Tuesday, 20 December 2011

More choice in this period of giving

Season’s Greetings!

Cloud must be the great buzzword of the year, with virtually everyone getting on the bandwagon. There probably hasn’t been a technology article written in the last twelve months that didn’t have the word ‘cloud’ in it. Here at Aculab, we’re just as guilty; at least in terms of drawing down on our bag of cloud words. However, since the introduction of Aculab Cloud, we feel kind of justified. I’m sure you’d agree.

Friday, 2 December 2011

SS7-to-SIP gateways - are you for or against encapsulation?

So, what are we talking about here, encapsulation in the context of SS7-to-SIP gateways? Let’s have an analogy; it’s always good to have an analogy and it’s certainly better than an apology.
My Favorite Martian
Find this image at Listal

Let’s imagine you are the Martian delegate at a plenary conference between the third and fourth planets, and your speech is delivered in Martian. An interpreter – an electronic device – is used to simultaneously translate your Martian to Mandarin (the language spoken in the other planet’s future). And, except for leaving out the ‘uhmns’ and ‘aahs’ in your delivery, the converter delivers your Red Planet speech in perfectly understandable Mandarin.

You grok what that ‘gateway’ is doing – it gives your audience the essential data, leaving out only the protocol-level messages; those ‘uhmns’ and ‘aahs’ that mean, “Hang on, I’ve got more to say.” That’s a very useful gateway if the receiving endpoint wants to hear only Mandarin.
Here’s a further analogy. If the gateway were to capture the speaker’s voice as a .ufs (Universal file system) attachment and route that through to its destination, what would happen? The receiver would have to perform its own translation, before delivering your Martian speech in Mandarin. Surely, that’s a less useful gateway.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A box by any other name would be as neat

“You pays your money and you takes your choice
You can double your money or open the box.”
Most of us like to keep things neat and tidy; everything in its place and a place for everything as the saying goes. Even those who give the impression of being chaotic have some kind of system – it may be known only to them, but they know where to find things when they need them. Perhaps that explains the apparent contradiction in the law of growing entropy – the fact that there is a ‘law’ governing the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system.
In terms of provisioning a hardware-based telephony system, there are a number of areas of uncertainty. Those can range from the relatively mundane, albeit costly, errors that occur when you inadvertently damage a board whilst trying to locate it in a server, to the frustratingly frequent component obsolescence that is seemingly built-in to PC motherboards. Another issue is the march of progress that means you can no longer find servers with slots for your PCI boards, unless you are able to specify expensive riser adapters. And for how long will that continue?

Monday, 10 October 2011

2: Introduction to Cloud Telephony - What is a Cloud Telephony PaaS?

If you are intrigued by Cloud Telephony, you might be asking yourself a number of questions. Those questions are likely to include: “What is meant by a Telephony Platform as a Service (PaaS)?” “Is it for me?” “When and why would I use a Telephony PaaS?” “What are the Telephony PaaS options?” Read on for some answers…

In summary, a PaaS could be a server system or it could be a computer language interpreter that enables bespoke applications to be written and deployed.  The main benefit being that you can access ‘tools’ to help write and deploy an application, based on technology owned and managed by someone else. 

PaaS is different from Software as a Service (SaaS) in that there is no pre-written, configurable application.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Fax in The IP World

In these days of twittering tweeps, social media, e-mail and instant gratification, sorry, messaging, the use of fax as a communication medium has greatly reduced. However, there are many businesses out there that still rely on fax. It may be they have not embraced the new technology, it may be that their customers have not made the move. It may be that their business still relies on paper documents and to send a facsimile of the document is the easiest way to share the information. It may be that fax is a legal requirement. Whatever the reason, believe me, a lot of businesses, more than you would credit, still have a fax requirement.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Can gateways be poetical?

Media gateways are useful things. Signalling and media gateways are even more useful, at least according to Wikipedia, which states that "Modern media gateways used with SIP are often stand-alone units with their own call and signalling control integrated and can function as independent, intelligent SIP end-points." They must’ve had GroomerII in mind. Who was it who said, "I learned everything I know from Jimmy Wales," by the way?

So, gateways are intelligent. But they can’t do everything (they don’t have to do everything) and they shouldn’t do everything. We’d have to invent a new label for something that did. In fact, the label ‘gateway’ is sufficiently descriptive not to need much introduction, which is probably why the Wikipedia page is quite short and sweet. If Wee Willie Shakespeare was around today, instead of writing a tribute to the rose, he might well pen the following: "A gateway by another name would still be neat."

