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Super Bob visiting Enterprise Connect

Enterprise Connect Kicks Off with Big News

Day 1 of Enterprise Connect is now done, with plenty to share.

Super Bob visiting Enterprise Connect

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Enterprise Connect (previously operating as VoiceCon), which was the theme for many of social and networking events during the show. A real testament to the need for fresh information on communications solutions (which have changed dramatically over the last 25 years).

Skype for BusinessMicrosoft formally unveiled their Skype for Business brand and client offering, showing a number of work environments and end-point devices in their booth. Front and center was the AudioCodes 440Hd IP Phone, showing its presence display and one-button calling.

Big news from Interactive Intelligence as they used the event to launch their PureCloud offering, a complete integrated collaboration solution based on WebRTC and hosted in the cloud. Most notable was a ground-breaking offer that included PureCloud Collaborate for FREE.

Had a great visit with Scott Francis from King County – a peer of mine and end-customer of AudioCodes that has deployed Microsoft infrastructure, offering UC services to improve the efficiency of county government. He’s a Superhero in his own IT responsibilities!

Visiting the show floor, I started my rounds of checking in with some of the partners that offer Lync and Skype for Business solutions. I started with a visit the folks from Ronco Communications, who were showing their Verapresence solution, an enhancement to Microsoft Lync that adds a number of important call management features including announcement, attendant, and call alerting features.

Looking forward to Tuesday, expecting more detailed discussions with partners, keynotes and time in some of the individual sessions. Be sure to check back again tomorrow!

Super Bob

Enterprise Connect – Through the Eyes of Bob

I’m really excited to be attending my first-ever Enterprise Connect in Orlando this next week.   From looking at the vendor list and sessions, it should be one of the biggest showcases of Unified Communications solutions this year and a great place to see the latest new solutions for my growing business.

Super BobRumor has it that Microsoft (booth # 1221) is going BIG with their launch of the new Skype for Business client and server software, taking Lync to the next level. Their booth and sessions are a “must see” on my list.  Zig Serafin, Corporate Vice President, Skype Business Services at Microsoft is the keynote speaker on Wednesday, March 18th from 10-10:30.  I’ll be there watching and listening intently.

After Microsoft (and it looks like right across the aisle), I’m really looking forward to visit AudioCodes to see their solution pavilion and demonstrations.  With offerings for my desktop users, the server room, my NOC and branch offices, the complete One Voice portfolio has served me well.  My understanding is they will be showing their One Box 365 complete solution including managed IP Phones.   I also hear from a reliable source that they’ll be showing a WebRTC to Lync integration, allowing users to share a URL to initiate a WebRTC call to Lync from their browser, avoiding the painful Lync browser plug-ins.

A number of great Microsoft and AudioCodes partners will be there as well, including NACR (booth #1805), SPS (booth #1531), The Via Group (booth #2012), and others.   The challenge is making the rounds and remembering everything in the few days I’ll be at the show.

The folks at AudioCodes have really flattered me with an invitation for a personal appearance in their booth and some cool tee shirts and other goodies with my likeness on them.  Stop in to their booth, snap a picture with me and you’ll go home with some cool swag.   If you are more interested in winning a new Surface 3 Pro, be sure to enter their Passport to Skype for Business drawing.

But I won’t keep all the great stuff to myself, I’ll be blogging and tweeting during the event, showing the best new solutions and snapping some pictures.  Keep an eye on #AUDCHERO on Twitter and be sure to check back to this blog every morning during the entire Enterprise Connect event.

After the event is over, you can always check in weekly as my accomplishments are regularly posted on my landing page at:  http://online.audiocodes.com/super-bob

Super Bob

An Introduction to an IT Superhero

One of the great parts of my job is seeing first hand many of the incredible things our end-customers and partners do to bring the power of UC and contact centers to businesses.   Full Lync voice deployments, remote employees, integrated voice mail, SIP trunking and more…virtually all of the projects improve end-user productivity and reduce operating costs.  We feature many of these incredible projects in written and video case studies, but not all of our customers can get past their own or corporate “stage fright” and don’t want to see their name put in the spotlight.  In other cases, the solution is a small effort with much larger implications – the kind of accomplishment that just doesn’t fit the typical case study.

