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Unified Communications: Technologies that Paved the Way for Cloud Communications Dominance

A Brief History of UCaaS

Guest post by Mark Dacanay of RingCentral

It was just a decade ago when only small and medium scale businesses saw cloud communications as a viable option for a business communications solution. Enterprises mostly ignored the emerging technology because they already had on-premises PBX phone systems and traditional telecoms that they had already been using for too long to take notice of a new alternative.

Technologies that Paved the Way for Cloud Communications Dominance

Technologies that Paved the Way for Cloud Communications Dominance

Fast forward to 2018 and cloud communications is poised to dominate the market through cloud-hosted unified communications solutions. On-premises PBX systems are on their way to being obsolete, while traditional telecoms are struggling to keep up with an always connected generation. In fact, the global unified communications and collaboration market is predicted to top $35 billion by 2019.

It seems like cloud-hosted unified communications is here to stay and is set to dominate the business communications industry in the near future.

But before we look more into the future, it is important to look back to the past. How did we end up here? How did cloud communications, specifically unified communications as a service (UCaaS), come to dominate?

To give you an insight, here are the technologies that paved the way for cloud communications dominance:

Development of VoIP

It was around 2000 to 2005 when companies started using IP networks to transmit voice data. The technology was called Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP. Adoption was not that fast. In the early 2000s, very few calls were transmitted through IP based lines and companies still preferred the traditional PSTN. However, as internet connections became more stable, more and more companies saw the benefits of using VoIP. By 2008, 80 percent of all new corporate lines being installed were VoIP lines. Now, VoIP is used by most unified communications providers as its primary method of transmitting calls or voice data.

Virtualization of infrastructure

The 90s were all about hosting software on your own PCs, so it is not surprising that most businesses at the time also hosted their business apps on their own servers, within their own infrastructure. Intranet services or local web connections that could only be accessed within the premises of the company was a big thing back then. Aside from the familiarity with on-premises systems and infrastructure, cloud technology was still in its infancy and there were still various security concerns that needed addressing. After all, data is stored by a third-party provider and it is transmitted over the public internet.

It was not until Salesforce launched in 1999 that businesses were able to use an actual enterprise app delivered over the ‘net. Salesforce, like today’s cloud services, hosted their suite in a virtual server and delivered the service via the internet, which was accessed via their website. Since then, various cloud services have popped up including Amazon Web Services in 2002. Thus, the virtualization trend has begun. Organizations started delivering services (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS) via the cloud through different deployment models, namely private cloud (solely for one organization), public cloud (open for public use), and hybrid cloud (a combination of public and private). Security has also been addressed with most providers employing security measures like heavy encryption on all facets of data transmission.

Circumstances also aligned for the emergence of the virtualization of infrastructure. This includes the improvement of high-speed internet and the support of leading tech giants like Google and Microsoft. When these giants embraced virtualization technology, it also caused a domino effect within the industry as a whole.

Moving PBX from on-premises to the cloud

Private Branch Exchange or PBX has been around since the 40s. In the beginning, PBXs were simple systems managed by the local phone company itself. Calls were routed from the Central Office (CO) to a business customer. It was very simplistic back then but it paved the way for on-premises systems where companies invest in their own PBX infrastructure to route incoming calls within the company. As mentioned above, the virtualization of infrastructures presented an opportunity for PBX to be deployed through the cloud. Through the Software as a Service model (SaaS), cloud PBX started making noise around 2005 to 2010 as an alternative to on-premises PBX for small and medium companies who could not afford to invest in their own PBX infrastructure. But what started as an alternative to on-premises PBX soon became a viable business phone system for companies of all sizes because of its mobility, flexibility, and scalability, not to mention the numerous advanced features like auto-attendant, answering rules, caller ID, call screening, and call forwarding. As an actual business phone system, the cloud PBX has become the backbone of what we would call unified communications solutions nowadays.

Evolution of team messaging to team collaboration apps

Instant messaging has been around for a while with personal messengers like Yahoo Messenger but the technology did not take off with businesses right away. It was around 2010 when team messaging tools really became popular with companies with tools like Microsoft Lync and later apps like Jabber. Now, team messaging apps are more than just for chats. Apps like Slack, Glip, and HipChat are now full-on team collaboration apps with video chat capabilities as well.

