Real-time voice and to a greater extent unified communications have undergone a tremendous shift away from proprietary hardware and to a more open architecture leveraging a common Intel-based server platform. In addition to moving away from proprietary hardware, communications vendors are taking advantage of Linux as a replacement for proprietary operating systems. The reasons for this transition are significant. By moving to a more open software-based environment communications vendors are able to provide a more flexible and scalable architecture leveraging an open API to extend communications into the line-of-business application realm.
As a result of this transformation it's more and more common for these software elements to relocate to the data center and become part of the overall enterprise software ecosystem. Traditionally this has presented several challenges to the enterprise since real-time communications applications have some very strict requirements in terms of availability, performance and security. Because of these requirements, it was often necessary to keep the real-time components separate from the rest of the data center. However, this is beginning to change in a substantial way.
The same attributes of virtualization can now be applied to real-time applications thanks to the convergence of communications software becoming more open from a software perspective while virtualization technology has addressed some the deficiencies in its support of real-time software. One area of improvement is with the latest release of Nehalem chip set from Intel. These latest chips now incorporate some of the virtualization functions where previously this was handled by the hypervisor itself. As a result of these improvements, real-time applications running on a standard operating system such as Linux can now make use of all virtualization has to offer. This can range from server consolidation to hardware agnostic implementations to even more advanced vendor specific capabilities like automating virtual machine moves.
IP telephony and even more importantly unified communications always had the goal of driving integration between communications and line-of-business applications. We have seen progress along the way as the industry has evolved; however, progress has been slower than predicted. With advancements in virtualization coupled with the open software environment of real-time communication another barrier has been breached on the way to fully integrating voice and data communications in the data center.
Essentially, it comes down to what it means to customers and why they should care. IT managers should care because this development will lead to a fundamental shift in deployment for their real-time assets. They won't have to make separate arrangements in the data center for their voice and UC platforms. IT managers can design, deploy and manage their real-time applications in the same manner as their line-of-business applications by virtualizing real-time communications. Depending on the specific vendor, IT managers will also have access to some of the advanced capabilities virtualization can provide such as the ability to move virtual machines in a manual or automated manner.
In summary, the ability to virtualize real-time communications is a significant step in the evolution of voice becoming an application in the data center. The benefits to the enterprise are many and span everything from the design phase through deployment and ongoing management. Beyond the relevant cost savings, the ability to run virtual instances of real-time and line-of-business applications side-by-side in the data center will foster greater innovation and make embedding communications into software much more common going forward. As a final thought, virtualizing real-time software also has many implications for customers thinking about how to leverage cloud computing for their organization. More on that in a future blog.