The First Principle of Open Communications

 

In my first blog, I provided some background on the principle of Open Communications as well as some context to why this is critical for Enterprise customers. The first principle of Open Communications that I want to explore is Unified Communications. This is perhaps one of the most critical topics in our industry today. The hype surrounding Unified Communications has reached epic proportions in our industry. There are literally dozens of blogs written specifically on this topic so it might be odd that I would put in the context of a broader set of principles but in fact this is where it belongs.

A bit of history on this topic is probably in order. Over 10 years ago our industry began a monumental change with the introduction of Voice over IP.  One of the key messages of this transformation was the enablement of voice and data applications over a single network infrastructure. The promise of tighter integration between voice and data was one of the lynchpins to buy into Voice over IP. It's fair to say that ten years later we have made significant progress in the adoption of VOIP but it's equally fair to say that the promise of tighter voice and data integration has not been fully delivered. Yes we can run voice traffic over IP networks and yes we have realized some level of integration with data applications but nothing approaching the promises made oh so long ago.
 
Enter Unified Communications. Positioned as the next step in the evolution of enterprise communications, UC is really the attempt to deliver that which VOIP did not. Specifically UC deals much more directly with application layers to achieve the integration that VOIP could not achieve.  VOIP did not achieve this level of integration primarily because VOIP did not leverage open integration, APIs, SOA architectures, and the necessary integration skills to put it all together. In fact, VOIP was primarily a recreation of TDM technology riding on an IP layer. In other words, it didn't deliver Open Communications as it initially promised.

It's not hard to understand really. The available protocols to achieve this level of integration were not really present 10 years ago and the willingness to open their platform seemed foreign to most vendors.

In some ways vendors are repeating the same mistakes they made with VOIP in UC. How is that you might ask? If you separate the marketing hype from the technology, and focus on the vendor's architecture, you can quickly separate the pretenders from the real deal. For Unified Communications to be truly open, it has to be based on the following attributes

It must be based on a pure software model.
It has to provide open integration at multiple layers and not just one or two  APIs.
It must leverage Open standards in all facets of the architecture (CODECS, signaling protocols, SOA architecture, Web services etc.)

One example that highlights the above is the implementation of SIP as your signaling protocol. This is generally considered the De Facto standard today and many vendors claim it as one of the core components of their call control architecture. However SIP alone does not necessarily drive an Open Communications approach. Some vendors provide SIP over non standard CODECS or mated to specific hardware platforms such that the enterprise customer is still locked into their architecture or severely limited in their choice when they utilize this approach. This often creates a 'Walled Garden Effect' where communications within that vendor's domain is full-featured and offers the end user all the functionality they could want. However, when you link this vendor to another vendor the capabilities drop substantially.

In an Open Communications paradigm, there should be no limitations when multi-vendor integration occurs. So we place Unified Communications as one tenet of a larger equation that drives towards the goal of Open Communications.  I welcome your feedback on this and any other topics so drop me an email

Paul.McMillan@Siemens.Com
 

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