Cisco / EDS Claim "Largest Enterprise VoIP Deployment Worldwide"

May 14, 2008 by Garrett Smith

FierceVoIP recently covered a story concerning the deployment of Cisco’s Unified Communications platform and 10,000+ IP handsets by solution provider EDS for Bank of America.

EDS acquired by HP for $13.9 Billion

With EDS recently acquired by HP, this would seemingly make HP an instant player in the UC/VoIP space…and is an interesting development in a market where battle lines are being drawn between Cisco and Microsoft.

Cisco has been on a tear of late and is amassing a nice list of large customers, including Boise State University and University of Cambridge.

Many would argue that this is good news for the VoIP systems industry as a whole…but if you are a proponent of standards-based telephony, where SIP has emerged as the de facto protocol, you may have mixed emotions. Cisco has been somewhat reticent in opening up their proprietary SCCP platforms to allow for seamless interoperability with SIP.

Although Cisco does have a Third-party inter-op mechanism allowing the use of SIP endpoints with Cisco UC infrastructure, (i.e Callmanager) from a cost impact standpoint, Cisco’s “support” of third party SIP phones is somewhat misleading for the uninformed.

For most users, the appeal of using a Third-party SIP phone would likely be to escape the cost of license fees associated with Cisco’s IP phones. Cisco tacks on anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars, per phone, in licensing when you purchase a “CH1” licensed Cisco phone, which is the appropriate licensing to be in compliance when using Callmanager.

If you refer to this link, look at table C-2, step 5 –

“Note Third-party SIP Device (Basic) supports one line and consumes three license units, and Third-party SIP Device (Advanced) supports up to eight lines and video, and consumes six license units.”

Even using a Third-party phone, the user must purchase Third-party licensing keys in order to register their phone with Callmanager, and the licensing is required in order to complete the SIP registration for the Third- party handset.

When I last checked, the licensing cost to implement a Grandstream GXP-2000 (an $80 phone) with a Callmanager deployment was an additional $300, which would bring the total cost of the handset to roughly $380.

Cisco defines a “Basic” Third-party VoIP phone as a phone supporting one line, and user must purchase (three) license units at $50/ea ($150 total) to deploy a “basic” phone. Since the GXP-2000 supports multiple lines, it would be considered an “Advanced” Third-party SIP phone, and requires (six) license units be purchased, at a total cost of $300.

A detailed overview of Third-party SIP licensing fees is here.

It is actually less attractive in the majority of cases, from a cost standpoint, to implement 3rd party SIP phones on Callmanager than it is to simply use proprietary Cisco phones when you factor in their extremely expensive licensing fees. I am sure this is completely by design. Just wanted to clarify this for your readers who are running Callmanager and are looking at using Third-party SIP phones.

Choosing a host server for Asterisk Open Source PBX

The right server for your Asterisk Open Source PBX

One of the primary considerations when deploying an open source PBX based upon Asterisk, trixbox, Elastix and other Open Source platforms is choosing a suitable PC or VoIP server to run the software on. Asterisk runs on a Linux footprint, and the availability of hardware drivers is not the foregone conclusion that it is in the Windows world.

Choosing a host server for Asterisk Open Source PBX

Other components such as CPU type and speed, amount of RAM, and hard drive type and size often leave users feeling confused. Choosing the right hardware, the correct Linux distribution, and the best installation method are key decisions when deploying an Open Source IP PBX.

If you are also going to be installing PCI TDM or PRI cards to connect your IP PBX to the PSTN, there are additional steps you need to take to ensure compatibility. Most vendors offer cards in PCI, PCI-X and PCI Express formats, and you will need to take a close look at the motherboard you intend to use before purchasing a Digium, Sangoma or Rhino card. Certain Digium cards require either 3V or 5V PCI slots, and also require hardware which is PCI 2.2 compliant…so a little homework is often required.

If you intend to use Asterisk, you are also going to need to choose which version of Linux you want to use. There are literally hundreds of Linux distros you “could” run Asterisk on, but some are more popular and certainly better documented and supported than others.

