Friday 10 February 2012

The evolutional path of media processing systems

From hardware software cloud based
Early pioneers in the market initially known as computer telephony took a look at the typical office workstation and decided that efficiencies could be achieved by integrating the two pieces of electronics typically found on workers desks – the telephone and the personal computer. They started with a computer platform, and added a hardware board to it so that the integrated computer system could make and receive phone calls. 
The next step was to scale the system so that it was capable of handling tens, hundreds or even thousands of channels and could be centralised and integrated with the office PBX.  To achieve this, it was necessary to have telephony boards with dedicated DSPs to perform the telephony call processing, thus leaving the main processor on the server/PBX free to handle the application. Interfaces at the E1/T1 level to TDM systems and IP connectivity for VoIP deployments were also a necessity. Media processing boards such as Aculab’s Prosody X range were designed with all these requirements in mind, and continue to form the basis of many different types of telephony server. 

Gradually, the processors used on the server platforms increased in specification, so that the main processor was not always fully utilised. It was now prudent to use the main processor to handle the media processing tasks, and thus the idea of host media processing was born. What was once only practical by using a hardware platform could now be achieved with a software only system.
From the 1990s to the present, hardware-based or software-only media processing solutions have been the two viable approaches if you wanted to create products or solutions such as:

  • Audio conferencing server
  • Video conferencing server
  • Contact and call centre servers
  • Automated diallers
  • Media and signalling gateways
  • IP media servers
  • Transcoding units
  • IVR servers and voice portals
  • Fax bureaux/Fax broadcast systems
  • Session border controllers
  • Unified messaging platforms
  • Voicemail
  • Prepaid platforms
  • IVVR systems
  • Video-enabled call centre systems
Server virtualisation, a technology that has been around a while, is now becoming the de facto approach and is revolutionising the IT industry. Once a media processing system can run on a virtual rather than a dedicated server, the server location becomes, for the most part, irrelevant, and the ownership of the server also becomes un-important. The server can be at the client site or hosted by a 3rd party – in the cloud. 

Aculab’s latest product, Aculab Cloud, takes all the telecommunications know-how gained from 20 or more years of supplying media processing hardware and software, and packages it up in the form of a PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) – a telephony engine available for hire, if you will, able to run the same type of telephony applications (listed above) as when a dedicated server with Aculab’s hardware or software components was deployed. 
Communications systems are heading to the cloud (as with most IT systems). But if you want the more traditional hardware or software components to build your own server, then don’t worry – you can get it all from Aculab. Just think of it as the same broad-based communications capability in different form-factors. ‘Horses for courses’ as the saying goes.

Andrew Nicholson

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