Lync Conference 2014 Ran Inbar

Lync Conference 2014 – Smashing into a New Era

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Lync Conference 2014 Ran InbarThe second annual Lync Conference is now behind us, this year held in the Aria Convention Center in Las Vegas and again a sell-out.  Themed “Coming Together”, the event was attended by some 1,800 end-customers, partners and Microsoft staffers.   Mecca for the Lync faithful, the Lync Conference is the place to be for Lync education, networking and a peek at coming attractions.

This year saw an increasing number of enterprise users, many sharing their experiences in moving beyond their early pilots to full implementations.  During AudioCodes’ private “Circle of Excellence” pre-conference event, we heard from a number of Lync network administrators about their successes and challenges in implementing Lync voice and conferencing across their enterprises.  Cargill, Amgen, Bally Entertainment and a number of other large enterprises all shared their Lync migration stories in great detail.  You can read a summary of the event by Brent Kelly, Consultant at KelCor.

We also took the opportunity to demonstrate our new 430HD and 440HD IP Phones along with our Better Together over IP functionality for Microsoft Lync.  Shown here, Ran Inbar, CTO Unified Communication for AudioCodes demonstrates the Better Together functionality to Matt Landis, a widely read blogger on the topic of Lync.

On the main keynote stage, Microsoft announced some key milestones for Lync with Derek Burney demonstrating the increasingly integrated Skype/Lync experience, the newly updated Lync client for Android tablets and a pre-release look at voice-driven “zero click” Lync client features.

Microsoft Lync Conference 2014 Gurdeep PallFollowing Derek, Gurdeep Singh Pall returned to the stage, announcing the end of the era of Unified Communications and the start of Universal Communications, bringing a consistent user experience across media types and devices. Gurdeep also demonstrated a web-based Jscript application, showing a somewhat un-realistic medical consultation experience, where a patient could hold a video call with a doctor.  (While the technology is very much realistic, in my experience, actually getting a doctor on a video call is highly un-realistic – they seem to be pretty techno-phobic.)

AudioCodes had the opportunity to share our experiences on a panel discussion on the Lync Ecosystem, sharing the stage with AT&T, Jabra, Unify2 and HP.  Challenging the “one throat to choke” argument, the panel dissected the benefits of the well established relationships between the large systems integrators, partners and enterprise buyers.

And finally, in an over-the-top spectacle, Microsoft’s exhibit featured a “product launch” cage where visitors could use a large slingshot to launch legacy telecom devices into a wall, aiming for a target with a gong in the center.  The occasional direct hit would fill the hall with the crashing sound, followed by cheers from the crowd.

Even if you missed the event, you can still participate in the conversation on http://mylync.lyncconf.com – Alan can be reached  via email at alan.percy@audiocodes.com or on Twitter @AlanDPercy

Big Data in the Service of Brain Manipulation

Big Data in the Service of Brain Manipulation

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Editor’s notes: As the editor of AudioCodes Voice Blog I’m always looking for interesting, off-topic, technology posts. This post by Yossi Zadah is a good example. The post is not about VoIP, yet it is about voice and video and how our brain unconsciously makes decisions based on these elements. If you have a topic you think would be of interest to our blog readers, please contact me. We are always happy to accept guest posts. Amir Zmora.

Mental firewalls, mind control & big dataBig Data in the Service of Brain Manipulation

One of the more recent and very popular presentations on TED, was actually a playlist of 11 presentations about data privacy, entitled “The Dark Side of Data”.

In a fascinating talk by Alessandro Acquisti, named “Why Privacy Matters”, Mr. Acquisti explored the behavioral economics of privacy (and information security) in social networks. What motivates you to share your personal information online, he asked.

His team’s surprising study on facial recognition software showed that it can connect an anonymous human face to an online name – and then to a Facebook account — in about 3 seconds.

In this talk, Alessandro illustrates that any personal information can be sensitive information. In one of many of the presentation highlights, Alessandro draws a scenario of using public social media data for personalized advertisements.  He describes a futuristic method of personalized advertisements where the sophisticated marketer uses public social media data (i.e. Facebook) and by using a relativity simple algorithm, chooses two pictures of your best friends. By using a facial composite tool, the marketer creates a new picture which is in essence a combination of the two pictures of your best friends. In the next step the marketer creates a customized ad using the composite picture.  Studies show that people can’t even recognize themselves in facial composites, but they do react to them in a positive manner.

