Siemens moves to merge telephony, data center

Telephony servers now emerging are set to transform enterprise phone systems into just one more service provided through the corporate data center.

The trend is part of a broader integration of communications into the data center that is being made possible by packet-based voice calling, standardized communications platforms, XML (Extensible Markup Language) and Web services, according to industry analysts. That integration has the potential to boost enterprise productivity and lower costs, they said.

A beefed-up blade-server-based platform from Siemens Information and Communication Networks Inc. (Siemens ICN) that was set to be unveiled Monday may help kickstart the transition toward standards-based communications servers that can interact with other data applications. The company's new HiPath 8000 is designed to run telephony and other communications functions for as many as 100,000 users per platform, vastly expanding the scale of the HiPath system while taking greater advantage of industry standards, the company said.

Siemens is an early convert but by no means alone, as rivals such as Avaya Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp. move in similar directions, according to Frank Dzubeck of Communications Network Architects.

"You're talking about an evolution of an industry. You're not talking about an evolution of a company," Dzubeck said. Another example of communications being integrated into the data center came last week in a deal between Cisco Systems Inc. and IBM Corp., he said. The deal includes Cisco switching blades for IBM BladeCenter servers, as well as software integration intended to let enterprises operate network and computing infrastructure in data centers as one system.

Strapping telephony to the specifications used for Web services, such as XML, Microsoft Corp.'s .Net and J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), can help enterprises streamline their operations and bring about new user experiences powered by a wide range of applications, he said. The new technology may even make vendors of packet-based telephony gear into purveyors of such services through hosted data centers, according to IDC analyst Tom Valovic.

IP (Internet Protocol) telephony has brought to phone systems some of the flexibility and cost savings of packet-based networks, but the IP-based systems have remained largely proprietary to individual vendors and separate from the data network, Siemens said. It aims to change that with the HiPath 8000. Including equipment, implementation and maintenance, the new system should cut costs substantially compared with earlier, more proprietary IP telephony systems, according to Siemens.

The HiPath 8000 can be used to run Siemens' own OpenScape unified communications software, but it also can run third-party software and slide into an existing network infrastructure, according to Ralph Riley, Siemens' national manager of executive briefing centers. The company has certified IP Unity Corp.'s IP Unity unified messaging software to run on the HiPath and plans to approve more applications, he said. Through SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), it also can be used with other vendors' IP phones, including those from Cisco Systems Inc. and PolyCom Inc.

In a larger sense, the 8000 is intended to work as part of an enterprise's core data center. The system initially will be based on a pair of IBM XSeries 345/346 servers running SuSE Linux, though it could easily be ported to other operating systems and hardware platforms in the future, according to Siemens.

OpenScape brings together voice calling, collaboration, videoconferencing, text messaging and other forms of IP-based communication. With it, end users can point and click to enter into any of these forms of communication, according to Siemens. Presence technology, which can indicate whether a person is currently available for any or all of these sessions, can also be part of OpenScape.

Hooking up those capabilities with data applications can lead to some time-saving and economical capabilities, such as automated calls to customers run by customer relationship management software or text messages converted into voice, Dzubeck said. Standards such as XML can cut out a lot of the coding required to make those things possible, he said. Web services technology will make that integration even easier, he added.

A single HiPath 8000 can process user requests for communication from all over the world, Riley said. Multiple 8000s can be deployed to take the total user count above 100,000. Along with the data-center platform, Siemens on Monday was to introduce the hiG 1100 Survivable Gateway, a device to connect branch and remote offices into the IP-based communications system. Far from being a simple, small-office device, the gateway can support as many as 2,000 users and can act as an IP communications platform just for the remote site, should the wide-area connection to the HiPath 8000 fail, he said.

The HiPath 8000 is scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter, according to Siemens. With a minimum of 12,000 users in an enterprise, the platform should cost about US$300 per user, Riley said.

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