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?

How nice would it be?
There’s an old Scottish folk song with the line, “How nice it would be if the whiskey were free and the loch was full up to the brim.” How nice would it be if you didn’t have to worry about form factors and the ongoing procurement and Q&A of server chassis? You might then be able to afford the odd bottle of that malt you like so much. Have you tried the Glen Rothes yet?
OK, so there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but in these days of ‘software-as-a-service’ and ‘cloud-based applications’ that would be akin to getting a free drink with your lunch and a large measure at that. That is, if you still need hardware-based systems. And anyone who needs to connect a telephony-based application to the PSTN must use hardware, for the virtual network interface has yet to be invented. Although wireless comes close.
The magic’s in the box
So, what’s the best way to keep things neat and tidy? As your mother used to tell you, “Put your toys in the toy box” (you can throw them out of the pram, but they must go back in the box). Even if you have a box of tricks, the magic comes from them lying neatly in their box.
For telecommunications systems, the magic box is typically referred to as a telephony server. Those boxes are server chassis containing specialist hardware – the media processing resources needed for simultaneous TDM and IP-based applications. Accessible at the box are the obligatory T1, E1 and Ethernet interfaces – external network connections.
Here’s how nice it can be
How nice would it be if you didn’t have to concern yourself with:
Ø  The form factor of your DSP boards
Ø  Handling the installation of board-level hardware
Ø  Managing the procurement and Q&A of adequately specified server chassis
Ø  Expensive, high-spec server platforms for both your applications and those boards
How nice would it be if you were able to:
Ø  Virtualise your application software, and run that virtually anywhere you choose
Ø  Distribute media processing resources where you need them, available to multiple applications
Ø  Use lower cost application servers, with remotely distributed devices for media processing
How could you argue!
The spell checker in this word processor (yes, it’s MS and, no, I don’t mean manuscript) offers fight, spar and exchange blows as synonyms for box. It suggests neither cartons nor containers, nor does it veer in the direction of struts or joists from spar. Everything is geared towards conflict, it seems. But you could hardly argue that buying media processing resources, such as Aculab’s Prosody X, pre-packaged in a 1U box, isn’t a good idea. And guess what – the idea isn’t virtual, it’s real.

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