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Category Archives: Avaya

IAUG 2015 Review

IAUG-KeynoteIt’s been a month since I traveled to Denver to attend the IAUG (International Avaya Users Group) “Converge” conference in Denver, Colorado. This conference was one I used to go to every other year at most, but recently I’ve been attending every year… I think I’m on a three year streak.  Plus, this year the conference was in Denver, hands down one of my favorite places to visit in the US.

This year I was asked to speak on two separate topics which changed the experience of the conference for me.  It’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve spoken at an IAUG conference and this time I was speaking on two very diverse topics.  I’ll be posting more details on what I spoke on in subsequent blog posts, but I did a joint presentation on the EDP (Avaya Engagement Development Platform) and the OSSI Administration protocol.  Additionally I participated in the EDP meetup and presented some of MSU’s Telecom innovations during the Tuesday keynote.

This year the conference was in the Denver Convention Hall.  The conference center is /huge/ and our conference managed to only fill 1/4 of it with our thousands of attendees.  One of the things I like about the convention center is that there are lots of couches and places to get some quick work done between sessions or meet up with others without being in the way.  Generally the A/V was pretty good which for the last few conferences I attended was a sticking point.

I wish I could have attended more sessions, but given my schedule I was pretty booked up.  There was lots of buzz of a few topics (like the roadmaps) that sounded great.  The few sessions I did get to attend were great — I think I only ended up leaving one without getting something out of it.  The tradeshow floor was, as always, great.  When you are at your home office you often forget about how large the ecosystem is around the simple telephone on your desk.

In the years I’ve been working with Avaya, it seems like they are finally starting to be able to realize their ‘dreams’ of how all the building blocks come together.  This year there was much more cohesiveness between their products and seemingly less things being developed in silos.  There was also much less “us vs. them” between the “red” Avaya customers and “blue” Nortel customers than last year.  With Avaya a year into moving into a suite licensing where they can freely innovate products and worry less about separate licensing mechanisms for each one there is more and better innovation and alignment in them all.

It was neat watching the company promote the EDP (Avaya Engagement Platform, formerly Collaboration Environment) as heavily as they have.  This is a development platform, similar in effect to Twilio, that really cracks open the internals of the enterprise phone system and allows companies that want to innovate with their communications infrastructure to do so.   At Michigan State University we’ve been able to take advantage of the platform and push the boundaries of our capabilities to create some cool apps that are producing some real ROI.  With Avaya pushing the platform company wide, I only see the toolbox getting bigger and more useful as more adjuncts plug into the platform and allow us to do even cooler things.

I’ll be back again next year — and hopefully will be selected to speak on some more cool topics and projects we are doing.

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The truth about avoiding the phone company with VoIP

VoIP, or Voice Over IP is seen as the future of telecommunications.  In the enterprise, it took hold about 5 years ago, and about 3 years ago it became the norm for any new phone system. In the highly controlled network environment of the office, the technology flourished and eventually became rock-solid by breakthroughs made by companies like Avaya, 3com and Cisco.

Around the same time consumer-based VoIP products like Vonage started hitting the market.  These use the consumer’s internet connection and provided a dialtone like replacement for a standard phone line.  Generally these types of connections were less expensive (and in some cases, they were MUCH less expensive), but at the same time they relied on the general internet (without any quality-of-service gaurentees).  Recently there has been a lot of fanfare over Google Voice being available on various mobile devices like Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone.  This allows users to use their data plans and bypass the cell-phone companies. The funny thing is, even AT&T sees consumers bypassing their services as a viable threat — they filed paperwork to lift the requirements that they provide phone services in their entire claimed market.

There are a few problems with this mass migration from traditional telephony services to this “wild-wild-west” VoIP services.

First off, VoIP has no concept of location-based services.  With traditional PSTN “landline” or business services, the phone company delivers your services to a physical location (your home or business).  This information is tied to a database which is given to 911 and other emergency services when you need it. Because VoIP connects over the internet, there is no real way to track where a call is physically being placed from — and the problem is exaserbated by devices like firewalls, VPN tunnels and MPLS networks.

Next, there is no concept of Quality of Service for many of these consumer devices.  Companies like AT&T in my local market offer DSL service in most areas that has a 1MB download and 256kbps upload.  This allows for a descent speed for doing things like browsing the web or reading emails.  However, if you try to use a VoIP connection you most likely will saturate this connection — and if you try to browse the internet while being on the phone (something I do quite a bit), you run a huge risk of your connection breaking up or being disconnected completely. More advanced routers and internet service providers offer QoS for connections, but these are not universal, nor are they easy to setup.  I won’t go into the reliability of internet connections in storms, power outages, etc. where quality and resiliency is a needed in emergencies.