Friday, 23 September 2011

Why an IP-centric telephony board is the best choice when building highly scalable or resilient solutions

This is part two of a set of articles describing the benefits of Aculab’s range of IP-centric Prosody X media processing boards for developers of large scale communications platforms.
In part one, it was stated that there are many advantages in having IP at the core of the Prosody X media processing board, not least of which is the high channel counts made possible by such an architecture. But that is just one aspect…

Choosing IP connectivity enables a distributed architecture

In putting IP technology at the heart of the Prosody X design it is much simpler, due to the ubiquity of Ethernet in IT networks, to build multi-board, multi-chassis and multi-location systems using Prosody X. So if the high channel counts of a single Prosody X board are not enough, then it is easy to build multi-board systems.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

New high density Prosody X PCIe media processing board hits the sweet spot for developers

Our clever engineers have done it again – you’ve now got an even higher density, media processing board with which to play. The new PCIe board joins the Prosody X family of DSP-based boards that are used extensively in multimodal communications systems.

We could have just taken the existing 4-trunk Prosody X PCIe board and added further trunks and DSPs. Instead we took note of customer feedback and went the extra mile to further improve the original design. 

The result is a board with vastly increased channel capacities, giving our developer customers the components needed to readily craft large scale systems at a very cost-effective price-per-channel. Whilst many DSP boards top out at 240 channels, the new 8-port Prosody X PCIe board can support up to 720 channels. 

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Who owns the cloud?

If the thought of storing critical, personal or sensitive information in a place that to all intents and purposes is completely out of your control makes you feel a tad uneasy – you’re not alone.  Using the cloud, particularly in relation to data, is a bone of contention, but there are options for you to choose from, each with its own merits.

The last blog introduced the idea that services (IaaS, PaaS and CaaS) can be deployed in three different types of cloud - private, public or hybrid (there are more variations out there, but those are the key ones for you to consider at this early stage).  Which is the best option for you, really depends on what you’re looking to achieve.  It may be useful to think about your top priorities, for example, ‘risk aversion’ or ‘cost reduction’?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Dealing with RTP loss

In a post last month, you read about SIP call recovery from RTP loss. This post continues the theme, providing some more useful information – detecting and dealing with RTP loss between two SIP end points.

If you recall the scenario, there is a gateway installed between an SS7 carrier network and an emergency services IP network – an ESInet – over which emergency calls are routed to public safety answering points (PSAPs). Calls entering the ESInet via the gateway are SIP/RTP/UDP and, as the NENA i3 specification quite rightly states, in no circumstances should an in-progress emergency call be taken down automatically, just because RTP streams fail.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

SIP call recovery in gateways

Life is full of truisms; those self-evident truths in statements like not being able to recover your lost youth (despite what plastic surgeons say – or any number of elderly film stars have wished). It’s not as evident that you can’t recover SIP (session initiation protocol) calls when they appear to fail. What happens when you lose an already established SIP call between a gateway and an end point on a VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) network? Can it be recovered? It depends on what you mean by ‘lose’ and ‘recover’.

Dictionary definitions of recovery suggest many things, from salvage to sports. The latter always gives good value for analogies, don’t you think? How about a recovery stroke in golf; playing from the rough to the fairway (or a bunker to the green) – hands up if you’re familiar with that one.

Recovery also covers recuperation (as in convalescence) in addition to repossession and retrieval. In disaster planning – getting closer to technology and SIP call recovery – recovery means the steps to be taken to return all operations and systems to their normal status. In electronic commerce – getting closer still – it’s the ability of a system to be restored so that processing can resume and transactions, aborted due to a failure, can be resubmitted.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Microsoft and Skype

On the 10th of May it was announced that Microsoft had agreed a deal to acquire Skype for US$8.5 billion. Since then there has been much industry chatter about ‘why’ and ‘what’ this means for the industry. For me the only question mark is over how much they paid.

Microsoft has been moving into telephony for a number of years now. It was a natural progression for its business offering to include telephony, voice and video, in the evolution of work-based collaboration and in fact voice and video have been available as part of MSN Messenger for many years. This highlights an area of synergy between Microsoft and Skype; Microsoft, with MSN Messenger, allowed people to communicate over the Internet for free, exactly the area of the market that has proved to be so successful for Skype.

