Dipping Your Toes into the SIP Stream

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There are surprises and there are surprises.

For instance, I like it when I come home after a long day at work to find that my wife made dinner reservations at my favorite Saint Paul restaurant – W. A. Frost. I also like it when I finish my tax returns and discover that I don’t owe thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes.

I’ve also had the less-fortunate variety several times and can do without that kind of excitement.

One thing is certain: I don’t like getting surprised at work. Those surprises generally involve more toil, looking foolish, ending up with less money, putting in longer hours, or all of the above. The looking foolish part happened to me recently, but instead of moping about it, I decided to use it as a teaching tool.

This article originally appeared on SIP Adventures and is reprinted with permission.

I recently began working with a company and their carrier on adding SIP trunks to an Avaya PBX. Unfortunately, I was brought into the project late in the game and quite a bit of discussion had already occurred. Perhaps I was told all the details or perhaps I was not, but the result was that I was under a few false assumptions about what the customer wanted and what the carrier was set to deliver.

Specifically, it turned out that yes, SIP trunks were being deployed, but the customer wasn’t actually set up to work with direct SIP. That carrier, which happens to be Verizon, was providing the SIP, but the SIP was terminating on a Cisco 2911 router configured as a SIP-to-PRI gateway. So, SIP to the demark point and ISDN to the customer’s communications system.

It’s no wonder that I couldn’t get straight answers about session border controllers and session managers. There weren’t any and the customer wasn’t about to deploy them.

Now, if I were an unscrupulous sales guy, I might try and tell the customer that he was making a bad decision and up-sell him on equipment that he wasn’t ready to deploy, but thankfully I am neither a sales guy nor unscrupulous. Instead, I embraced this as a viable solution that will serve the customer well until he is ready to move a little deeper into SIP.

There are situations where SIP — at least total SIP immersion — is not the best answer. A business may have a number of good reasons why it wants to dip its toes into the SIP stream, but it wants to do so in a measured and controlled manner. It wants to reap some of the benefits of SIP, but is fully conscious of what it can and cannot afford.

This particular business has an Avaya system that has been kept up-to-date on software and hardware, but is still predominately TDM. They understand the benefits of VoIP, but haven’t invested in a VoIP-ready network. Additionally, the nature of this business is not one that has Ethernet cables where they are needed for telephony. Although antiquated by today’s standards, analog and digital telephones are still in wide use by many businesses. This business needed a compelling reason to change and until they got it, things were staying put.

Still, they wanted to take advantage of some of the benefits of SIP and SIP trunks are a great place to start. They can eliminate many of their costly ISDN trunks, create a better business continuity strategy, consolidate networks, and take the first step towards what may ultimately be a much larger leap into SIP.

Related article: Wow, I Can Do That with Unified Communications?

Baby Steps

So, the idea of bringing in those SIP trunks, running them through a SIP-to-PRI gateway, and terminating T1s on their existing line cards is a perfectly good choice. One day they may decide to take things a little further, but other than having to re-purpose a fairly inexpensive Cisco router, they haven’t thrown good money at bad.

Later on, they can move those SIP trunks away from the 2911 to an SBC without having to completely redesign their SIP solution. SIP is flexible enough to support quite a few of these transition solutions. That Cisco router could just as easily have been one of the many SIP-to-TDM gateways offered by AudioCodes.

In the end, my surprise turned out just fine. Granted, I was a little confused for a while, but that’s nothing new. Once I understood what was what, I was able to assist Verizon with their implementation questions and get the customer rolling down the road to SIP.

That’s the kind of work surprise I can deal with.

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Aiming Towards an Unfettered and Secure IoT

Last week, we heard bold claims by a networking vendor that they could make the Internet of Things (IoT) safe because they “own” the network. One of the ways they plan to do this is to certify products to take advantage of network security capabilities.

As a player in the networking space that is addressing IoT security, Avaya agrees “that there aren’t enough people on Earth to run the network the way it’s being run today, when you look at the scale of IoT.”

But, we strongly disagree on a number of other claims and respectfully offer these counterpoints:

  • One Pipe, One Gatekeeper:

    Their point of view shouldn’t be surprising—they are a vendor that has long relied on proprietary approaches designed to keep out the competition. The plan to certify devices to run on their network is yet another cog in the wheel whereby they soundly eliminate competitors and increase their revenue instead of allowing the market to decide who has the better approach to securing IoT. This brings us to our next point.