The usual suspects include RedHat, CentOS, Fedora, Debian and Knoppix. To get a better idea as to the sheer number of Linux flavors out there, head over to DistroWatch.com. There is really no “right answer” when choosing a Linux distribution. If you spend any amount of time poking around Asterisk-related forums online, you’ll hear many voices trumpeting the virtues of various Linux flavors of the month. A safe choice might be RedHat, Fedora or CentOS.

Trixbox, an alternative to the official Asterisk Open Source PBX project presided over by Digium, uses CentOS as its base Linux distribution, and can be installed using an ISO, as opposed to first installing a Linux footprint and then applying the Asterisk application on top of that. Switchvox, AsteriskNow and PBXInAFlash are also available as single ISO installs, which are typically easier to deal with for those without a ton of Linux administration experience.

Next, you need to choose whether to purchase a preconfigured PC or server from a tier 1 manufacturer such as Dell, HP or IBM….or to roll up your sleeves and build your own server from raw components. Again, this is a matter of personal choice and your own comfort level in dealing with technology. Traditional vendors like Dell offer more support and easier mechanisms for replacing failed hardware components or entire servers. If you are a gearhead, you might opt to roll your own. Reliable, telco-grade server components are available from Supermicro and a variety of “white box” vendors.

Asterisk host server

Choosing a proper CPU, sufficient RAM and hard drive(s) is next. There are no hard and fast guidelines here. VoIP-Info.org has a nice collection of data related to Asterisk server dimensioning. The amount of horsepower you will need depends upon your application and your tolerance for risk, so to speak. For a typical small business, the “PRI and Under Crowd” as I like to refer to it….a good baseline for server dimensioning would probably look like this:

• Single Intel Pentium 4 or Dual Core CPU, or AMD Equivalent CPU
• 1 or 2GB or RAM (More won’t hurt, and RAM is pretty darn cheap these days)
• Single 80GB SATA Hard Drive (Adding a second, third or fourth drive also won’t hurt. Adding RAID redundancy is also a suggested option)
• Dual 10/100/1000 Ethernet NIC Cards
• Power Supply (Many server manufacturers offer an option for redundant power supplies, which offer further redundancy and protection against downtime)
• Appropriate PCI, PCI-X or PCI Express slot(s) to house the TDM or PRI interconnect cards (Digium, Sangoma, Rhino) you intend to use.

If your business is larger, having more employees (users), and therefore more “concurrent” call volume, and you expect to be doing anything out of the ordinary such as….

• Call Recording
• Transcoding
• Software Echo Cancellation

….you will need to add horsepower to ensure that you have satisfactory system resources to handle the load. Enabling features such as Call Recording, transcoding between VoIP codecs, or using software-based echo cancellation (versus dedicated hardware DSP-based echo cancellation) will tax the resources of your server, and can lead to QoS and overall performance issues if not carefully planned for from a hardware architecture standpoint.

Asterisk, trixbox, Elastix and other technologies offer tremendous promise for overall business productivity enhancement and ROI if deployed in a proper manner. My advice is to do some solid research in advance….and ultimately don’t skimp on the quality or robustness of your server hardware.

If you unsure simply pick up the phone and call a vendor or reseller. VoIP Supply offers a wide range of host server appliances for Asterisk or trixbox. We also offer customized PC and server solutions, built to your specification, from leading vendors including Dell and SuperMicro. Companies such as Fonality, Rhino Equipment and PhoneBochs also offer specialized server appliances developed for use with trixbox and other OOS platforms.

More from: Asterisk Garrett Smith

The Devastating Mic-controller DJ Grandmaster Philly–Phil

May 13, 2008 by Garrett Smith

Coming at you live from the Sales B-Blog Booth spinnin’ and scratchin’ the Greatest Hits in IP Telephony History

“Party people put your paws together
and bring it on home no matter what the weather

Party people put your hands in the air
and dial like you just don’t care”

Yes, they’re all here!!

Available for a limited time only on cd, vinyl, cassette, or my favorite, the 8-TRACK.