At the same time, it has become clear to us that most of the decision makers in our customer base are bombarded by marketing messages – a drumbeat of whitepapers, webinars and case studies to the point where they all start to look alike.  How can we get our customers accomplishments to stand out amongst all the other noise?

During our annual market summit, held in our headquarters office in Tel Aviv, we did some brainstorming on the issue – trying to find a way to put a spotlight on our partners and end-customers.   And from this, an idea was hatched to create a character that is an amalgam of all the great things that our partners and end-customers have been able to accomplish.  In a creative and graphic way that jumps out from the typical case study, it was decided we needed an IT super-hero.

And with that, we here at AudioCodes are proud to introduce you to Robert Sipman (you can call him Bob if you like) and his comic strip “The Adventures of Super Bob”.  Bob is a regular IT guy that using the tools at his disposal can do some pretty superhero-like things (well, for an IT guy).   For the next few months, we’ll be releasing weekly episodes showing one of the feats that Super Bob has accomplished while on the job.

Super Bob

The real twist come from the source of his adventures – many of his acts are based on real-world situations and stories that our customers have shared with us.  Some will be attributed, while others prefer to remain hidden behind the mask of anonymity. Be sure to follow along – who knows, you may recognize yourself in one of the episodes.

And if you are lucky enough to be headed to Enterprise Connect during March 16-18th, you’ll get a chance to meet Bob at the AudioCodes booth #1129.  Bob can be a little shy, but he’s generous and will be handing out “I met Bob” tee shirts and other goodies during the event – be sure to stop in and snap a selfie with Bob.

Let’s Hear IT from the Middleman

Let’s Hear IT for the Middleman

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The rapid rise of e-commerce internet sites in recent years has brought about significant changes in the way we go about purchasing goods and services. In particular, items that previously we would only have considered acquiring through an agent are now freely available for us to buy directly via the web. Despite all that, there are still some areas where we are more reluctant to cut out the middleman, like buying a house or car. The added complexity of this kind of purchase (e.g. legal issues, payment plans and just the amounts of money involved) means that we feel more comfortable in the knowledge that someone else is acting on our behalf.

Technological Middlemen and the SBC

Let’s Hear IT from the MiddlemanThe same can be said for the world of technology and telecommunications. Many middleware systems and mediation devices are available today to simplify and control interconnectivity between all sorts of platforms. In the world of IP communications, the predominant mediation device is the Session Border Controller or SBC, which sits at the border between two VoIP networks and provides security, quality, and access control between the two domains.

Connecting Microsoft Lync to SIP Trunking Services

Several recent posts on the AudioCodes blog have discussed the importance of deploying SBCs in a variety of different scenarios. One scenario where there seems to be grounds for leaving out an SBC is when connecting enterprise Microsoft Lync deployments to SIP trunks. According to Microsoft’s own recommendations, the Lync Mediation Server acts as the mediation device between the enterprise Lync Server pool and the outside world. Using this architecture, companies are able to connect to Microsoft-certified SIP trunking services and start to reap the technological and commercial benefits that they offer. With tight IT budgets always competing with the draw of technological innovation, the addition of an SBC into such a scenario would, on the face of it, seem to be something of an unnecessary extravagance. A closer look, though, reveals a number of important considerations that, when weighed up against the alternative, support a strong case for deploying an SBC to connect Lync to SIP trunking services.

Mediation Server or SBC?

Recently, we published a technical guide document entitled “SIP Trunking in Lync Networks – The Easy Way Out” (download it for free here). The aim of this document is to highlight some of the considerations when connecting Lync to SIP trunks which may not be obvious to many IT managers. The document explains how the complexity of SIP trunking connectivity cannot always be handled adequately by a direct connection from Lync’s Mediation Server. SBCs, on the other hand, deliver critical technological and cost-savings value to SIP trunking connectivity in areas such as:

  • Flexibility
  • Interoperability
  • Security
  • Voice quality

The guide goes into some detail in each of these areas. There isn’t room in a single blog post to cover all of them but, for the moment, let’s just take a closer look at one aspect of the first item to illustrate the limitations of Mediation Server when compared with using an SBC. (In future blog posts we will look at some others.)