Feasibility of stable audio and video conference

In the past, audio conference calls were a premium service only offered by traditional telecom companies. But with the rise of VoIP, the application of transmitting voice data over IP networks has also made audio conferencing more cost-friendly. In 2005, Lifesize Communication displayed the first video conferencing system at the Interop tradeshow with video showing 30 frames per second, with a 1280 by 720 resolution. By 2010, video conferencing has become a necessity for most enterprises and multiple video conference providers like GoToMeeting and Blue Jeans have popped up in the market.

The arrival of true Unified Communications as a Service

In the last couple of years, the main focus of the industry leaders in cloud communications is to combine these different communication channels into one streamlined service.

With a system that meets most, if not all, the business communication needs of a company and removing the need to rely on separate providers for each application, it is no wonder why cloud communications, UCaaS in particular, is set for domination in the future.

About the Author

Mark Dacanay is a Digital Marketing Professional who has been working with a B2B company offering cloud-based services for more than 5 years. He is obsessed with anything about the cloud – the technology, not the fluffy stuff in the sky. You can reach him through Twitter and LinkedIn .

UCA-Blog-IMG

SIP Trunking – Your First Step to a Future-Proof Communications Network

Beginning the Journey to Enterprise Voice Network Modernization

UCA-Blog-IMG

There’s no doubt about it: a huge shift in voice communication networks is well underway, as enterprises move away from PSTN towards IP.

One of the core reasons for this change is that telecom carriers themselves are transitioning from TDM to SIP, in an effort to reduce their equipment’s operating costs, power consumption and footprint, while taking advantage of advances in voice technology. As a result, within a few years, major carriers will simply declare end-of-service on their TDM and ISDN switches.

On the customer side of the equation, market data shows huge numbers of enterprises leaving behind traditional PSTN voice services as they align themselves with the changes occurring in service provider networks. According to a recent report by IHS, 71% of organizations are making the switch to either a centralized or hybrid SIP trunk. In fact, they predict that between 2015 and 2020, the number of SIP trunk connections will have more than doubled, from 20 million to over 45 million.

 

A Meaningful Impact

As a large, distributed enterprise, moving your voice communications to all-IP infrastructure opens up a whole host of significant benefits. Besides the immediate financial benefits, the transition to SIP trunks allows organizations to centralize and consolidate trunks, for optimal utilization and the ability to leverage economies of scale.

While making the move to SIP trunks, you can take the opportunity to modernize and centralize the management and control of your network as a whole, to assure service quality, remove blind spots across the network and improve security. More efficient management will contribute to the reduction of your IT staff’s day-to-day workload, so they can allocate more time towards finding innovative ways of driving further efficiencies throughout the organization.

Now that you are using your existing data network (WAN) for voice communications, and having implemented more efficient call routing, monitoring and dial-plan configuration, your internal and long distance calls can be routed through your IP network to achieve substantial savings. As you minimalize the costs of internal communications across your enterprise and reap the benefits of least-cost routing (LCR), you can expect to reduce your total communications expenses by up to 38% (based on information gathered from AudioCodes’ customer base).

 

The Way Forward

A solution such as AudioCodes’ Universal Communications Architecture (UCA) will allow you to achieve all this, and more. UCA enables large enterprises with multi-vendor communications systems to modernize their voice networks efficiently and cost-effectively. It achieves this by integrating communications silos, connecting with SIP trunk services and utilizing the corporate IP network to optimize call routing.

UCA features AudioCodes’ session border controllers (SBCs), global end-to-end call routing and policy management, and advanced VoIPerfectTM voice optimization technology, enabling the creation of a universal network that offers high voice quality, without having to replace existing communications platforms.

As we have seen, there is much more to all-IP voice communications than just SIP trunks. AudioCodes’ UCA solution enables you begin to derive maximum benefit from the all-IP world today, by delivering a future-proof voice infrastructure that is easy to manage, maintains corporate security and delivers significant capital and operational cost savings.

 

To learn more about AudioCodes’ Universal Communications Architecture click here to download our Beginner’s Guide to Enterprise Voice Network Modernization.