  1. Call Me – Blondie
  2. Operator – Jim Croce
  3. Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares) – Travis Tritt
  4. As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone – Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty (Get the handkerchief out)
  5. 867-5309 (Jenny) – Tommy Tutone
  6. Broken Telephone – The Be-Good Tanyas (Think go3 Warranty)
  7. London Calling – The Clash
  8. Pennsylvania 6-5000 – Glenn Miller & His Orchestra (Rockin’ it old-school)
  9. Long Distance Call – Muddy Waters
  10. Hello My Baby – Frog J. Michigan (19th century telephony hip-hop)

Am I remiss in my selections? Let me know! Reply to this blog now or forever hold your Peace-out.

Props to your POTS lines!

What Defines Success?

May 12, 2008 by Ben Sayers

What’s your definition of success?

Everyone defines success differently. How about you? Particularly as a business owner and entrepreneur, this topic comes up quite frequently. The related question that also comes up is to ask when enough is enough. The two are actually directly related within my definition of success as there is no end point, only milestones.

Success is the company as a whole:

  • The culture: Creating a work environment where the staff is happy and excited to come to work, proud of their accomplishments, and able to build their own career path to follow. Work is work but does not need to be a dreaded destination, which should be left to the dentists. Receiving feedback from the staff letting me know that they enjoy their job and work environment and receiving awards such as Best Place to Work in WNY are affirmations that the building of the desired culture has been successful.
  • The people: Building strong and self sufficient teams of highly skilled and devoted employees is one of the goals. Finding “diamonds in the rough” is another component of success through people as it related to building a successful company. While there is no end to the search for high quality employees, the staff we have allow the company to feel as though it has been successful in this aspect of business.
  • The customers: Happy customers, repeat business, referrals from accounts, feedback highlighting staff assistance, and a continuously expanding customer base indicate that we have been successful in this area. Thousands of new customers each month and dozens of emails highlighting our performance prove that we have been successful with our customers.
  • The growth: Internal growth and improvements combined with overall company growth of customers, employees, revenue and profits are significant reminders that we have built a very successful company with a desire for a continuous effort to improve and be even more successful down the line.
  • The dominance: Viewing the competitive landscape and doing so from a dominant position in the marketplace is a level of success that we enjoy today. While there are many more competitors than a year ago, we have been successful in maintaining a majority stake of the overall online retail sales of VoIP hardware.
  • The profitability: Many young companies never reach profitability and just as many tech companies continue to grow, yet do so running in the red. It has been exciting to see our company grow and do so profitably and for businesses, this is a huge sign of success.
  • Enough is never enough: While there are exit plans and strategies, within my definition of success, any exit is designed to create multiple new entrance points into the next opportunity to build something successful.

IPCS Word of the Day: CCTV

CCTV = Closed Circuit Television. The use of video cameras to transmit signals to a specific, limited set of monitors. It differs from broadcast television in that the signal is not openly transmitted, though it may employ point-to-point wireless links. CCTV is often used for surveillance in areas that need monitoring such as banks, casinos, airports, military installations and convenience stores. In industrial plants, CCTV equipment may be used to observe parts of a process that are remote from a control room, or where the environment is not comfortable for humans. CCTV systems may operate continuously or only as required to monitor a particular event.

3rd Party App Licensing for Asterisk: How can we do it?

On Friday, May 9th, I was involved in the weekly VoIP Users Community Conference on Talkshoe, organized by Randulo. The topic for this week, “3rd Party App Licensing: How can we do it?”, was organized by Dean Collins of Cognation.

Digium has a licensing, sales and fulfillment mechanism in place for their G.729 codec, and one of the goals of this call was to discuss the mechanics of Digium’s licensing schema, and determine if this vehicle might be suitable for 3rd party application developers to sell and license Asterisk related plug-ins such as Snap Dialer.

Dean Collins came up with a few preliminary questions to be addressed on the call.

Should commercial software applications like SNAP Dialer even be encouraged for the Asterisk community – or is this the slippery slope?

Should this license schema model be centrally managed by Digium – what are the alternatives?

