with TAPI (Telephone API) and IP integration sessions at $8,000 and licenses for 200 users at $17,310. The price also included a TTS engine ($2,000), fax support ($2,700), and a four-port autoattendant ($16,500) with an IVR ($4,000). After adding a one-year service and support contract at $6,061 (12 percent of the software total), Interactive trumped Cisco's bid of $407 per user. Interactive would also throw in the first six months of service and support, gratis.Communité 2.2. Interactive Intelligence, (317) 872-3000. www.inin.com

Cisco's Unity came in second by default. But that's saying a lot, looking at the large number of vendors that did not meet the minimum requirements for this review. Unity easily cleared the bar with SIP support but fell short of the features and functionality provided by Communité, and Cisco came in long on price. But if you have a Cisco-supported infrastructure, the single-vendor approach may be the way to go.

Unity is a component of Cisco's IP Communications portfolio for enterprises. That portfolio also includes Cisco IP Telephone, IP Video/Audio Conferencing, IP Video Broadcasting and Cisco Contact Center Solutions. Like Communité, Unity provides e-mail, voicemail and fax in the inbox of the supported mail application, and end users can view inboxes from multiple devices, including a Web browser. It also supports SIP and provides integration with SIP-based proxy servers, media gateways, phones and clients.

With Cisco's CallManager acting as a PBX, Leagles would have its IP-enabled UM solution. Alternately, Unity can work with CallManager and a traditional TDM-based PBX in a "dual switch" configuration that would wean Leagles from its legacy PBX without the pain of an in-place upgrade. Unity also supports a wide number of fax servers, including Captaris's RightFax, Biscom's Faxcom for Exchange, and Topcall's eponymous product. But unlike Communité, fax support requires a third-party solution.

Cisco, like Interactive, recommended that Leagles use its data network also to transmit voice and call-control protocols. It also recommended Cisco IP Phones 7905G, 7940G or 7960G for the desktops at a cost of $165, $395 and $495, respectively. These phones will interoperate with IP telephony systems such as CallManager or systems using H.323 and SIP. The high-end 7960G and 7940G are programmable; the low-cost 7905G offers a core set of business features and four interactive soft keys to configure call features and functions using an LCD. Because Unity does not provide a softphone for the PC, as does Communité, these phone sets would be necessary for end users to receive the full benefits of UM, and the low cost of $165 per phone would make a compelling argument to include them in the Oakland implementation. But note that the price of phones was not included in the price comparison.

Cisco also recommended its MCS7827 server configuration for Unity. It supports as many as 32 ports on a single 1.13-GHz Pentium III with 512 MB of RAM and a 40-GB ATA drive. Like Communité, Unity runs on Windows NT 4 or 2000, but Unity does not support LDAP. Its directory support is limited to Exchange 5.5 (X.500), Active Directory and Domino. This would take care of Leagles' East and West Coast offices, but Chicago would be left out in the cold.Unity supports e-mail clients for Outlook and Notes; it leverages these familiar interfaces with an embedded VCR-style interface for voicemail and traditional e-mail. Unlike Communité, Unity has a speedup/slowdown feature in its RealSpeak TTS engine that lets users configure the speed at which messages are read through a computer or telephone interface. However, Cisco requires an add-on product (Personal Assistant) to access Outlook contacts and calendar information through a TUI. These features are standard in Communité, and we added them to the cost estimate provided by Cisco.

Users also can access their single message stores from a browser. And as with Communité, Unity's client application supports handheld devices powered by Pocket PC. Although it does not support Palm OS or RIM Blackberry, Unity has additional support for Windows CE. However, there is no PIM (personal information manager) integration with Act! or Goldmine, as is found in Communité. Unity PIM support is limited to Outlook.

Once you have the supported platforms down, Unity delivers UM in fashion comparable to Communité. You can listen to e-mail over the phone, check voice messages from the Internet, and route and screen calls to remote professionals based on conditions such as subject matter or sender.