Managing Heterogeneous VoIP Networks

The Nightmare of Managing Heterogeneous VoIP Networks in Medium to Large Enterprises

There is an Answer

Managing Heterogeneous VoIP Networks

Managing heterogeneous VoIP networks in medium to large enterprises can be a nightmare. Due to the large number of vendors participating in providing the solution, there can be problems at every stage of the implementation and maintenance issues can arise in a variety of aspects including:

  • Network design and configuration
  • Device discovery
  • Distributed routing & policy enforcement
  • Distributed PSTN breakouts
  • Multiple VoIP network elements configuration: SBC and MGW
  • Multiple dial plans: SfB, IP-PBX, SBC and MGW
  • SIP interworking between IP-PBXs A large number of end user policies

Distributed networks present numerous challenges and when it comes to heterogeneous networks where the devices and applications are provided by different vendors, the situation is even worse. Unified Communication systems (e.g. Skype for Business) and the various components in the network such as IP-PBX, SBC and MGW, each have their own static routing, manipulation and dial plan tables. In actuality, we are talking about a distributed system whose elements don’t communicate with each other.  As for troubleshooting, there is no single throat-to-choke and each vendor puts the blame on the other.

AudioCodes’ new White Paper entitled, “Call Routing and Policy Management in Heterogeneous VoIP Networks” presents the challenges of heterogeneous VoIP networks and related applications currently existing in the market. The paper describes a new solution – the “Centralized Dynamic Routing and Policy Manager” – a holistic dynamic routing manager whose design is based on Software-defined Networking principles.

The Centralized Dynamic Routing and Policy Manager decouples the device layer from the network routing and policy layer, automatically creates complex VoIP networks, and simplifies routing rules, monitoring and management configuration. The Centralized Dynamic Routing and Policy Manager does not enforce modifying the network to a star formation and rather manages the network as is.

For more information, click here to download the “Call Routing and Policy Management in Heterogeneous VoIP Networks” White Paper.

Yaniv Christmas tree Germany

How IT Managers Can Better Manage Skype for Business IP Phones

It was a freezing, snowy night, just a few days before Christmas.

I was on one of my road trips in Germany looking at the biggest Christmas tree in the world, while trying to warm my soul with a good, local Gluh Wein. Then my mobile phone disturbed the tranquility of the moment. One of my IT manager customers was calling. I had to answer.

Yaniv Christmas tree Germany

The customer started to describe his day to day challenges and concerns. His enterprise was beginning to migrate from an IPPBX to Skype for Business and Unified communications and his end user satisfaction was poor.  His multi-site roll-out plan took him much more time and consumed more effort than expected. And he was yet to go beyond deploying at Headquarters

where he couldn’t understand what was causing some of the IP Phones to reboot several times a day. He was unable to control the end users’ IP Phones in an efficient way and solve their issues and concerns.

I reminded him about AudioCodes’ IP Phone Manager that he had been considering and I updated him about our free of charge Express Edition. I explained how in our vision, we empower IT with a full life-cycle IP Phone operation management platform and that we view the IP Phone as an IT managed device, essentially turning the IP Phone into an IT Phone.

Feeling warmer by the minute (the Gluh Wein was no doubt having its effect…) I pointed out our multi-tenant IP Phone Manager’s day to day management and maintenance capabilities with a monitoring dashboard showing the phone operation status, active registered IP Phones, non-registered IP Phones and the disconnected devices, allowing IT to proactively detect issues before they are noticed by the end user.  I also described the smart device and user search. He just needed to search on the user name and the IP Phone provided all the necessary information (IP address, subnet, VLAN, software version and more) with just one click.

In that call I convinced my customer to give our IP Phone Manager a try and let the system become the eyes into his network in order to figure out the problems he was facing. And so he did. In just a few hours after he installed the IP Phone manager, he was already able to put his finger on the problem and track the root cause. He immediately saw that when a bulk of users were disconnected it was always in the same network switch and it seemed his POE unit was not functioning well either. He replaced the switch and the issue was resolved.

Several months after installing the IP Phone Manger he wanted to migrate additional branches to Skype for Business. I reminded him that his IP Phone Manager has zero touch installation and provisioning and that he can pre-define his configuration for an automatic zero touch rollout. Once the IP phone is plugged in, it gets the proper configuration automatically.

Together, we invested a half hour in defining his open space area, lobby area and the different company branches with the proper time offset and IP Phone menu language.

