Open source Unified Communication Solution

Open source software’s and applications are creating a real competition to the proprietary vendors in today’s market. The views and diversion towards open source have really started climbing up. Many people are finding open source as more reliable, easy to use and more over with many options available in the market. Also Open source is giving room for the users to implement their own ideas and tweak it to individual requirements and expectation.

Unified communication basically built on open standards makes it much easier for the users to opt for open source software’s and applications.

In today’s market there are lots of open source UC products and applications available for the individuals as well as enterprises to select according to their size and requirement. This open Source PBX’s are also available in a completely molded form for ready usage as well as in a ‘build-from-scratch’ form for the users to implement his own ideas.

There are few commercial IP PBX’s also available in the market, which are developed with performance equivalent to a proprietary PBX.

I would like to share few ideas on how to develop a new IP softpbx from scratch.

It depends purely on individual interest and knowledge; based on your skills and efforts you can develop a PBX for individual purpose as well as create a solution for a workplace.

Before starting to develope a PBX we need to decide on the following:

1)      Select Platform:

We can either choose to work on Linux based or windows based PBX.

A Linux based open source PBX has more options to choose compared to Windows platform.

Also Linux based PBX has an edge compared to windows.

2)      Select your open source vendor:

There are many open Source IP PBXs available in the market. You can choose the best you feel and comfortable with.

If you need please find the top 10 open source IP PBX here.

Now you should have identified your platform and PBX source.

Now we shall look into other Requirements:

  1. A PC to act as IP PBX server
  2. Internet connection for the PC
  3. OS Platform identified above should be installed (Linux or Windows)
  4. Download and install free softphones like Xlite, Zoiper, etc. for testing
  5. Your interest, time and effort
  6. Nothing else

If you can’t afford a dedicated PC even a virtual machine is enough.

But ensure that you PC Atleast have 1 GB ram and 1.6 GHZ board for good performance.

NOW you are ready to build your own IP PBX!!!!!!

The site of you PBX choice would give you the initial setup and configuration guidance.

From the basic PBX you can start integrating open source applications for chatting, mail, Fax etc. to make it a complete unified communication solution.

If you have scripting knowledge on html, php, java, etc. you can use your knowledge to develop, modify and enhance the solution in a best way.

For a new bee you can initially try configuring:

VoIP (SIP/IAX) Extensions              SIP Trunk                             Call Forward

Group Call Pickup                                 Call Waiting                          Call Parking

Call Forward Variable                         Call Retrieval                      Hold

Call Transfer                                             Call Parking                        Do Not Disturb

Directed Pickup                                      Authentication

For other features you can refer the features list provided by your source vendor.

I have built my own unified communication solution using Asterisk (www.astersik.org).

If you need the guidance for installation and configuration from scratch you can visit http://cssucs.wordpress.com.

Hope this article would have raised some anxiety and enthusiasm in creating your own UC solution!!!!!!!!!

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Unified Communication – A Business Perspective Analysis

Unified Communication Features – An Overview would have guided us to know about Unified communication features.

Unified Communication is definitely an excellent solution from technology perspective. But from a business perspective we need a much deeper analysis to fit into any current business model.

In today’s business environment which already has many existing servers, it is a tough task to implement a UC solution. So various factorial analysis has to be done to answer the questions below:

  1. Is really a UC solution required?
  2. How is this UC solution going to help in business development?
  3. How far is the UC solution going to make difference from existing communication setup?
  4. What are the consideration to implement a UC solution?
  5. How can the UC solution be implemented without disturbing the current setup and also using the existing communication setup to reduce cost?

Is really a UC solution required for business?

Today’s world market every company is very keen towards increasing the sales, and thus be a leader in the market. Customer satisfaction is the key for and company’s product growth. But at the same time expenses have to be under control to expand their profit, which can be achieved through cost reduction. With steady increase in prices around the world cost reduction becomes priority in any organization. Every organization is forced to use everything more efficiently, effectively and in innovative way to get the best out of the available resources.

UC solution will definitely help to implement a cost effective solution in integrating every individual in the organization to accelerate decision making which in turn helps to increase productivity.

How is this UC solution going to help in business development?

In today’s market which is open to tough competitions, UC will definitely give a clear Edge for the enterprises to be a leader in the market.

UC also helps us to integrate with Customer relationship Management (CRM) to get regular customer inputs which helps organizations to deliver according to customer’s requirement and thus be consistently ahead in the market.

The baseline behind UC solution is “Reduction of human Latency”. The integrated UC solution enhances ways to reach people in no-time irrespective of their locations, which in turn helps any individual in an organization to decide and collaborate to take up quick decisions. These Quick decisions enhance productivity by removing human latency which is the bottom line for any given organization.

Unified Communication solutions can help us to be more innovative and also act proactively to deliver at the right time in the market.

How far is the UC solution going to make difference from existing communication setup?