Is a centrally managed approval process like Salesforce.com / i-tunes appropriate for the Asterisk user community, or should it just be a “published document schema,” but all sales are handled by each individual company?

In the G.729 model and appropriate solution (NIC address registration)?

Are there alternatives that should be considered instead?

What are the limitations of NIC licensing over server IP address, etc.

How does this affect client applications running on “client” machines?

What type of applications would you like to see licensed via this 3rd party ecosystem model?

What do we do from here?

Is this something Digium should be developing internally and present to the Asterisk community as a “suggested working model?”

Is this something that can be developed by the community and presented to Digium for their approval and adoption?

Who on this call wants to be involved and what do you want to do from here?

Talkshoe

Turns out, the idea of creating a central portal where developers could showcase applications designed for use with Asterisk Open Source PBX is something Digium has been thinking of doing. Steve Sokol from Digium mentioned the possibility of having a standardized base Asterisk platform, with a simple user interface…that would allow developers a starting point for creating apps.

I have always like the idea of Asterisk evolving as more of a “Voice Operating System”…a standardized and documented base platform for which developers could create countless applications. Having been on the call, my personal thoughts regarding such an initiative are as follows:

A – Having a somewhat standardized platform base (as suggested by Steve Sokol) would certainly ease the support burden (consumer support) and limit the variables for developers.

B – In order to reach its maximum potential, any such base platform would need to be constructed in a “developer agnostic” fashion, such that Digium could not subvert it in any way or insert overt protection mechanisms to safeguard their own commercial interests. Not suggesting that Digium would do this, but I think it would concern developers.

C – Long term, you might even be able to integrate a cloud-based development environment using tools like Adhearsion, that would facilitate participation from would-be developers with no specific telephony background. Providing tools to level the playing field would foster maximum potential in terms of innovation.

D – In terms of the revenue derived for Digium or whomever would potentially administer the developer portal…I think you could incorporate several schemas that would not only operate on a “per channel” basis. If I were a consumer, I might want to simply pay a single price for a feature pack that I could use in production regardless of the number of trunks I have. Perhaps a flat percentage of profit share would make more sense? Ex: 20/80 split (portal administrator/developer) for sales tickets of $250 or less. 15/85 split for transactional sales from $251-$500. 10/90 split for transactional sales of $500 or more. This is a simplified example.

E – In order to accommodate OSS purists types who do not seek to profit from their creations, you could have a section of applications that are free for consumers to use. You could also offer free single-channel versions of certain applications to promote increased usership from a trial/evaluation standpoint.

F – The Asterisk community is extremely fragmented…and that is to our detriment in the sense that it creates confusion for non-technical consumers of Asterisk-based products. I have seen many terrific applications which will fail commercially because the developers do not have the wherewithal to properly market their products. The ability to distribute my product through a well established venue gives me instant visibility and will allow me to compete with other developers who have an advantage from the standpoint of marketing capital. It is not always the best application that succeeds, but rather the loudest voice which is heard IMO.

G – You could also potentially build in vehicles for the developers to provide their own support mechanisms in order to participate. You could have a chat interface, a WiKI, bulletin boards, etc…that are specific to each application being offered. The developers would bear some of the responsibility of supporting their products, but would be provided with vehicles to make it easier and less costly for them interface with consumers from a support standpoint.

H – For that matter, you could build in some type of user feedback system. Developers who do a good job of documenting and supporting their products would maintain a higher level of overall user satisfaction, and would be given preferential placement in the portal for their efforts.

What do you think? If you are involved in Asterisk development, or have experience with 3rd party application development for things like Salesforce.com or Apple’s iPhone, I’d love to hear from you.


Manufacturer’s Support… A major question to consider when purchasing an IP PBX

May 9, 2008 by Garrett Smith

When in the market for a new VoIP system, the pressing question always arises: What type of support will I be receiving from the manufacturer? How much will I be paying for support either once a monthly, annually, or per incident basis? What type of support will I be receiving? Email? Phone? Emergency phone system services?