Facial Composite for Brain Manipulation

Voice

Northeastern University computer science professor Rupal Patel looks for ways to give voice to the voiceless. As founder and director of the Communication Analysis and Design Laboratory (CadLab), she developed a technology that combines real human voices with the characteristics of individual speech patterns. The result is VocaliD, an innovation that gives people who can’t speak the ability to communicate in a voice all their own.

To build custom crafted voices, Professor Patel extracts properties from a target speaker’s disordered speech (whatever sounds the target speaker can produce) and applies these features to a synthetic voice that was created from a surrogate voice donor that resembles the target speaker in age, size, sex, etc. The result is a synthetic voice that contains as much of the vocal identity of the target speaker as possible, and the speech clarity of the surrogate voice donor.

VocaliD aim is creating a worldwide surrogate voice donor database to be able to synthesize target voices as close as possible to the target voices.

Let’s try to bring together Professor Patel’s fascinating and novel way to give voice to the voiceless with Professor  Acquisti’s sophisticated futuristic advertisement method and try to extend it to other fields in our everyday lives. In this extended method, the algorithm will use public social media sources to retrieve the voices of two of your best friends.. It can be done by using video clips, various voice recordings and the like.

In the next step, the sophisticated marketer will add to the composite picture a synthesized voice which resembles that of your best friend or mother, father, teacher or any other authoritative figure in your life. Now we have a picture and voice which can be used for various purposes, not only for advertisements.

A determent agent will conduct deep data mining through public (and sometimes non-public) data in order to identify pleasant memories, sites, events, locations.  Using Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI), we can combine the facial composites, synthesized voices and fictional setting which will unconsciously direct you to what to buy, who to elect and how to react to various stimuli.

We began this journey with a facial recognition software which connects an anonymous human face to an online name and we ended-up with a mind control tool which breaches your mental firewall. The impact of this exercise can be significant as it may have dramatic effects on the advertisement industry all the way to homeland security issues.

Enterprise Mobility in the City of Gaudi

Enterprise Mobility in the City of Gaudi

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Cloud based enterprise mobility suite by AudioCodes

February is a busy month for us. We are now in the midst of the Microsoft Lync Conference and Mobile World Congress 2014 is taking place next week.

Mobile World Congress is special for us this year as we are finalizing the move of our enterprise mobility suite to the cloud and enriching it with new functionality.

Enterprise Mobility in the City of Gaudi

 Image source: Wikimedia Commons

What is AudioCodes One Voice for Enterprise Mobility all about?

Our newly launched solution, AudioCodes One Voice for Enterprise Mobility, creates a complete integration of mobile UC with enterprise UC in a secured and managed manner. It enables business employees to communicate with their colleagues seamlessly from their smartphone devices by initiating VoIP calls over Wi-Fi and cellular data services, through almost any enterprise PBX or IP-PBX. The solution allows enterprises to improve collaboration between their employees through features such as advanced dialing, smart contacts, enhanced presence, instant messaging and one-number reach. Enterprises can also dramatically reduce their cellular communications charges when roaming or using their private network.

Also included in the newly launched solution suite is cloud-based voice dialer application. We developed an Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) solution for the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) market. By using our voice activated name dialing technology, we allow callers to state the name of the person or department they wish to call and be automatically transferred to the requested party, thus, relieving the hassle of searching for phone numbers or waiting to speak to an operator. This is an advanced service that can easily be integrated with most of the existing PBXs and IPBXs deployed today on the market eliminating the need for replacing existing equipment.

The solution is ideal for users on the go, specifically for making business calls while driving. It will be much safer and efficient to use our voice for dialing rather than our hands (and more in-line with legal regulations in some countries).

We are getting great initial feedback from our partners and customers and we are looking forward to hearing your feedback as well. We invite you to meet with us at Mobile World Congress. We are located at Booth #9, Section #5E81 in Hall 5. Just send me an email with your preferred time for getting together.

Read more about our new solution at:  http://www.audiocodes.com/solutions/enterprise-mobility or view the press release.