A week later he called me and expressed his amazement from the simplicity of the roll out. His ability to proactively detect and solve his end users concerns easily and efficiently was well appreciated in his organization.

And it all started with a phone call while sipping some Gluh Wein……..

Download the AudioCodes IP Phone Manager Express for Windows today and enjoy it free of charge

Skype for Business in the Cloud

Migrating to Skype for Business Cloud PBX the Smart Way

Using a Hybrid Solution Offers the Best of the On-Premises and Cloud-based Worlds

Skype for Business in the Cloud 

Moving towards Cloud PBX

The rapid rise of Microsoft’s Skype for Business is a strong incentive for enterprises to consider deploying the popular Unified Communications suite. The Company’s most recent announcements regarding their on-line version and the replacement of on-premises based PBX with Cloud PBX are also compelling in a period in which the trend to the Cloud is almost universal. However, despite the technical and business advantages of Skype for Business UC, there are many reasons why organizations might want to hold on to a legacy voice system on a temporary or permanent basis. Reasons vary and can range from the need to maintain specialized functionality such as contact centers or alarm systems to investment protection for legacy equipment, to the current functionality gap between the on-premises and cloud-based offerings and even objective availability and regulatory requirements which may mean that Skype for Business Online may not be available at various locations around the world for the foreseeable future.

Planning the Migration to the Cloud

As such, in almost any scenario in the coming years, most enterprises will likely be implementing a migration strategy from a legacy TDM or IP-based PBX system to Microsoft UC, as for all but the smallest of organizations, a full switchover is simply not practical. A smart approach would be to gradually migrate workers who can benefit from the cloud today while keeping other workers who need the full feature set or have other reasons requiring on-premises PSTN connectivity as described above, on the local Skype for Business Server in the near term.

Perhaps the most important thing an enterprise should do in this regard is to develop a voice migration strategy. Such a strategy would compose of several stages including assessing corporate requirements (typically in the headquarters), building an infrastructure that meets those requirements, migrating relevant users to the cloud and finally, expanding that migration by assessing the needs of branch offices, building a corresponding infrastructure and migrating branch users to the cloud as required. By deploying a hybrid system such as AudioCodes’ CloudBond 365, enterprises can benefit from the essential functionality required to ensure a smooth migration to Skype for Business enterprise voice. This can include:

  • Hybrid and pure SBCs which ensure full interoperability between Skype for Business and legacy systems
  • Active Directory integration which enables administrators to control how calls are routed during the migration
  • SBC provided secured SIP trunking connectivity for after the migration is completed

Migrating Smart with a Hybrid System

A deployment of Skype for Business which mixes on-line and on-premises functionality will lay the foundation for a smooth transition to the full cloud solution down the line. The best way to protect the enterprise’s current investments, ensure a full enterprise voice feature set, guarantee that all company branches around the world are serviced and comply with regulations, is with a hybrid solution which offers the best of both worlds and allows the benefits of Unified Communications today with a secure and smooth migration to voice in the cloud when the time is right in the future.

To learn more about how to migrate to Cloud PBX, read AudioCodes’s Application Note: Getting the Cloud Right: A Practical Guide: Migrating users to Cloud PBX with AudioCodes CloudBond™ 365

Make sure to visit us at UC Expo on April 19-20 in London, UK stand #K1016!

The Prophet Jeremiah

Identifying Toll Fraud is Harder Than finding a Needle in a Haystack

What Does That Have To Do With Big Data?

[Post is better viewed on the blog Website]

The Prophet JeremiahAt the time of creation, God spoke with man directly, without any proxy. God spoke to Adam, Eve, the snake and even handled the first murder interrogation by himself when asking Cain “Where is your brother Abel?” After this, when there were too many people, God abandoned the one-on-one approach and started sending his messages and commands through prophets. Then came the kings who listened to the oracles and ignored the prophets.

And then came the scientific revolutionaries, visionaries, dreamers and most recently, the predictors. Unlike prophets, scientific revolutionaries, visionaries and the dreamers, the predictors look to the past to predict the future. And the deeper the predictor studies the past, the clearer he can envision the future.