Support is a critical area of decision making when deciding to go with a new VoIP phone system. From an engineering standpoint it is most definitely needed on a post sale basis; first to get the system up and running and configured correctly, secondly to solve any problems or issues that rise along the way, and third to answer any questions the user may have about features and functionality of the system itself. In my mind, support options would be the absolute first consideration made when purchasing a system, and as a sales engineer I would like to give you a little insight on the Switchvox Support Options for its two phone systems, and why I have taken such a liking to its system and support team.

Switchvox has two software loads, a SOHO version of software and SMB Version of software. The SOHO version is designed to support up to 20 users, handle 10 concurrent calls placed in a small office, and is neatly outfitted in the new AA60 chassis. The SOHO software includes Silver Level Support only, and Switchvox institutes these cost on a per user level. The SMB Version of software is designed for a larger scale application, and can span up to 400 users, 75 concurrent calls, hardware redundancy, and supports options which include Silver, Gold, and Platinum level support. The SMB version can be neatly outfitted into any Switchvox hardware chassis including the AA60, and 3U Chassis–the AA350.

Support works on three levels for the SMB application and proves to be very affordable and less costly in years to come. The support packages are laid out below.

Select your User Subscription Plan

Every extension on your system needs a valid subscription plan. Subscription plans allow for the activation of a user extension and provide technical support.

You may be thinking, wow this seems like a bit much. Let’s say I have a 50-User SMB System, and will need the phone support during normal business hours. That means I will be paying $3850.00 just in user licenses and support alone. You may think this a bit high in cost, especially when you add the costs of hardware, software, and endpoints to complete your new VoIP system. Let me ask you this: What are your current phone system costs per month? If you are using an older analog Legacy PBX, or even a proprietary VoIP system such as, Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, or Mitel, I can almost guarantee you every time, you are paying more in one year on support costs than you would ever pay in upfront costs of a Switchvox support contract. It gets even better though with Switchvox, after your first year of support, your costs from $77 dollars per user drops to $17 per user meaning you get the same level of support you receive in the first year of implementing your phone system for a fraction of the original costs. Let’s do the math for the second, third, fourth, and fifth year of owning your Switchvox SMB platform. A flat rate support cost of $850 per year for 50 users. What a drop from $3850.00 in the first year, and you are still getting the same level of support and dedication from the Switchvox team.

Who Really Gains From PTZ?

(Part two of a four-part series on PTZ)

Who really gains from PTZ?

  1. Business Owners
  2. Employees
  3. The General Public
  4. Insurance Companies
  5. General Consumers

It’s only logical that companies turn their products obsolete to recapture another slice of their existing market share, so when they introduced PTZ technology the first thing out of my mouth was “OH MAN, I just can’t keep up!” Surely my original CCTV set-up was doing the trick, after all I had four cameras focused my property, so why would I ever bother shelling out more money for such an upgrade?

That’s when it hit me. If I was worried about “shelling out more money,” then maybe an upgrade in loss prevention wouldn’t be such a bad idea. After much digging I came across this GREAT blog from a few years back at Solomon’s VoIP World demonstrating Linksys’ first release of a PTZ camera and its role in IP Surveillance deployment. Only one camera was used to capture the same area that previously had been managed by four CCTV units, and also for the first time I would be able to take full control and position the cameras on a given location via my Dell Inspirion unit or my Apple iPhone when I’m on the go.

It is apparent the PTZ technology has been an excellent replacement for a fixed surveillance system, as it becomes the first featured camera to replace our current outdated technology and combine a wide array of security benefits for all members of on our top five list, whether they find themselves in an isolated region of their industries or in a community area facilitating many different demographics.

IPCS Word of the Day: CCD

CCD = stands for “charge-coupled device.” First invented in the 1970s, this technology uses a shift register combined with photo-diodes to create the modern day imaging device. Used in cameras, scanners, fax machines, etc. The size of the CCD chip is normally 1/4″, 1/3″ or 1/2″. As a rule of thumb, the larger the size, the higher the quality of the image produced and the higher the price. Refer to specification sheet of the camera for its CCD chip size.