SBCs - Key Part of the UC Ecosystem

9 Mar 2014

During a presentation I gave at the XChange Conference in Los Angeles this week, I encouraged the solution integrators and MSPs in the audience to embrace the UCC ecosystem. As I mentioned in a recent article, Microsoft Lync solutions require several elements other than Lync, including Session Border Controllers (SBCs), desk phones, headsets, video systems, contact center, and more. While most other UC vendors provide their own phones and contact center solutions, with the exception of Avaya and Cisco, most don't offer SBCs, which are important for providing interoperability, security, and more.

While there are about 20 SBC vendors, the ones getting the most attention in the UC world are Acme Packet (acquired by Oracle), AudioCodes, and Sonus. Another player that is more under the radar is Patton Electronics. Sonus has made a name for itself by providing educational and informative "Dummies" books, including Session Border Controllers for Dummies, WebRTC for Dummies, Lync Enterprise Voice for Dummies, and SIP Trunking for Dummies. These books are aimed at explaining how SIP-based communications environments can help companies save money and add capabilities.

According to Sonus' SBC for Dummies book, SBCs are devices designed to control the calls (or videoconferencing, or other media) coming in and out of an enterprise's or service provider's VoIP network, while also handling the signaling and media intermediation and translation required to make the VoIP service work smoothly all the time. An SBC controls a network by admitting (or not admitting) and then directing communications (called sessions) between two end devices on the network, like a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) call between two phones. Either the enterprise or the service provider can deploy the SBC. SBCs are the main driver behind interfacing with SIP trunking.

One of the key roles of an SBC is to protect the network and provide security by preventing Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks and toll fraud. They also monitor the network to provide reliable, high-quality service delivery through QoS capabilities and prioritizing voice traffic over other traffic types.

As more and more enterprises begin to deploy Microsoft Lync, SBCs play a crucial role in helping companies transition from legacy voice system to Lync, and can provide the connections between Lync and legacy PBXs.

While there are many players in the SBC space, including Oracle/Acme Packet, Genband, Ericsson, and others, the following highlights some recent meetings and discussions I had with three of the SBC vendors - AudioCodes, Sonus, and Patton - primarily about their Microsoft Lync activities.

AudioCodes

AudioCodes introduced the Mediant 9000 Session Border Controller, which is part of AudioCodes' One Voice for Lync product portfolio. The new SBC is aimed at enterprise customers and supports up to 16,000 concurrent sessions and extends the capacity of AudioCodes Mediant SBC family. The company notes that the larger capacity SBCs enables enterprise customers to consolidate the network infrastructure for Microsoft Lync, simplifying training, deployment and support. As Alan Percy of AudioCodes explained, "Microsoft Lync and AudioCodes have grown up together, and can now handle larger scale deployments. Enterprises can 'Think Big' about Lync and using Lync for large deployments and solutions.

We've been seeing companies deploying Lync to greater numbers of users, and the ability to scale is key. AudioCodes, which has been a long-time partner with Microsoft, realized that it was important to expand its SBC capacity in order to better support large Lync deployments.

AudioCodes has been focusing on Lync deployments for a while, and has many customers that are using the SBCs to integrate with legacy systems. As Marty Parker noted, according to an AudioCodes user panel at the Lync conference, "In many cases, AudioCodes Mediant SBCs are being used as gateways to the legacy PBX systems in the enterprise. In some cases, this is because the AudioCodes SBC can interface the Lync system to the existing PBX via TDM T-1 lines without any investment to upgrade the PBX to add SIP trunk capabilities." In addition, "Some of the enterprises that are deploying Lync enterprise voice telephony are using the AudioCodes SBC to simplify the dial plan management between the existing PBXs and the new Lync systems."

Sonus

Sonus, which has moved aggressively in the SBC market since its acquisition of NET, has several models of SBCs certified for use in a Lync Enterprise Voice environment. The company notes that it creates its own firmware and doesn't rely on off-the-shelf solutions or software for media processing, which enables the company to "responsively add additional media types as needed without waiting for a vendor to come along with a solution." Sonus also natively enables SBCs to conduct quality monitoring for an entire Microsoft Lync call, including the SIP trunk portion, allowing network engineers to proactively monitor and troubleshoot quality of experience issues for the whole call flow. The company explains that until now, SBCs didn't report statistics for the entire call path to the Lync Monitoring Server, which meant that network operators had an incomplete view of the total call flow. By gathering information about delay, jitter and packet loss through the Sonus SBCs, network engineers can proactively monitor and troubleshoot call quality of experience issues for the entire session.

When I met with the Sonus folks at the Microsoft Lync conference, what impressed me the most was the security capabilities provided, based on the Sonus SBC's support for AES encryption and the SBC's architecture, "which separates encryption-processing tasks to its own processor architecture within the SBC, allowing real-time encryption processing to take place without causing slow-downs in other SBC functions such as call routing or media processing."

Patton

Patton has aggressively pursued, and achieved, certified interconnectivity with Microsoft's Lync Server 2013, as well as other UC offerings such as IBM Sametime. Patton's SBC are being used to integrate Lync with telephony systems and other telephony capabilities such as overhead paging, video monitoring, music on hold, etc. While Patton is not as well known in this space, it claims that it is making inroads into the Lync and UC world based on the lower price and TCO for its solutions.

As Art Rosenberg noted, Patton recently introduced the first business-class, cloud-based redirection service, which allows service providers and integrators to reduce setup and installation time. For maximum, reliable network operation, Patton offers bonding and load-balancing routers capable of dynamically combining and switching multiple VoIP network connections.

More to Come

Expect to see more announcements, especially at Enterprise Connect, as the SBC space continues to heat up.

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