Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Data and telephony worlds colliding!

Yes, Seinfeld fans, that titles is a blatant rip-off of George's worlds colliding in a classic episode :) I remember when there were separate data and telephony networks in most enterprises. Completely separate people, departments, management and technology. When someone was added, moved or changed you had to go talk to both the data networking folks and the telephony folks - they were rarely the same person or even in the same department. A phone system, a PBX, was proprietary software running on proprietary hardware (ATT, Rolm, Nortel, etc.) and data networks were running protocols that rarely see the light of day today outside of a historical textbook (Xerox XNS, Banyan Vines, Appletalk, etc.).

Today, I find it hard to imagine an enterprise IT department that does not handle both the data and telephony needs of an organization. And, in many cases, it may even be the same IT personnel handling both the data and telephony networks, especially with the acceleration of VOIP throughout the enterprise. So, the wall came down between the data network and telephony folks. Worlds colliding!

Today, companies like Sangoma and Digium are building hardware and supporting open source telephony software like Asterisk that runs on commodity x86 hardware. And the Vyatta OFR provides the data networking functionality for the enterprise on the same software. I've already written about how the two pieces of software could (should?) come together on the same hardware platform and this elicited some interesting responses. Some folks want to keep the wall up between the telephony and data worlds for reasons of not wanting a single point of failure and ease of administration. I can see that point in some situations.

The point I can't see is when folks approach me and say that the systems have to be separate because of compute concerns. With single-core, dual-core and quad-core x86 hardware available, the compute power of most modern laptops runs circles around the proprietary hardware compute power in the old PBX. Same holds true for what exists in most modern proprietary hardware routers - check inside your low-end and mid-range router and I'm willing to bet you find an x86 processor or a PowerPC chip (the same chip that used to run your Mac). If commodity hardware can run databases, desktops, webservers, middleware servers, grid computing and so much more, I find it very hard to believe that bringing together telephony and data networks is too much of a stretch. Let's see those worlds collide!


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