Compatibility is another issue that is becomming apparent. There are hundreds of different “VoIP” providers out there, each with their own software or hardware application.  Companies are all trying to write their own standard (like Skype), or if they use some of the open standards (like Google), they implement them in a way that makes it very difficult to interconnect with others.  This is very similar to the beginning of the telephone network where there were lots of different networks, and none of them connected with eachother.  The government finally stepped in and created some laws (known as Common Carriage Laws) that required anybody who wanted to be a telephone provider to interconnect with each other.  Currently many VoIP providers do connect via the PSTN, but often times they charge users additional fees to do this.

Finally, we need to take a step back at the PSTN system itself.  It has become a commodity item, and even further more, it has become a so universal it is considered a utility.  In many markets it is heavily regulated by the government and has lots of redudancy, backups and, well it’s a proven technology. As more users disconnect their traditional phone lines and go with VoIP providers, less work is being put into this system and eventually that glue that holds it, along with all the PSTN providers will begin to go away.  Not only that, but because it has become such a commidity, you can get land-lines for cheap, and unlimited minutes (both in cell and landline), it makes very little sence to use these technologies other than it’s the “next best thing”.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at your VoIP provider, and compare that to a $14 phone line (unlimited local calls, and up to $0.05 a minute for long distance).

Think twice about cheering on AT&T in cutting the cord with land-line service.  It’s something that is easy and well understood.  Also think about how you plan to get internet access — and how those who are in unprofitable areas can get basic services (like phone and internet services) if companies like AT&T and Verizon are not forced to provide them.

Need some RIA Consulting? I can help!

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Over the last few years, I’ve been dialing down the amount of consulting work that I was doing.  I made the conscious decision to spend more time with my family and friends, I bought a house, and spent a lot of time outdoors.  I also started a new usergroup, the Michigan Flex Users Group, ran a conference, and wrote lots of articles for Fusion Authority Quarterly, and Flex Authority to name a few.  Oh, and some of the small amount of consulting I’ve done included some names like Avaya, Michigan State University, the Ford Motor Company, Scottrade, AT&T, Penn State just to name some of the larger customers.

I am looking to grow my consulting business a bit.  If you or your company need outside help, please drop me an email or give me a call.  I have expertise in the following:

  • Rich Internet Application (Flex, Flash, ActionScript, AIR) : Design and Create
  • Internet Application Development (ColdFusion) : Design and Create
  • VoIP Telephony Integrations (H.323 / SIP / IAX) : Design and Implement
  • Avaya Telephony Systems (Including Avaya Communication Manager, Definity, IP Office, Distributed Office, and Partner Systems) : Design, Implement, Maintain and Troubleshoot
  • Voicemail Systems (Including Mitel and Avaya Modular Messaging) : Design, Implement, Troubleshoot
  • Hybrid Cable Television systems (GigE Implantations, typically with RGB or Motorola equipment) : Design, Implement, Troubleshoot
  • Data networking (Extreme Networks, Cajun, HP, Cisco) : Design, Implement, Troubleshoot
  • Linux and Unix (BSD) based server administration : Implement and troubleshoot

If you would like to contact me, my email is kwiatkowskin@hostingplace.net , or +001 616-304-2520. 

Speaking at the MSU IT Conference

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Well, it seems that all I’ve really been talking about on here is what conferences I’m going to, or where I’m presenting.  This post continues that trend (sorry!).

On Wednesday, April 23rd, I will be traveling long and hard to speak at the MSU IT conference, just down the road from my office.  While this conference is MSU specific, I will be preseting on some of the new technologies that we are devloping in our office, including : IP Telset deployments, Presence, WiFi phones, Digital Cable, and a sneak peak at IPTV.  It should be lots of fun (if I can get the demos to work).

There’s Voice in Them There Wires: A Discussion About the State of VoIP on Campus
Nick Kwiatkowski, Michigan State University Telecom Systems

Voice-Over-IP (VoIP) has become a relatively familiar name, but very few MSU employees are aware of how it is used on campus, and what policies are in place for its use. MSU Telecom Systems has built a robust telephone network on campus that uses VoIP and includes many different voice-based applications. At this presentation, learn what VoIP is, how MSU Telecom uses it on campus, and what services are planned to be deployed in the future. See the new technologies such as the latest VoIP phones, WiFi phones, and Presence solutions.

If you work for MSU, or just want to see what is going on, the link is here. Register here.

InAAU Avaya Conference Review

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Well, I just got back from San Diego, CA at my first InAAU conference.  InAAU, or the International Association of Avaya Users is an international usergroup of Avaya telephony professionals.  Avaya has a very hands-on approach with not only this usergroup, but the usergroups at a local level.  In general that makes the usergroups more of an extension of Avaya, rather than the more ad-hoc nature of the Adobe Usergroup programs that I am normally involved with.  Not bad, just different.  One of the common themes of these UGs is that if you make a suggestion about an Avaya product, Avaya hears it loud and clear (and often acts on it). 