 

One Voice Operations Center

The VoIP Network Management Jigsaw Puzzle

Have you ever felt that your VoIP network management system is like a jigsaw puzzle requiring you to jump from one application to the other in order to complete a full cycle of handing an issue? Well, you are not alone. Meet Alice. Alice works in the IT department of a mid-size company with 3 offices in the US, 2 in Europe and 2 in APAC. This is what happened to her last week.

8:45am, Los Angeles

Alice gets a notification on her browser-based alarm system that there is a high call drop rate in the Boston branch office. She turns to the voice quality monitoring system to zoom-in on the problem.

She waits for the monitoring system to start, it’s a different GUI so it takes her a minute to find the information on that specific branch.

Since it looks like a problem that happened repeatedly over the last 2 hours, she runs a report to get the details of all calls dropped.

She flips back for just a minute to the alarm system to make sure these are really the calls for which the problem was reported. Alice then realizes that the problem has to do with one specific SIP Trunk that is dropping calls.

She must act fast. The Boston site executive was in touch with her from his mobile several times already. He and his team are about to go into a conference call with a customer and he is worried the call will fail.

Calling the service provider support line doesn’t look like something that will solve the problem for the call about to begin at the top of the hour. It is 8:53am and there is no time for support IVR and a call queue.

Alice decides to work around the problem and bypass this SIP trunk by configuring the branch SBC to route the calls through the Chicago branch over an MPLS link. She is still on the monitoring system so Alice now needs to switch to enter system with a different GUI, for the SBC configuration system.

OK. So I made up the story and invented my character Alice. But scenarios such as this one do play out every day for IT managers.

The multitude of independent management and configuration tools, each dealing with a specific task, is a major drawback in VoIP network management. You may think that this jigsaw puzzle is inevitable as each system comes from a different vendor or simply because each product has its related system even if they all come from the same vendor. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

But Gentleman, We Can Rebuild It

One Voice Operations CenterWhat if there was an all in one unified VoIP management suite? What if call quality monitoring, alerts and management of your network servers were all managed from one system? Well…that is exactly what AudioCodes One Voice Operations Center is all about.

The AudioCodes One Voice Operations Center is a suite of management tools providing full coverage of the entire set of actions required to manage a voice network in a Unified Communication environment.

It uniformly manages, monitors and operates the entire AudioCodes One Voice portfolio, including SBCs and Media GatewaysMicrosoft SBAs and IP Phones.

For example, in case of an enterprise using a Lync server, the One Voice Operation Center provides a complete view of the network voice quality, including Lync client to Lync client calls and Lync to PSTN calls. All in real-time. And if you need to fix a configuration, there is no need to go far. The same suite provides a provisioning interface to manage all your SBAs, SBCs and gateways.

Want to learn more? Come visit our booth #625 at the ‘Lync Conference’ to watch a live demo of our ‘One Voice Operations Center’.

AudioCodes and Broadsoft One Voice for Hosted Services

One Voice for Hosted Services Coming to Frankfurt

We have 2 major events this week both centered on AudioCodes One Voice solutions. While our team is setting up in Las Vegas for the Lync Conference and the many related activities AudioCodes will have there, I wanted to share with you some insights into our One Voice for Hosted Services event we will be holding later this week in Frankfurt, Germany, together with BroadSoft.AudioCodes and Broadsoft One Voice for Hosted Services

Bringing together service providers from Europe and endorsed by CEOs of both companies, the event will be a great place to learn about how to meet the challenges in launching and managing hosted Unified Communications services and how the combination of BroadSoft and AudioCodes solutions work to accelerate the revenue generation of such a service.

A Gartner analyst pointed out during a call we had before Christmas, that the on-premise equipment (or CPE) is one of the main pain-points for hosted services. The analyst noted two main challenges: (1) the many CPE vendors that the service provider needs to integrate and support, and (2) the high OPEX incurring at the stage of the installation at the customer premise. Not surprisingly, these very same challenges were mentioned by operators we met within the past few months, indicating that massive efforts and resources are invested in recurring on-premise equipment setup and operation.