Cisco provides network managers some powerful tools to monitor the Unity system's health. It uses detailed log (.csv format) analysis through a Unity administration tool to monitor health and diagnose problems. The administration interface can also generate reports on call handling and system usage and export them to HTML or Crystal Reports. In addition, Cisco has an ITEM that includes a suite of management applications for AVVID (Architecture for Voice, Video, and Integrated Data). ITEM can track and monitor Unity's health and alert administrators to potential problems to minimize service interruptions. It generates synthetic traffic to replicate network activity and presents the information in a dashboard view of gateways, switches and IP phones. NetIQ's suite of management tools for VoIP also can monitor Unity's health, but ITEM and NetIQ are add-ons to Unity that would increase the TCO for UM.

Unity's list pricing starts at $5,000 plus $132 per user for the UM server. That amounts to $31,400 for 200 users. But that's just the start. Sufficient resources for 200 users (approximately 16 ports) and two sessions of RealSpeak TTS total $31,000. Then there are the necessary IVR functionality in the Personal Assistant for 20 users and four-port speech recognition, which come to $8,445. This all adds up to $70,845. With a one-year service and support contract of $10,626.75 (15 percent of the software total), Unity weighs in at $81,471.75, or $407 per user.Unity 4. Cisco Systems, (800) 553-6387, (408)526-4000. www.cisco.com

Sean Doherty is a technology editor and lawyer based at our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®. A former project manager and IT engineer at Syracuse University, he helped develop centrally supported applications and storage systems. Write to him at [email protected].

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Why focus on unified-messaging vendors that support the Session Initiation Protocol? SIP is a call-processing protocol designed to set up, modify and tear down sessions. Sessions can be point-to-point telephone calls or multimedia conferences. SIP is not dependent on a single conference-control protocol, like H.323 is, and does not dictate a method to transport the session traffic. It can operate over TCP or UDP, where multiple SIP transactions can be carried out in a single TCP connection or UDP datagram.

But it's more than just an efficient signaling protocol. SIP can boost support for mobile professionals. If a remote user registers his or her location with a SIP server, a UM application can direct SIP messages to the user's location, be it a remote office or a cell phone.

It is also a compelling protocol for enterprise networks. SIP can operate as a stateful or a stateless protocol. As a stateless implementation, it can scale to large networks where servers do not have to maintain state information on calls once a session is initiated. It integrates well into enterprises that leverage Web-browser interfaces because it uses HTTP formats to describe messages. And the message description is not limited to HTTP but can be transmitted in a number of ways. For example, it could be described in MIME or XML. Because it is based in HTTP, SIP can also support Java and JPEG and provide a rich multimedia experience.

Both Cisco's Unity and Interactive Intelligence's Communité support SIP, and most other vendors we talked to said they'd add SIP support to their products this year. This will let these products work with any SIP-enabled PBX, such as Zultys' MX1200. Without a new SIP PBX, these UM products require a SIP-enabled proxy server and a gateway to the PSTN to enable SIP phones on the desktop (see diagram, below). Communité can work with its Interactive Center Platform as the SIP gateway. The Interactive Center can also support Communité on the same platform but it is not as feature-rich as the stand-alone version. Cisco would leverage its AS5300 Access Server or a 2600 or 3600 series router as the SIP gateway. Either of these solutions can integrate an IP PBX, though Cisco is limited to Call Manager.

SIP provides more options for telephone sets as well. Rather than taking the default phone set supplied by a vendor, any SIP-supported phone will do. In addition, enterprises can upgrade their workstations to Microsoft Windows XP. Its native support for SIP enables a fully functional softphone through Messenger--something to think about if considering Unity, which does not include a softphone. Communité provides its own SIP softphone with the Interaction Client.We dispatched an RFP seeking an IP-enabled unified-messaging system that supports IP PBXs and can carry both voice and data, taking full advantage of our fictional law-research firm's substantial investment in its IP infrastructure.