  • Innovation: Supporting or Suffocating?

    Does a single vendor governing who and what has access to the network encourage innovation or does it stifle it? While the concept of whitelisting is generally good, it requires a significant level of execution to be effective without hindering innovation. The sheer scale of the IoT means that it’s likely billions of devices will ultimately be connected. Each type needs to be certified, demonstrating compliance to a standard that gives them permission to onboard. Not impossible, but this is not the domain of a single vendor. In addition, as the market continues to trend towards more flexible networks and elasticity enabling greater innovation, the one-vendor-owns-the-network approach is rigid and exclusionary. The ecosystem for devices becomes extremely limited.

  • Say Bye-Bye to Your Legacy Equipment:

    While newer devices may be able to incorporate new standards and technology, there are still many, many legacy devices in operation that don’t have that level of intelligence. Many of these devices are regulated and would require significant back porting to support the operating systems they run. Requiring a forklift to remove non-compliant legacy devices is a huge moneymaker for some vendor—something we’ve seen them do in the past. But, for the company that needs to change their entire legacy operation, it may mean closing the doors due to a prohibitively expensive demand to update. Alternatively, they will be forced to manually manage the whitelists for legacy devices—an extremely cumbersome process.

An Alternative Approach

Avaya has already taken ground-breaking steps in securing IoT—steps that are much less costly and cumbersome, and support the innovation that IoT stands for by its very nature. Let me elaborate:

  • Automatic Onboarding, Configuration and Management:

    While the competition suggests that its approach will include not only “IoT onboarding and management capabilities, it will go beyond security to include automation of other tasks like network configuration that administrators would otherwise have to do.” Hello there. Let me introduce myself. This is fundamental to Avaya SDN Fx™. More than 800 Avaya customers are already enjoying the unique simplicity delivered through automation to the edge found in Avaya Networking. However, it’s still networking. Fundamentally, IoT needs to be separate from the network. While interaction between the solutions may offer benefits, any IoT solution needs to be capable of providing unique value regardless of the network underneath.

  • Keep What You Have, Use What You Want:

    IoT is gazillions of unique endpoints like medical imaging equipment, video devices, specialty printers, and more. Thus, you must protect 100% of your devices for a secure network. To manage this, and to secure legacy devices and a broad ecosystem of devices, Avaya built the Open Network Adapter—a small adapter about the size of a deck of cards enabled with an Open vSwitch. The Open Network Adapter allows these special devices to automatically connect to the network with a granular security profile based on their individual communication characteristics. Once fitted with the adapter, a session can be automatically set up, torn down and re-established—even if moved to a new location. This ensures that devices always have the proper security and can be tracked for both logistics and analytics purposes.

  • Securing the Future and Making Whitelisting Practical:

    Avaya’s SDN Fx IoT solution takes a different approach by providing proxy capabilities for devices to protect existing investments. This lets budgets be focused on innovations that are important to the business strategy. The SDN Fx IoT solution is based on the concept of intelligent profiling to dynamically understand the expected conversation patterns of whitelisted devices. This is important, as devices can be spoofed or hacked. Many IoT devices are in public domains where people may have physical access. They are often implemented by non-IT personnel and may not be secured to the level an enterprise expects. Gaining permission for whitelisting the device is a low threshold most will be willing to accept. From there, IT is free to characterize the traffic patterns of the devices and dynamically narrow the security profiles to a very refined set of flows within the whitelist.

  • Hyper-Segmentation for Hyper-Secure Networks:

    For those looking to evolve their defenses beyond an overlay solution and fully integrate their end-to-end security, Avaya’s SDN Fx provides a perfect complement to the IoT solution with automated connection into hyper-segments directly from the Open Network Adapter. Recently, we announced the hyper-segmentation capabilities of Avaya Networking. This end-to-end segmentation creates isolated traffic lanes within the network that limit where a hacker can go. They can’t get to the core and wreak havoc with sensitive data and operations. With hyper-segmentation, you get on the on-ramp to a dedicated toll road, where you are the only car on the road. Your isolated road leads directly to your destination, with no off-ramps. No one can see you, and you can’t see anyone else. But more importantly you can’t get off at any other destination than your own.