The predictor is a by-product of an emerging technology – big data. I am sure that big data was invented by a male, since it’s totally built on a male character trait –don’t throw anything away that you may one day need.  This is probably the reason why another male invented large garages. Unlike the traditional rational data bases, big data deals with voluminous amounts of unstructured data (not organized by any method), which is gathered from many sources in large quantities, various formats and varying qualities. There are four main characteristics related to big data (aka the four Vs); Volume, Velocity, Variety, Volatility. Allow me to add a simple analogy from my life to describe the difference between rational and irrational data bases. When I return from the grocery I pile ALL the vegetables and fruit in the refrigerator inside their plastic bags. My lovely and more rational wife washes them all, skins the melons and watermelon and cuts them into pieces, peels the vegetables and sometimes cuts them as well, to be ready for making salad or cooking.

Mr. Gurdeep Singh Pall is the Corporate Vice President for Skype and Lync at Microsoft Corp. Mr. Pall just returned to the Lync unit, after spending the past two years working on Artificial Intelligence projects within Microsoft.  Pall used his opening keynote at this year’s Lync Conference to describe how the work of analytics and Bayesian predictions, will eventually make its way into communications systems. In practice, Singh Pall said, “We can actually predict who you will be calling in the next five minutes.”

Big data and Unified Communications & VoIP services

Unified Communications and VoIP services collect a lot of raw data; this data is worthy of analysis due to its wealth of intelligence. Many companies are increasingly aware that there is information that can be collected and refined to an essence which can be used for performance optimization and network design improvements. UC and VoIP big data analytics will be the key element in converting the big data to a tool which ensures cloud-based VoIP service, including privacy, security, toll fraud, performance, cost and more.

So what can you do with voice analytics?

  • VoIP analytics will build its own multi-layered picture of the network’s topology derived from the big data over time.
  • VoIP analytics will provide Network & Users Profiling
  • VoIP analytics will provide Advanced Call fraud detection and attack prediction
  • VoIP analytics will provide Advanced Multi-Dimensional Cost Analysis

Toll Fraud detection and prevention using big data analytics

Call fraud is associated with significant revenue loss and is hard to discover. I read that discovering call fraud in the masses of call records is more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack. Actually, that’s an easy problem to solve; you know how a needle looks like and by adding enough manpower to do the looking you can eventually find it.  But fraud calls are similar to legitimate calls, so if you can’t identify a fraud call, no matter how much manpower (or CPU power in this case) you put on the job it will be impossible to detect. It’s more like trying to find a specific strand of hay in a haystack.

A common approach to detect call fraud is based on examining accounts made up of several statistics that are computed over a specific period. For example, average call duration, longest call duration, and numbers of calls to particular countries might be computed over the past hour, several hours, day or several days. Account summaries can be compared to thresholds for each period, and an account whose summary exceeds a threshold can be queued and analyzed for fraud.

VoIP analytic fraud detection is designed on a statistical principle of dynamic VoIP fraud detection. The algorithm is based on Tracking Account Behavior which is able to alert or terminate the fraudulent call as it occurs. The algorithm will relay runtime & historical attributes gathered per user, group of users, sites, SIP interface and etc. The VoIP analytics create a signature of predicted usage behavior for each user/group/interface, update the statistical model with each call and score calls for fraud using predicted behavior as the baseline. When a call exceeds a predictive user signature boundary, the VoIP analytic may take actions as per the configuration.

The VoIP fraud detection analytic is built on three stages:

  1. Training – The analysis of large numbers of enterprises of various types such as: Unified Communications, Contact Center, etc. Based on this information, the VoIP analytic Fraud Detection System creates preliminary statistical information which is later segmented per the organization’s characteristics.
  2. Adaptation – Adjustment of the statistics collected in the previous stage to the specific organization. This is done by comparing in real-time the statistics to actual call activity of the organization.
  3. Test – Each call is compared against the statistical call pattern in real-time. Calls that don’t match the pattern will result in fraud alarms with the probability (confidence) grade.

 Conclusion

We are often tempted to impose the way we see things through the prism of our own life experiences on our friends and family while in actuality, what we are really doing is judging them for the way they see things.  A friend once told me that life experience is like a flashlight hanging on your back when you are going forward, in other words, useless.  That may be true. But in the case of Big Data analytics, the system’s life experience is the basis for predicting a better future.