So, why Skype? Well, Skype is the world’s only truly global telephony service provider. It can offer it’s users connectivity to the PSTN, allowing calls to any phone/mobile phone in the world whilst offering the new generation services such as instant messaging, presence and video calls, to its on-net customers. When you start to look at the services Skype can offer it’s customers  - yes some are free, but many do have a cost associated with them  - then you start to appreciate how Microsoft can exploit this with it’s own products and not just for the home user but for business as well.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Come see us at the NENA show

Day 2 of the NENA trade show starts in an hour. Whether you are interested in hearing about gateways to support next generation 9-1-1 , software only solutions for enterprise or emergency service specific needs, or the latest in cloud-based telephony, Aculab has something for everyone.

Come and meet the team:

David Samuel - Global Sales and Marketing Director
Ian Colville - Product Manager
Mile Donoghue - US Sales Director
John Kozlowski - Account Manager

Here they are yesterday on the stand, booth 324.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Don't wait for an emergency before you call Aculab - NENA 2011 booth 324

Tomorrow will see the team from Aculab flying to the National Emergency Number Association – NENA 2011 – conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center in the appropriately named ‘City of Lakes’. That is, unpronounceable Icelandic volcanoes permitting – well, you never know when an emergency situation will arise. Although I guess you wouldn’t call 9-1-1 to get out of that kind of disaster.
So, barring accidents – touch wood and all that – we’ll be arriving at the Lindbergh terminal in Minneapolis-Saint Paul International on Saturday evening, before heading downtown to our hotel near the Convention Center.

The NENA 2011 event takes place between June 18th and 23rd in downtown Minneapolis and is the public safety industry’s premier annual conference and tradeshow. The primary theme of this year’s event is the next generation transformation of the 9-1-1 system, in which, incidentally, Aculab’s GroomerII gateway plays a key role.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

HD Voice – it’s all about connecting up the disparate islands

File:Oeresund Bridge.jpg
Oresund Bridge, image source: Wikipedia

This weeks announcement[1] by Orange that it plans to roll out mobile HD Voice to several more countries throughout Europe, and from UK operator Three that they will roll out HD Voice capability to ‘most’ phones by the autumn is good news for the spread of HD Voice, but Orange are missing a trick.

Read down to the bottom of the Orange press release and you come to the part about hooking up its HD Voice capable mobile networks with its own broadband fixed network service that currently has approximately 800,000 subscribers. Orange is not planning to enable a customer who might have its wideband service on their home network to talk to someone (possibly a member of the same family) in HD Voice quality on a mobile phone until 2012 or 2013!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Chapter 1: What you need to know about cloud computing - Iaas, Paas, SaaS

What’s inside a cloud?

Imagine you could easily pick out, which cloud telephony vendors you needed to speak to according to your hardware or software requirements, simply because you understood how the cloud was structured and the prime benefit each part presented.
It’s not impossible…
A previous blog gave a brief definition of cloud computing.  The next question to tackle is “What actually makes up the cloud”.  Once you have an understanding of cloud structure, it will be far easier for you to absorb, which cloud telephony players you need to talk to in order to replace different ‘in-house’ or ‘on-premise’ systems and equipment. 

Friday, 13 May 2011

Introduction to cloud telephony: Part 1 - What is cloud telephony?

Google cloud telephony and your search is likely to return a whole raft of products, definitions and services that aren’t altogether similar – services you can buy or build, hosted applications, cloud communications, VoIP. The list is long and varied, but what does it really mean?  How can you tell a cloud service from any other telephony service?

Inspired by an Infoworld article five big questions about cloud computing the following five key points define a true cloud telephony service. These ‘checklist’ items apply to all forms of telephony-based applications, such as IVR systems, contact centre platforms and PBXs.

  • Self-service – the ability to access the telephony service you want, from anywhere you want, at any time you want, through the Internet.
  • Commodity pricing – taking advantage of on-demand resources, service providers have reduced costs and can pass these on to customers in the form of pay-as-you-go or pay-for-what-you-use pricing deals.
  • Transparent scalability – the telephony service can scale seamlessly to accommodate peak call volumes, business growth or the use of resource intensive features.
  • Shared infrastructure –  the ability to share compute resources through virtualization has fuelled the cloud revolution by reducing cost.  It also frees the customer from being tied to proprietary telephony hardware or installed software.
  • Machine addressability – placing the ability to tailor telephony applications into the hands of customers, through the provision of APIs.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Why gateways are ‘how to’ answer to life, the universe …and Your problems

In the realm of digital communications, you could say that gateways are a necessary evil.