AudioCodes One Voice for Hosted Services offering addresses exactly these points by helping to reduce the number of vendors and by the Zero-Touch provisioning this program offers to all CPEs. The offering includes a range of products covering all CPEs needs, from IP Phones and ATAs all the way up to routers and SBCs. AudioCodes Zero-Touch provisioning is designed to allow automatic configuration for all on-premise equipment without requiring a highly skilled technician to access and configure each device. The Zero-touch solution fits with the existing management by complementing the missing capabilities to reach end-to-end Zero-Touch provisioning. This mechanism will also fit both carriers and OTT service providers while adjusting to the specific network structure of each.

This week, in front of the major service providers in EMEA and together with BroadSoft, we will be presenting these solutions and demonstrating capabilities. In addition, Mr. Dean Bubley, one of the world’s leading experts on disruptive technology marketing, will examine enterprise opportunities for carriers, considering ways to find value in a rapidly-evolving ecosystem. He will also look at the immediate future and beyond, when customers will demand a better embracing of mobility, BYOD, embedded voice/video and new technologies such as WebRTC. I for one, am very much looking forward to hear what he has to say.

I don't gamble

I Don’t Gamble

The AudioCodes-Microsoft Lync angle

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I don’t gamble.  Not that I hate gambling, or that I don’t understand the “thrill” that comes with it.  I just don’t gamble.

When I was in my early 20’s I went on a family vacation in Puerto Rico, and our hotel had a casino.  I had 5 quarters in my pocket when I sat next to a slot machine.

4 quarters went away in a blink of an eye.  The fifth gave me back 6 quarters, and as I was about to kiss the last one goodbye and move on, I won $86.

I took the money and ran off to rent a jet ski. That was it. I never put a single coin in a slot machine since.

I recalled this since 2014 starts off for me with an unusual sequence of travel destinations:  I just got back from Macau China two weeks ago from our APAC sales kickoff event, and I’m heading next to Las Vegas for the Microsoft annual Lync Conference.  The two biggest gambling destinations in the world, 1 month apart, for someone who doesn’t gamble. Go figure.

I don't gamble

2014 is starting off on a very positive note for our Lync program.  We have introduced a new high capacity session border controller (SBC) which has sufficient capacity to cover the data centers and headquarters of 99.9% of the world’s enterprises.  We focused significant development efforts on functionality, security and interoperability in the last 3 years, and in 2013 we were able to quickly scale up the capacity of our SBC.  I think that the timing is pretty good because we are seeing enterprises scaling up their Lync deployments, and as they start retiring legacy PBX and ISDN/T1 trunks, they are moving to SIP Trunking.  This is exactly where we fit in with our SBC, as part of our very successful One Voice for Lync offering which includes gateways, SBC, SBA, IP Phones and applications for Lync.

Our release got a lot of positive industry reviews such as the article Thinking Big with AudioCodes by Blear Pleasant on UC Strategies.

“That’s why AudioCodes is “thinking big” and introduced the Mediant 9000 Session Border Controller, which supports up to 16,000 concurrent sessions and extends the capacity of AudioCodes Mediant SBC family.  As part of AudioCodes’ One Voice for Lync product portfolio, the larger capacity SBCs enable enterprise customers to consolidate the network infrastructure for Microsoft Lync, simplifying training, deployment and support. AudioCodes and Microsoft have been working together for years, and AudioCodes realized that it was important to expand its SBC capacity in order to better support large Lync deployments. This is especially important as the momentum for Microsoft Lync continues to grow, with nearly 60% of enterprises with over 500 seats surveyed by Infotrack deploying or planning to deploy Lync.”

It was very clear to us that once we complete the networking products portfolio, the next step would be to offer a uniform management suite for it, and that we did!  We just announced our One Voice Operations Center which is a holistic suite of life-cycle management applications for large scale cloud or premise-based unified communications deployments.  With that, we are very well positioned to serve the largest of the Fortune 500 enterprises as they roll out Lync globally.

Just before the Lync conference starts, we will be hosting a closed user group event of top notch Fortune enterprise customers, for a round-table discussion about Lync global roll out best practices. Later in the week we are holding a “Vegas Style” party for our partners and customers. If you are coming to the event please make sure to stop by the Audiocodes booth #625.

All in all I expect we will have a great week in Vegas.