The conference itself was pretty nice, and very professional.  Similar to MAX in presentation and style, with about 2,500 attendees it felt big, but you did keep running into the same people.  I got to meet some really neat people all over the professional world.  I got to spend quite a bit of time with some of the people at SPS (thanks Theresa and Mike!) and some of the engineers / product managers at Avaya. Hopefully some of the contacts I made within Avaya and other universities pan out for some of our future projects.

All though the conference had a pretty heavy "salesey" feel to it, I did walk away with some cool tid-bits:

  • Avaya’s next style of phones will include the 9700 and 9900 series phones.  Looks to be IP only, with a heavy SIP focus (couldn’t figure out if there were going to be H.323 firmware available.
  • Communication Manager 5.0, and all the 5.0 tools all play well with external Authorization and Authorization services, such as LDAP, Active Directory, and RADIUS.  This is good as it is the direction our University is moving to, and also helps prevent YAL syndrome (Yet Another Login!)
  • Network Management Console and Converged Network Analysis (apart of the Integrated Management package) have some entitlement packages with CM 5.0.  This is great as they are awesome products, and help quickly determine some quirky network problems.  I might put in a request to purchase these products separately if we don’t upgrade to the latest release of Communication Manager.
  • G450 Branch Media Gateway is much more high-density than I originally thought.  With the ability to add VoIP media modules as daughter board (and therefore not take up valuable MM slots), you can actually get about 200 ports per device. Redundant power-supplies are also available.   With a price tag that is much less than a G650, this can quickly become our standard media gateway (again, if we upgrade to CM 5.0)
  • S8730 is a the new release of the S8700 series server.  Dual power supply, and RAID drives are the newest addition (aside from much more power).  Still not happy about the AMD based processor, but this server is a step in the right direction.
  • Although not announced, it seems pretty obvious that the G700 is going away.  No end-of-sale yet, but it was quietly dropped off all the road maps, and was extremely absent from all the power-point presentations.  Not a single one was at the conference.  Since this is MSU’s standard as a medium-density media cabinet, it makes us have to re-think our product placement.
  • 9600 Series phones plan to add some new features, including USB-dongle based mobility users (you have a ‘key fob’ that you plug into the side of the phone, which will log you into the phone), built-in calendaring, customizable screens, custom colors, and the ability to sync your contacts via a USB drive.
  • CM 5.0 now supports Look-Ahead Routing for both ISDN and SIP.  This is a really neat feature, and would allow us to add more redundancy in case of circuit failures. 
  • EC500 version 8.0 is being included with CM 5.0.  This release adds the ability to self-administer your number, and allows for better ‘pull-back’ support with operator-intercepts and cellular voicemail.
  • 8510 Server has been announced.  Based on Dell servers.  2 power-supplies, RAID and more RAM.
  • Communication Manager Road maps:
    • 5.1  (1H08)
      • Syslog support
      • Better ability to monitor issues with network connectivity with IPSIs within SAT
      • Calls missed due to call-forwarding, or not enough line appearances, can be logged.
      • Auto-Callback can be activated central-office side via ISDN/SIP signaling
      • SIP Enablement Server will see major stability improvements
    • 6.0
      • Use an S8400 server as an ESS server.
      • More integration of SES and CM products.
  • SIP Application Server — not really sure about the scope of this product.  I went to a few demos and I am more confused about it than ever.  Seems to do the same thing as the Application Enablement Server (AES), yet it works with SIP?  AES already seems to work with SIP just fine — we have applications that use it.

I appreciate all the hard work that the InAAU volunteers put into this conference.  Avaya users need a voice, and need to find out about these products from places other than their business partners.  I was also enjoyed the partnership with the American Cancer Society through ProjectPink — every mile an attendee walked during the conference was a dollar that Avaya will be donating to ACS.

I will continue to go through my notes and slide decks to process more information.  But for now, its time to get back to work!

Wireless IP Phones

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A few months ago, my boss came back excited about some news coming out of Ohio State University — they were going to be implementing WiFi IP Phones throughout their campus.  I’m sure you can guess what the next things were out of his mouth :  “Lets do that!”

WiFi phones, while sounding like a great idea on paper, their implementation is a lot more tricky than one would first imagine.  Everybody thinks that WiFi is one of those technologies that just ‘work’ — you just open your laptop and start your work.

Unfortunately, VoIP (Voice over IP), is extremely sensitive to any network activity or blips.  A typical conversation will begin to be broken up if there is a disruption on the network for longer than 50ms.   Often times when a VoIP system is deployed, the IT infrastructure needs to be conditioned for voice traffic.  You need to set priorities to the different types of traffic, regulate how much bandwidth each type of traffic can have, etc.  Over the past 7 years or so, this field has been growing and is finally becoming mature.  VoIP works fairly well, assuming you have done the above. 