The responses to our questionnaire are below in PDF format:

Avaya responded to our RFP, but its Unified Messenger did not meet a threshold requirement to support SIP and, therefore, was not included in the competitive review. If it were, Unified Messenger for Microsoft Exchange (5.5 or 2000) and for Lotus Notes would have been a competitive bid.

In the RFP, Unified Messenger was poised as a single-vendor VoIP solution that teamed with Avaya's S8300 Media Server, G700 Media Gateway and Model 4620 IP phones. But Avaya also offers Unified Messenger as a "best of breed" UM solution to work with all major IP PBX suppliers--including Ericsson, NEC, Nortel Networks and Siemens--supporting both AMIS (Audio Messaging Interchange Specification) and VPIM (Voice Profile for Internet Mail) for legacy voicemail.A standard Intel processor (at least 400 MHz) and Microsoft Windows NT 4 or 2000 powers Unified Messenger and Avaya's TTS (text-to-speech) speech-access software. The TTS supports the usual array of features for users to access and manage their messages from a TUI (telephone user interface). It also enables access to personal contacts, calendars and tasks. Fax support is limited to third parties, such as Captaris RightFax, and autoattendant functions do not include ASR (automatic speech recognition). Also absent from Unified Messenger is an IVR (interactive voice response) module; however, Avaya provides call-flow applications through the Caller Applications feature.

Focusing on Unified Messenger for Exchange, any device that can access the Exchange message store can access multiple message types. Unified Messenger draws on end-user familiarity with Outlook to manage e-mail, fax and voicemail. From the Outlook interface, users can maintain greetings, establish notification rules and configure "follow me" features. Unified Messenger's client application installs to all versions of Windows, but support for handheld devices is limited to those running Microsoft Pocket PC. There's also remote access from a Web browser using Outlook Web Access, though UM options and the Outlook voice form are not available from the browser interface; you need to use Outlook or Outlook Express.

Unified Messenger directory support includes Microsoft NT 4 domains and Active Directory, and Lotus Domino, with a single point of administration for Unified Messenger within Exchange 5.5. If you're using Exchange 2000, the Archimedes point changes to Active Directory. Unified Messenger logs events to the Windows Event Log and Performance Monitor.

There is a snap-in utility for the MMC (Microsoft Management Console), and Unified Messenger can be monitored by a variety of tools that may already be in your enterprise--for example, BMC Patrol and HP OpenView. Unified Messenger also supports MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager) but not a standard SNMP-based console.

Avaya was spun out of Lucent Technologies in 2000. It sells, implements and supports Unified Messenger through resellers and systems integrators. Unified Messenger has been shipping since November of 1996. One segment of the telecom industry that hasn't felt the overall economic downturn is IP PBXs. Shipments hit 250,000 in 2001, up from 180,000 in 2000, a 3.4 percent increase, according to the Telecommunications Industry Association.IP PBXs use packet-switched rather than circuit-switched technology, and the software can run on standard Intel PC servers. IP PBXs comes in two flavors: PC PBX and LAN PBX. PC PBXs do not leverage the network infrastructure, instead delivering voice traffic purely over traditional telephone wiring. The LAN PBX, however, can route voice and data over your existing network infrastructure--that is, if your network is up to the task of real-time communications.

Although non-real-time voice traffic, such as voicemail, is transmitted in .WAV files over TCP, real-time audio is primarily sent via UDP, which does not retransmit lost packets. Network jitter, delay and congestion can cause dropped voice packets, resulting in stuttering audio. Voice-traffic bandwidths depend on the coding algorithms used to convert analog voice waveforms to a digital stream; they range from 24 Kbps to 80 Kbps. This can add up, depending on the number of simultaneous calls on the network and the available bandwidth left over from critical applications. Be sure you provision sufficient bandwidth for voice traffic or implement QoS (quality of service) guarantees with RSVP (Resource Reservation Protocol), DiffServ (Differentiated Services), or MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching). (For more on these protocols, see "Survivor's Guide to Digital Convergence".)