SBCs for Routing Flexibility

Least cost routing (LCR) is a common feature in any communications setup for controlling costs, giving administrators the ability to decide how to route outgoing calls in the most economical way. Mediation Server is only capable of connecting to one SIP trunking provider at a time, meaning that enterprise-controlled LCR for outbound calls is not possible. With an SBC in place, however, administrators are able to connect to multiple SIP trunks simultaneously and create extensive LCR schemas to ensure that calls are handled in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. And, if your SBC is a hybrid device supporting both SIP and TDM connections, you can perform LCR between multiple SIP trunks and PSTN connections.

SBC – The Middleman You Can’t Do Without

So maybe not all middlemen are unnecessary evils. Just as your real estate agent might have the market knowledge and experience to find you a better deal than you could have done yourself, so too deploying an SBC can help you control the costs, quality and security of your SIP trunking connections.

To quote from “SIP Trunking in Lync Networks – The Easy Way Out”:

An experienced IT manager knows that sometimes the potential downsides of taking shortcuts outweigh the cost of well-designed deployments. The expense of an SBC is relatively small compared to the overall cost of designing, implementing and operating a Lync deployment. The decision to include an SBC is, therefore, a simple one, given the value it offers in terms of security, interoperability and quality.

If you want to learn more, please download our guide. We’d love to hear to your thoughts in the comments section below.

Using the SBC Configuration Wizard: An Interview with Michael Williams

[Post is better viewed on the blog Website]

Speaking with customers is always a great way to get feedback. The PM team at AudioCodes does this regularly. Avi Grabinsky who is already well known on the AudioCodes blog was kind enough to invite me to join one such virtual meeting. The result of that meeting is this first customer interview on our blog. The interview is with Michael Williams who is a Technical Consultant for Nexus Open Systems. Nexus is an AudioCodes partner using our SBC Wizard as part of their installation and maintenance process for their customers. It was interesting to hear Michael’s view on this tool.Michael-Williams

Michael, for our readers who are not familiar with Nexus Open Systems, can you tell us what the company is all about?

Nexus Open Systems delivers IT solutions, software, websites and support services to companies and organisations of all sizes that require true technical expertise to meet their goals. Established in 1998, the company has two offices, incorporating a digital media studio and a hi-tech IT Training and Exam Centre, in Exeter the heart of South West England.

We are a networks and technology solutions company working throughout the UK and beyond. 15 years old, we have 75 staff encompassing a team of 40 engineers and developers.

Nexus has been involved with the Microsoft Lync product since its inception and amongst our 18 Microsoft competencies we hold the Gold Communications competency which relates to the Lync product set. This is testament to our ability to consult, install and support Lync solutions. For 2014 our goal is to become a Premier Lync Support Partner and our software development team are developing a Lync application which will go to market in 2015.

We have strategic relationships with key vendors within the Lync Ecosystem including: Microsoft, AudioCodes (Silver Partner), Mitel (Gold Partner), Dell (Premier Partner), VMware (Enterprise Solutions Partner) and Jabra (Gold Partner).

In the segment of Microsoft Lync who are your prime customers and what segments do you cater for?

Nexus works primarily with medium to large enterprise clients with regards to Lync, with on-premise deployments making up the majority of our current projects.

We are not confined to any organisation segments and work across all verticals, including professional services, public sector, education, non-profit and general industries.

Where do you see  AudioCodes products playing a role in Lync environments?

AudioCodes form a core part of our Lync environment offerings, both in terms of gateways and also handsets. We build our solutions primarily around the AudioCodes product set and then bring in other elements from the Lync ecosystem.

You have been an early adopter of the AudioCodes SBC Wizard. What did you find as the key benefits of this tool and how was life before it?