[By the way; that’s a gateway as distinct from a router, Proxy server, or some form of gatekeeper or firewall function at an entry/exit point to the network.]

Sure, gateways aren’t wicked or malevolent – like vampires. Come to think of it, though, if it wasn’t for vampires, neither Peter Cushing nor Christopher Lee, not to mention Buffy (who polished off many a vampire), would’ve had much of a career. You’d probably think they’d be inclined to say, “Evil is good!”

So gateways are a necessary evil, which means they’re a good thing. Let’s face it, nobody buys a gateway, because they want to. Gateways are purchased because they are needed. Gateways are the vampire slayers of the netherworld of communications. Gateways are purchased, because somebody, somewhere, in their own particular universe, has a problem to solve – because they are necessary. That’s a truism (close to being a fact). But, what’s the problem?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Chapter 1: What you need to know about cloud computing - What is cloud computing?

On a clear day, I can see for miles

If cloud telephony has caught your attention you might be asking “What exactly is cloud telephony?” or “Why should I opt for cloud telephony?” and crucially, perhaps, “Why should I care?”

These are all good questions (to be addressed in later blogs), but first a more fundamental question must be answered – what is cloud computing? Because understanding the broad concept will help you absorb the essentials of cloud telephony and the benefits it can bring to you.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Aculab Cloud


A snippet from Alan Pound's keynote given today at the IT Expo show in Miami showing the architecture of our new concept, Aculab Cloud. The video recording of the keynote presentation will be uploaded shortly.

Convergence of the old and the new

Since the earliest days of VoIP when the term ‘IP telephony’ was commonly used to describe the new age method of making voice calls, there has been discussion of convergence. That is, between the old ways of providing business telephony services (telephone switches, PBX systems and copper twisted-pair to the desk), and the new approach where voice could be provided as ‘just another service’ on the corporate LAN.

VoIP had humble beginnings where it was seen as a way to get free calls, but with no expectation that the quality would be good or could be controlled. However, it has now come of age and can compete head-to-head with the PSTN and even surpass it in quality terms (with HD voice technology). The barriers to adoption have been coming down for VoIP, and Aculab systems are in place across a whole range of industry sectors supporting both TDM and IP-based traffic.

An example of just how IP-based applications can be rolled out to integrate with an existing TDM infrastructure can be found in a new Aculab case study from a UK city council. By deploying ApplianX IP to TDM gateways, the Nottingham City Council was able to integrate existing TDM PBXs with newer IP PBXs whilst maintaining service and reducing network costs.

Aculab is always happy to discuss the convergence of IP and TDM networks, and this week sees some of the team at the Convergence India 2011 event in New Delhi. The event is recognised as South Asia's largest event in the ICT sector, and covers a huge range of technologies from telecommunications, through to broadcast TV and satellite services. Stop by Aculab’s stand (stand K86 in Hall 10) to hear more about what Aculab can do to solve your problems with converging legacy TDM with new IP-based telecommunications networks.

We look forward to seeing you there.


Come and meet us at stand K86 in Hall 10.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Power to the People

I was amused to read last Tuesday (6th April, 2010) of the Federal Appeals Court's decision, which overturned a judgment against Comcast. Not that I have anything to do with Comcast, you understand; it's more of a personal, anti-authority thing. Somehow, it appeals to me that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has effectively been told it has no right to tell ISPs how to manage their networks.

The essence of this ruling is surely a clear statement that the FCC, although it has delegated (by Congress) regulatory authority over the provision of telecommunications services, does not have the same authority over Internet services. In fact, it has absolutely no authority in that regard.

Some reports have suggested this will be the end of the FCC's quest for broadband and net-neutrality regulation, because it has no jurisdiction over ISPs. I feel this is unlikely as an institution like the FCC isn't going to just curl up and expire; no sir, it's going to fight back!

What I also found interesting was the idea that, in order to gain control over ISPs as well as Telcos, the FCC might attempt to reclassify Internet access as a telecommunications service. Should that happen; prepare for years of legal wrangling and no short term outcome other than more smug attorneys.