LAN PBXs are implemented in the enterprise in three ways. One approach combines all the voice traffic with data on the network. Utilizing PC servers, these systems can scale to support the required number of users and provide good call control. And once SIP is enabled, call control and management should be greatly improved. LAN PBXs also make it easy to add users and move them throughout the enterprise. End users can log into a phone just as they do on a PC and receive a consistent suite of services. On the downside, these implementations require IP or SIP phones, and voice traffic will reduce available network bandwidth. Also, fax servers still require analog telephone lines.

Other implementations of LAN PBXs separate some or all voice traffic from data traffic, using the LAN for call control and sending voice traffic over standard telephone cabling. The third method uses a separate LAN to carry digitized voice using line-interface units. These implementations require less network bandwidth and will work with standard telephone and fax equipment, but you need to maintain expensive analog or digital voice cards in the UM server to interface with the PBX.Unified messaging started out as a simple concept: a single store for e-mail, voicemail and faxes. It promised to alleviate some of the pain for those who had to collect messages from multiple e-mail accounts and voicemail boxes on a daily basis or who lacked direct access to fax services.

But most enterprises have not reached this stage of simplicity. Why not? In short, because no one is talking.Voicemail vendors have been evolving their products slowly to include features that go beyond voicemail, such as AA (autoattendant) and IVR (interactive voice response). Most, if not all, have climbed out of their PBXs and into the enterprise by offering a UM solution. This is not a new phenomenon. UM products have been interfacing PBXs with analog and digital line cards for years, touted by their vendors as voicemail replacements and a means of combining voicemail with e-mail and fax services. But the argument has not been compelling enough to nudge fax and e-mail vendors into getting together with voicemail vendors.

  • Fax servers are the cockroaches of the digital world. No matter how much we want them to go away, they not only survive, they keep multiplying. Why? They're cheap, they're easy to use, they work, and they have a good MTBF (mean time between failure). They get a piece of paper from Point A to Point B over the PSTN in a no-fuss, secure manner. And the receiving party can see a signature. That signature often translates to a closed sale, a signed contract or a firm order. Fax servers have a market, and there's no incentive for fax vendors to work with UM.

  • E-mail servers have not been receptive either. E-mail is essential for business communications and has become the central repository for non-real-time communication. The darlings of the digital world, e-mail servers are used to the world beating a path to them, not vice versa. Enterprises are in thrall to these creatures, and Lotus and Microsoft know it. E-mail vendors also have a market and no incentive to work with UM solutions.

    UM products today interface with legacy PBXs and next-generation IP-enabled PBXs. They leverage enterprise resources such as a directories and e-mail servers using standard protocols like AMIS (Audio Messaging Interchange Specification) and VPIM (Voice Profile for Internet Mail) for legacy voicemail along with DMTF Fax Routing, IVM (Internet Voice Mail), LDAP, MIME, TAPI and SMTP to present a single message store of e-mail, fax and voice-mail messages.

    But that's not all: UM also provides advanced call-filtering and call-routing techniques that follow users to their current locations and enable them to communicate with their preferred device, be it a handheld PDA or wireless phone. It also supports TTS (text-to-speech) engines and easy-to-use speech interfaces to send information such as messages, calendars, contacts and customer information to remote professionals using TUIs (telephone user interfaces) from wireless phones. Unified messaging is more than a single message store. It's becoming part of UC (unified communications) and enabling new wireless markets with speech-enabled applications.As UM gets its makeover to UC and as wireless markets get comfortable with 3G products, we'll see more entrants to the UC playing field--entrants that are distinguishing themselves with open standards and clear paths for integration into enterprises. This will challenge single-vendor models flowing from proprietary PBXs with a best-of-breed approach that will make this space one to watch.

    As this article goes to press, Active Voice Kinesis announced a unified communications solution for Exchange 5.5 and 2000. It will feature a ViewCall module that lets users manage live telephone traffic from the desktop. And later this year, Alcatel's Unified Communication system will move out of beta. It will bring together a CTI (computer-telephony integration) server, VXML media server, run-time J2EE application server and UM under a Linux OS (RedHat 7.2).

    R E V I E W

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