Avaya has already done much of the work needed for securing IoT that the other networking vendor is proposing, although we’ve left out those aspects that are not in the best interests of customers and innovation. While they are trying to make this about the network, the network has yet to stop many of the recently publicized breaches.

Any IoT device has the potential to be compromised whether remotely or physically, so end-to-end security is absolutely necessary, but absolutely should not be an old school, proprietary approach. Instead, it starts with micro-segmenting between applications and extends that level of separation and obfuscation out to the device and cloud edges. Anything less is like a football player taking the field with full pads but no helmet. Most hits will be absorbed, but the ones that aren’t can be the most damaging.

What does a Smart City look like? We’re defining it with a new partner

The city of the future is a Smart City, emboldened by technology that folds in government, industry, and consumers. For this to happen, it needs a strong foundation—an infrastructure that can withstand heavy traffic, particularly during times of crisis.

At Avaya, we’re partnering with 22 Capital Partners to prototype the Smart City platform in the Gramercy District in the Washington, D.C. area. 22 Capital Partners approached us as they were looking for a partner with distinctive technical knowledge. Specifically, they wanted automation capabilities for the infrastructure to make it easier to deploy and manage. We’ve already been working on Smart City projects with our customers, such as the City of Taylor, Michigan, which has laid the groundwork for a Smart City Platform.

Now, with 22 Capital Partners, we’re taking it a step further.

The right foundation means a stronger city

Our building blocks for the Smart City are similar: we want to pull together public safety, smart healthcare, smart education, smart retail, and smart banking and make it accessible to citizens. The key to our partnership is that we are so closely aligned to build this next-generation infrastructure foundation to evolve and deliver best-in-class services. It’s a lot like the literal foundation for the city of Dubai: Dubai is built on sand. Without the proper foundation, it would not still be standing. But with the proper foundation, they’ve built a world-class city with skyscrapers—and the world’s tallest skyscraper to boot.

It’s the same with the Smart City of the Gramercy District, taking a creative approach to building a foundation with infrastructure. This will allow for a more secure infrastructure, mitigating cybersecurity threats and gaining agility while lowering capital and operating expenses. Communications and networking infrastructure need to be automated to simplify deployment, particularly as the Smart City expands to include all the consumer devices that will connect wearables and IoT applications, including smart appliances.

To build the Smart City foundation that 22 Capital Partners and Avaya have envisioned, we’ve rolled in Avaya’s Software-Defined Network (SDN-Fx) technology, Contact Center, Unified Communications, Customer Engagement and Avaya Breeze™ software solutions. 22 Capital Partners’ Smart City Platform, 22 CityLink, uses our foundation to keep pace with the demand for mobile, social, and cloud-based services within the Smart City, from citizens, the government, and industry alike.

The future of the Smart City means convenience—and safety

As we continue to move forward with the Smart City platform, the goal is to provide a consistently good experience for users with a holistic approach to turnkey virtual networks and applications. At Avaya, we have the ability to deliver across various verticals and provide the opportunity to implement smart buildings, allowing consumers to experience it live, not just as a demo or prototype. That’s what the Gramercy District is doing: going live to allow all who are working, living, shopping, and playing within the Smart City to experience its power firsthand.

And it’s not just for play. The Smart City of the future can have life-saving implications. For example, in a crisis situation such as an auto accident, it can integrate a 911 call with other components, like electronic road signs to warn of hazards and SMS alerts to citizens. It can gain control over city cameras to feed data to the emergency response team—or even allow the caller to cede control over their phone camera to provide a video feed. The outcome of this is a safer city: when you dial the emergency number, the smart device provides the exact location to first responders. Meanwhile, the dispatch center can push video on how to perform CPR, for example. It brings systems together for the safety of citizens and uses the power of analytics to suggest alternate routes to travelers who have installed the application, using an API from a mapping application.

Ultimately, it will provide a completely different digital experience than what consumers are getting today. Whether it’s for play, work, living, or an emergency situation, the Smart City of the future will attend to citizens’ needs while ensuring their information is secure and providing uptime that means they can use the applications regardless of what is happening around them.