Should we (in the United Kingdom in addition to the United States) care?
I believe it should (always and ever) come down to a test of 'what is best for the consumer'. I suggest that the only lobby group worth listening to is the consumer. Maybe all politicians should take heed of that? It sounds so good, I'll say it again, "The only lobby group worth listening to is the consumer".

Why is that true? It's true, because Parliament or Congress is elected to represent the interests of the people (at least in a Democracy) and should make it their business to do just that. Consumers need legal protection from harmful and anticompetitive conduct and assurances that they will be treated fairly, in terms of clear and unambiguous billing, for example.

The problem is that the majority of lobbyists (be it to Congress in Washington, Parliament in Westminster or the European Commission in Brussels) represent vested interests. By which I mean vendor interests and significantly influential vendors at that. Of course, the vendors' viewpoint needs to be aired, however that should be done more openly. Congressional working groups, for example, could invite vendor submissions - and share them in public.

My final thought is that this should be enshrined in law, such that the only groups legally entitled to lobby shall be those representing the consumer. Power to the people!

Friday, 4 February 2011

"Hey, you, get on to my cloud."

On the theme of the ‘cloud’….

If the Rolling Stones had time back or rather, were just now embarking on their career, they’d be writing “Hey, you, get on to my cloud.” Most everyone is now saying to us or telling us, that is just what we should be doing – getting in[on]to ‘cloud computing’. Many analysts and researchers, such as Gartner and the IT Governance Institute, are happy to tell us that’s exactly what we will be doing. The ‘cloud’ is inevitable. Its advance is inexorable. It’s capacity is inexhaustible (might have to be careful on that one; see Parkinson’s Law – “programs expand to fill all available memory”). So we shouldn’t fight against it; we should embrace it.

The trouble with us humans is that we’re conditioned otherwise. We’re conditioned to own or possess things; we covet things – or as Nietzsche might have written, there’s a Will to Possess amongst the untermensch. Perhaps ‘The Cloud’ will finally herald the arrival of the übermensch? We’ve become accustomed to collect possessions and to own things. Books and CDs are a classic example at the personal level. But, think about it for a minute; if you’ve got an Android phone or (heaven forbid) an iPhone, with access to Pandora or Last.fm or Spotify, who needs a collection of CDs gathering dust on a shelf. When you’re on-line to a virtually [sic] limitless, random selection of your favourite music, what more could you want.

From both a business and consumer perspective, perhaps the important question is one of access versus ownership. The iPod and the Kindle present solutions on both sides of the equation as, despite the download, Amazon stores your purchases for you; in perpetuity and to enable sequential reading of the same book on multiple devices. Continuing the theme on books, Inventive Labs have recently launched Book.ish, an e-reader based on the idea of access versus ownership – all you need is a browser. There’s no EPUB file download as you simply pay for perpetual access rights. It’s ‘the book as URL’.

From a business angle, we’re also conditioned to possess things. Down the years, it’s been anything from fax machines to PCs and servers; from data storage to voicemail and PBX systems. Perhaps it’s time to let go. Do you really want to own a PBX? Wasn’t it just a limitation of technology that forced you to that last CAPEX purchase? The emergence of IP as a viable transport medium for voice calls, coupled with advances in host media processing (e.g., Prosody S HMP), Asterisk/FreeSWITCH, SIP trunking and high-level telephony APIs, has fuelled a rise in hosted services in recent times – CENTREX for the 21st Century as it has been called. But now, beyond hosted service provision (beyond good and evil) there is the ‘cloud’.

Many folks have a fear of clouds. They think that they might evaporate and blow away or that lack of connectivity or the failure of a provider’s business would instantly destroy their business – or make a purchased book disappear, temporarily or permanently. Similar concerns also exist in the ownership of hardware paradigm, but everyone copes with the fear of not being able to get spare parts or the demise of a maintenance provider. It’s all relative. Yes, there is network dependency in the cloud model, but there is no long-term fragility. Forget ‘five-nines’ availability; in the ‘cloud’ there can be ‘ten-nines’ persistence. In addition, the pricing has more in common with movie rentals than purchasing the DVD – you won’t be paying hardbound, off-the-shelf prices for rented access, or content or services.

“Hey, you, get on to my cloud.” Stick a flag on your windscreen.