When you throw VoIP onto a wireless network, you throw an entire additional host of problems into the mix. 802.11a, b, g and n networks behave very similar to token-ring based wired networks; only one device can talk at a time, and only when told it can talk.  In addition, the data rates that the devices communicate at change based on the quality of the signal to the access points.  Most of the technologies that exist today rely on the principal that says we can dedicate xxKb of bandwidth to application a, and let application x talk as much as it wants until it fills that pipe.  With no guaranteed bandwidth transmission rate, or no guaranteed talk path, voice becomes a “best effort” to most equipment, and usually suffers.  Add in a few WiFi VoIP devices and you have a true contention issue. 

Avaya / Spectralink designed a box that is supposed to “schedule” the WiFi devices so they do not attempt to talk at the same time.  That, combined with some of the new WiFi technologies from Meru and Aruba, will allow WiFi VoIP devices to work properly in theory.  Again, sounds good on paper, but we will see in short order.  At MSU, we recently setup a lab with two WiFi VoIP phones (models 3645), and the “AVPP” or Avaya Voice Priority Processor.  This setup is supposed to allow the phones to work within the range of the AP.  Seems to work, except, as expected, the voice is very choppy. Since we did not deploy the solution on one of the newer access points, I’ll leave my final decision until we do.

Avaya User’s Group Talk

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Well, Chuck and I had a wonderful time speaking at the South-East Michigan Avaya User’s Group that we are apart of.  This was essentially a dry-run for our talk at the ACUTA conference, coming up next week.  We were joined and critiqued by our colleagues from the Telecom Department, and the Avaya UG as a whole.  They seemed to like it — well, no tomatoes were thrown!

We spoke on "MSU Mobility Options," which features the "MSUmobility" platform that I have been working on for the past few months.  This includes the SIP platform (Hardphones, Softphones, ipLD), Unified Messaging, and enhanced EC-500.  All-in-all, it was a good time, and I got too meet up with some people I haven’t seen in a while.  Oh, and there was free food :) 

More on the MSUmobilty topics soon.

Top of your game…

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Don’t mean to sound pretentious, but…

Have you ever been in a position where you were truly in the top of your game?  Were you ever ‘the’ resource for a particular subject?  Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case with many of the Adobe technologies, as we have an excellent community, and very helpful people at the top that don’t mind sharing their experiences with others.

In the telephone world, that is not always the case.

Every vendor will tell you they know the world, and they have implemented every product every possible way.   I used to work with one of these vendors supporting Avaya, Nortel, Adtran, Extreme and Cisco products, and was pretty damn good at it.  Since I left that particular company and stated at Michigan State University, I’ve found that getting experienced people is a real pain in the rear.

Avaya recently introduced a product (when I say recently, I mean about a year ago) which is meant to be a SIP proxy between the phone system and the rest of the world.  A SIP Proxy is a device that is meant to take registrations, and keep track of users.   When a user registers with an IP address of 1.2.3.4, and the user is to receive a phone call, the proxy says “Oh, I know user X!  He is at 1.2.3.4!  Let me send him a RING command!”  Because the SIP moniker is so popular with the other vendors (which is interesting because nobody has really figured out how to make it work well with the feature sets they already had), Avaya has been pushing the ability to do SIP as their current marketing campaign.

So, we go out and buy one and try to implement.  Heck, all their marketing material talks about SIP, so it’s gotta be good.   Simple questions about the newly implemented product such as “How do I add a new user” come back from our entire vendor community as “Uh… I don’t know.. Call Avaya”.  I found one guy at a vendor that seems to know ‘something’ about this product, but his queue is over three weeks long for simple questions.  

I call Avaya.   Tier-1 supports comes to a screeching halt.  “Oh, the SIP Server?  You will need to talk directly to Tier-3.”  Damn.  Tier-3 is the group at Avaya who helps you when your system is very, very, very broken.  If there is no fire, they take about three to four weeks to get back to you (which normally I don’t care if these would be such simple questions).   When it comes to more complex problems, such as “How do I put a firewall in between this device and the Internet?” everybody comes to a screeching halt.  Avaya says “Uh, why would you want to do that?”  The Vendor says “Uh, I never thought of that before…” I silently scream. 

It’s hard to come from the position where you knew everything about product X, but when it comes to product X.1, you know not the simplest thing, and all your normal resources have no clue either.  It’s just the mind game of being help-less in an area where you used to know it all…

Don’t worry, soon I’ll have more information, and hopefully more help as I figure out this stuff..  SIP?  Yeah, your going down!