For that, we’re excited to see what 22 Capital Partners will build on the foundation of Avaya networks.

 

New Age, New Requirements, More Innovation: Three Ways to Keep Up (Part 3)

The 2016 Rio Olympics may be over, but the excitement is still palpable. As I watched the performances from some of today’s most gifted athletes, I couldn’t help but think about this blog series on business innovation and the need to push further.

Think about it: U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, yet she succeeded in smashing even her own world record in the 400m freestyle competition. Meanwhile, Simone Biles—the most decorated female gymnast in World Championships history—has a floor move named after her called “the Biles.”

My point here is that the very best in the world don’t become so without continually innovating and pushing themselves. In this same vein, businesses today must excel in an environment where not only keeping current but driving innovation is mandatory. In fact, nearly 60% of CIOs surveyed by IDG this year said that innovation is a top business mandate. If you take away only one key point from this series, I hope it’s related to this need to continually innovate within your business.

Part 1 and Part 2 of this series outlined how companies can evolve their contact centers and networking strategies to keep up with today’s rapid pace of innovation. But these are only two parts of a massive puzzle that companies must piece together.

As I mentioned earlier, it feels near impossible to cover everything that has changed within the last 25 years in technology and business. What I can tell you is this: the innumerable changes that have happened have led to what we here at Avaya call “digital transformation.”

Digital Transformation: A Mindset Fueled by Technology
Digital transformation is a belief that the greatest innovation is driven through digitization and simplification. By automating information, simplifying processes and connecting more objects through the Internet of Things (IoT), businesses can transform from the inside out.

It’s critical that business leaders understand the importance of reengineering their organizations in this way. Why? Because 75% of CIOs surveyed by Deloitte last year said that digital technologies will significantly impact their business. Because IDG’s survey found that more businesses are scrambling to prioritize budgets as a result of this deep focus on digital transformation. Because research shows that the IoT will consist of more than 34 billion connected devices by 2020.

This digital transformation isn’t just happening at the enterprise level, though. Take a look and you’ll see the changes that are happening all around you. For example, you may notice a smart meter on the side of your neighbor’s house that allows them to view real-time energy usage on their smart device. You may see cars parallel parking themselves on the side of the road. We’re seeing everyday objects, cities, campuses and hospitals becoming Internet-enabled in ways that were incomprehensible decades ago. I even tweeted recently about Wilson Sporting Goods getting in on the action with the “Smart Football,” which will quite possibly change the game of American football.

The Greatest Challenge of Digitization (and How to Overcome It)
Digital transformation opens the door to a smart new world where outcomes and possibilities are constantly being reimagined. At the same time, however, it’s creating more unique, industry-specific needs than ever before. These needs drastically vary and can be challenging to meet.

For example, healthcare organizations need to efficiently connect doctors with care teams via cutting-edge medical devices and communication capabilities. All of this needs to be done while remaining compliant with industry regulations.

On the other hand, financial organizations need to securely deliver anywhere/anytime/any-device account access to customers while ensuring fraud prevention. Meanwhile, educational directors need to deliver a next-generation learning experience as well as a safe campus environment for students. You see where I’m going with this? The list of vertical-specific needs goes on and on.

The problem we’re seeing is that many companies don’t understand that there is no cookie-cutter framework for digitization. Just like every Olympian’s tools and training are different, every company’s digital transformation will look different depending on its vertical-specific needs.

So, in a world where business needs are getting more granular by the minute, how can organizations keep up? How can they stay on top as true innovators and change seekers?

I can’t tell you in good conscience that there’s an end-all solution here, because there’s isn’t. At Avaya, we believe the key to mastering digital transformation begins with the right support. In other words, you need to find the right strategic partner/integrator who will work with you to determine your vertical-specific needs and how you can meet and exceed them. Better yet, find a partner/integrator who can also deliver the solutions you require to quickly adapt to your customers’ needs and capitalize on new opportunities. This way, you can avoid most of the leg work while keeping a leg up on the competition.

Your partner/integrator of choice should have a deep focus on such things as analytics, automation, networking, security and IoT. Above all, seek a partner/integrator that has a solid understanding of and passion for smart vertical solutions.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the possibilities today for businesses are limited only by the imagination. Find a partner/integrator who’s ready to step into your world and come along for the ride.