It makes me feel that if you plan properly, you don’t have to gamble…

Going native with WebRTC

Going Native with WebRTC

Going native with WebRTCIf you are reading this blog there is a good chances you heard about WebRTC and are well aware of the various products and services around it. Centering on enterprise communication and how WebRTC is being realized in this segment, the market is pretty much focused on one solution – a GW.

Now don’t get me wrong, WebRTC GWs are very important, you can’t really do without them if you want to overcome the slow deployment cycles and stay current with technology advancements. The point is that a GW is not enough. Let’s delve more into that.

The Typically Proposed “WebRTC for Enterprise” Architecture

If you look at some of the architectures used today for bringing WebRTC into enterprise networks they typically comprise a WebRTC GW and a media server that transcodes Opus to some other common codec, say G.729. Some options will also include RESTful APIs for configuration and creation of services on top. On the Audio side, there are cases where G.711 is used end-to-end but this option is not a preferred one from quality perspective when going over the open internet even though there are ways to add resiliency and improve quality even if G.711 is used.

A typical architecture of WebRTC GW Deployment

A typical architecture of WebRTC GW Deployment

 

The architecture described above is great, it will do the job. Question is, at what price.

Basically this architecture is kind of an “easy” way to bridge WebRTC into an enterprise network. You put a big box that will brute-force everything to what you have running on your network today. If that big box doesn’t provide the required capacity, just add another one.

There is another option

The most “expensive” component in GWing WebRTC into an enterprise network is the transcoding part. The way to work around this is by adding native support for Opus to the end devices. Doing so will yield quality improvement, cost reduction and preserve privacy. You can find a detailed technical overview why going native with WebRTC media on the end devices is important in an earlier blog post I published.

Reality is that Opus transcoding is extremely computing intensive so architecting this task on the server side will take a significant capacity toll on your system.

The flip side of this is that putting Opus on the IP Phone is complex. Assuming you are going for a SW upgrade and not a HW change, it requires flexibility in the phone architecture and hard work to get Opus running on it.

The subject of why adding Opus to existing IP Phones is complex interested me for a long time so I had a chat with our experts. Eli Shoval who is running our DSP Group and Oren Klimker, a team leader in this group.

The challenges in running Opus on an IP Phone can be summarized to be:

  • Processing power – Since not all IP Phones were born equal there needs to be optimization work and actual rewriting of some codec parts to make it run best on the IP Phone processor
  • Memory – This includes both footprint and run-time memory requirements. Opus is a feature rich codes that serves a wide variety of implementation scenarios; additionally, since sampling rate of Opus is higher than traditional VoIP codes memory required for an audio channel is increased

This in turn yields 2 main tasks required to overcome the MIPS and memory challenges:

  • Optimization – This work includes optimized implementation of some components of the Opus codec for both performance on the specific phone’s SoC (System on Chip) and memory consumption
  • Selective implementation – Part of the rewrite work needs to include removal of certain functions not required on an IP Phone

But there is Opus 1.1, doesn’t that solve the issue?

The short answer to this is NO.

In details, there are 2 reasons why Opus 1.1 doesn’t remove the need for native support for Opus on the end devices but rather make it even more essential.

The first reason is simple. Since transcoding will always add delay, reduce quality and impose cost on the server implementation; whenever possible, better to avoid getting into transcoding.

The second reason lies in the details of Opus 1.1 improvements. There is a pretty long list of changes, some such as surround encoding improvements don’t really touch the IP Phone requirements that much. What I want to take a closer look at is the speed improvements. As it looks, the team that built Opus 1.1 focused on improving the codec speed when running on ARM processors with NEON (do I hear mobile?), they reached up to 40% improvement. On the other hand, for x86 architectures there is no real improvement and in some cases things even got a bit worse. This can be seen in the diagrams below.

 

 

Opus 1.1 performance on ARM Cortex-A9 and i7-3520M

Opus 1.1 performance on ARM Cortex-A9 and i7-3520M

Source: xiph.org

 

This means that Opus 1.1 doesn’t bring good news to transcoding servers but it does improve the performance on some of the end devices.