The SBC Wizard helps us reduce the amount of time needed to setup an SBC: as the wizard applies the most common settings, it saves around an hour and a half per SBC.

Before the SBC Wizard we would have to configure all the basic settings that are needed manually. This can be very tedious and time-consuming.  Moreover, previously when we did the configuration manually there were configuration errors. If we were lucky, those errors were discovered on the spot as part of the configuration process and then we had to spend some time figuring out the errors and fixing them. In the harder cases, errors were discovered after deployment when users were already using the network and some scenarios weren’t running well. Such cases are more of a problem because they involve bad customer experience. Therefore, using the wizard not only saves us time but helps us improve our customers’ experience.

You have several Unified Communications partners. How do you handle cases of multi-vendor sites and do you use AudioCodes products to support these environments?

Our engineers have the expertise to be able to integrate Lync together with AudioCodes devices within multi-vendor sites. Microsoft Lync and AudioCodes are our prime focus for Unified Communications; alternative solutions play a much smaller role in this part of our portfolio.

What do you see as the future direction and growth areas for Nexus?

Nexus is increasingly moving into the large business and enterprise sector. With regard to voice, we are currently developing this segment of the market and are driving it through a direct and reseller channel pre-sales and consultancy regarding Microsoft Lync and AudioCodes gateways.

I think the technology that will have the biggest impact in the communications market will be SIP trunks. They allow our customers to reduce costs and improve disaster recovery options.

If you are interested in sharing your experience with AudioCodes products in an interview on this blog please send me a note.

Lync Conference 2014 Ran Inbar

Lync Conference 2014 – Smashing into a New Era

[Post is better viewed on the blog Website]

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

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…

Image: Collaborating with Lync and AudioCodes One Voice for Lync

Lync Rocks for Collaboration

[This is the first post in our Lync Migration series of posts]

I come from the video communications market, video is my bread and butter, my default for any business or personal communication. Sometimes I forget that not everyone sees the world of communication as I do. To many, communication is a phone call.

In my previous life working for a video company (Radvision), meetings using video were conducted using our own dog food. Lync was installed and used mainly on PCs for IM, and when we wanted to get “real”, we switched to our personal video VC-240 computer screens, a product we developed with Samsung in a partnership I led back in 2009.

Coming over to AudioCodes exposed me to a new world of Lync and integration of Lync with other enterprise telephony systems. It’s not that I didn’t experience Lync collaboration and dual ringing in the past, it is that at this company, this integration is at its best, bringing collaboration to new heights.

AudioCodes puts significant focus on products for Lync deployments through its One Voice for Lync solution offering. The solution includes products that make migration to Lync easy and at the pace the customer choses – gradual user, branch and systems migration, etc. At AudioCodes, we eat our own dog food and use Lync and AudioCodes systems regularly.

This full integration means that I can see, on my AudioCodes HW IP Phone, the Lync status of my colleagues, I can pick-up a call on the IP Phone or on the Lync application and perform different actions from both systems (phone or application). Additionally, I can connect PSTN and SIP Trunks traffic to the Lync network. Naturally I can IM, video call, collaborate and share documents on Lync as well.

Collaborating to Launch This Blog

Image: Collaborating with Lync and AudioCodes One Voice for Lync

As part of the work for launching this blog I had to speak with many people, some not located in our offices in Israel. Video calling via Lync and collaboration were key tools for keeping the work going and being

productive. As a user, it seems natural that you can now see the presence status of people directly from the email they sent you and start a collaboration session in one click. To the user, the platform the remote user is using (Lync, Enterprise PBX, Mobile, PSTN) is completely transparent.

The reality behind the scenes is not so simple on both the technical and business sides of things. Companies don’t tend to go for a forklift migration but rather a gradual one that also preserves previous investments as much as possible. As such, there needs to be a choice between hosted and on-premise deployment, or maybe a hybrid type of deployment with resiliency achieved by deploying an on-premise cloud appliance. This is just a short and non-exhaustive list of things to consider.  On this blog we will start a series of posts that cover topics related to migration to Lync. You can view it as a kind of a guide to the perplexed.

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