Conclusion

As explained in this post and on earlier ones the preferred architecture for deploying WebRTC on any network and specifically on enterprise networks is one with end-to-end media without transcoding. The target should be to minimize the cases of transcoding to those where it is a must. Such cases as where traffic is going through a GW to PSTN or over SIP Trunks. In other cases, going native with WebRTC on the end devices is a preferred architecture.

Secured Approach to Cloud Telephony Services

A Secured Approach to Cloud Telephony Services

Secured Approach to Cloud Telephony Services

Image credit: Flickr user opensourceway

One of the common dilemmas to most “mission critical” cloud service providers is whether an on-premise border gateway or tool should be part of their architecture for connecting on-premise software and HW appliances to their cloud services.

The purposes of such a border gateway or tool are various and depend on the cloud services provided. For example, a familiar tool is the AWS Storage Gateway. This gateway connects on-premise appliances to the Amazon Cloud storage services. Other cloud services such as big data analytics and network performance monitoring architecture may include on-premise tools for remote sniffing, data gathering, filtering, transforming, preliminary analysis and mass data transport.

When thinking of using a cloud service for enterprise telephony, a common decision point is whether to connect the enterprise IP Phones directly to the telephony service provider or to deploy an on-premise cloud appliance.

Actually, an enterprise cloud-based VoIP services architecture, dictates the need for an on-premise Session Border Controller for basic operation solving connectivity, (i.e. NAT traversal), security, resilience and quality issues.

Connecting the enterprise to the service provider cloud through VPN

Trying to reduce costs, VoIP service providers often bypass connectivity and security issues by connecting the Enterprise to the cloud using VPN over IPsec or MPLS-VPN service with or without standard End-to-End Service Level Agreements and performance reporting.

Both VPN-IPsec and VPN-MLPS connections simulate a L2/L3 LAN with the service provider. This architecture obviates the need for NAT traversal and on-premise VoIP security, as VoIP clients and IP phones share the same IP subnet with the service provider SBC.

Enterprise-Cloud-Over-VPN

VPN connection between the enterprise and the service provider

Adding Multitenancy

This approach may be satisfying for private or dedicated cloud architectures, although it doesn’t provide a solution for resiliency and voice quality monitoring. However, for cloud-based VoIP service providers who provide service to multiple enterprises, this approach is problematic.

Multi-tenant-SBC

Multiple tenants connected to the service provider through VPN

Multitenancy refers to a principle in software architecture where a single instance of the software runs on a server or HW system, serving multiple client-organizations. Although multitenancy can be achieved by running multiple instances of the application, in most cases multi-tenancy is designed by virtually partitioning an SBC data and configuration. Each tenant works with a segregated non-bleeding virtual application instance.

Multi-tenant cloud-based VoIP services share a single application server instance (i.e. IP PBX, application servers) and network entities instance (i.e. access SBC, peering SBC) between several tenants.

Seemingly, multi-tenant shouldn’t present any security or other issue, but in reality, this tenant segregation is almost impossible since, after all, tenants may share network interfaces (same IP and port 5060), and a SIP trunk or MGW in the northbound, so the segregation is not complete. An attack on one of the tenants or a misconfiguration of one of the shared resources, compromises all of the tenants’ security. In such a case,  as the tenants are sharing the same L2/L3 with the service provider and relying on the service provider IDS (intrusion detection server) and IPS (intrusion prevention server), a simple intrusion can be destructive.

Cloud-Appliance

 An SBC as demarcation point between the enterprise and the service provider

Isolating the enterprise from other tenants’ security threats

Organizations that can’t afford compromising their security and can’t trust 3rd party security services, should deploy an enterprise SBC as a demarcation point.

An Enterprise SBC provides:

  • Support for back-to-back user agent (B2BUA) functionality
  • Security and privacy (personal information is not forwarded to the cloud)
  • Emergency calls and regulatory
  • Resiliency
  • Remote Agent termination
  • Registration throttling
  • Voice Quality Monitoring
  • Call Admission Control and Rate Limiting.
  • Registrations overload and avalanche protection
  • On-premise recording, the SBC forks the calls

Finally, cloud-based VoIP services can be connected to an Enterprise via VPN-IPsec or VPN-MLPS without the need for an Enterprise SBC. However in choosing this path, the enterprise loses much of the above mentioned functionality related to the SBC and puts the enterprise in a security risk as well.