Today’s enterprise network consists of the following servers:

  • Voice Server (PBX)
  • Voicemail server
  • E-Mail Server
  • Fax Server
  • LDAP server
  • Standalone video conferencing
  • Individual or public Chat client
  • AAA server for authentication
  • Database server (Optional)

Every communication requires its own servers and communication methods:

So the above diagram shows that distance between the ways of communication servers. So the users have to choose the best way of communication for his requirement.  If he wants to go for a conference he has to take up the conferencing equipment and also ensure that the same vendor equipment is available in the other to initiate a conference. Same way if he has to chat he needs to take up a different application that is common to both the users.

So if a person available only on his chat will not be obviously visible to person who tries to reach him through phone for an urgent issue.

That’s where UC solution is playing a key role. A person’s presence status will tell if he is available. Since all the servers are integrated a person could be reached through the available mode of communication.

This is the greatest difference we can bring by implementing a Unified Communication solution.

What are the considerations to implement a UC solution?

Before implementing a UC solution, homework needs to be done to understand the requirement.

The factors to be considered are:

  • If really the UC solution will help to increase the productivity of the  respective company based on their working portfolio.
  • Whether a complete package of UC solution needed or only a part which can be integrated with the existing setup will do.
  • Try to discuss with UC experts to get a clear picture of the UC solution.
  • We can also consider if all the departments really need a UC solution because we can go for a smaller version for the required department.
  • Plan to implement the solution phase by phase rather going for the entire organization in a stretch.
  • Monitor the solution to find any loop holes or other concerns with the security of the information in the servers.
  • Need to ensure that the users are properly utilizing the solution because many people don’t want to move to learn new things. So making people use the solution effectively to make best use of the solution.

How can the UC solution be implemented without disturbing the current setup and also using the existing communication setup to reduce cost?

Most of the enterprises use Voice, e-mail, fax and video conferencing servers in today’s scenario.

Now if we want to implement a UC solution we need to first list the current application vendors in use and find a best package or product which could integrate with the current communication setup and provide a complete UC solution.

This would surely reduce the cost of implementing an already existing feature like email, etc… As well as need not to disturb the existing extension numbers or physical setup’s and thus reducing the implementation time.

In today’s market many vendors are providing UC solutions that have adopted standard protocols like SIP, IAX as a common platform which makes integration with other vendor equipments easier. This is an added advantage for the enterprises since they don’t need to invest again in everything.

Also vendors are coming up with many ready-made plug-in for popular vendor applications like IBM lotus notes, etc which make intra-vendor integration very simple.

Hope this article would have given glimpse of UC from a business perspective. Will try to explore more in the future!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Unified Communication Features – An Overview

The previous article “Unified Communication – A Layman Understanding” gave an overview about unified Communication at a very basic level. Now, this article explains about the various features and applications, to an understandable level.

Some extraordinary features in today’s Unified Communication solutions are:

The predominant methods we adopt in today’s life style to communicate in official as well as personal lifestyle are:

  • Mobile phones
  • Landline phones
  • Soft Phones (Installed in PC)
  • Email
  • Chat Clients (Yahoo messenger, Gtalk, Skype, etc.)
  • Video conference
  • Fax

We will now discuss the above mentioned Unified Communication features in details.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

VOIP is a transmission technology which converts voice to packets and transmits over IP networks such as LAN, WAN, etc. The voice communication in UC solution is predominantly based on the VOIP. Based on the voice server (PBX) we use we can communicate between IP and TDM (analog and Digital) phones.

All Voice servers (PBX) in today’s market have the capability to support VOIP protocol for extensions as well as private and public trunking.

Contact Center Services

A contact center is a single point of contact for customer or clients to reach a specific product or service related assistance, information or deliverance. Many of us buy some products and call the specified contact number provided by the manufacturer or distributor for any source of information or issue, where the contact center agents will help us in meeting our requirements. In today’s enterprise market customer satisfaction is the key and the contact centers provide an easy way for customer to reach for any issues, queries and information. This makes the customer more satisfied as well as help enterprise to meet customer requirements more effectively.

These contact centers may be of an Inbound, outbound or both. This feature is also available with most of the voice servers (PBX) integrated and also in a standalone server options.

Voicemail

This is one of the very basic features available with all the voice servers (PBX). When we receive a call and unable to attend the voicemail facility helps us to store the voice message, so that we can retrieve it later and respond. Though predominantly used for storing voice messages when away from desk or on other call, voicemail can also be used for providing information to the caller, forwarding a message to a group etc.

Click to Call / Conference

This is available today with any voice server (PBX). When you want to call a person you can just right click and select call either from you mail, digital fax, softphone or even from your chat window. The call can be established through normal telephony or by using a VOIP connectivity based on the client we use.

Same way when you want to add somebody to your ongoing conversation, its just a click away. Select the person and say join the conference.

This makes things simpler, easier, sophisticated and also time saver. Though this feature is available in simpler forms in most of the voice servers (PBX), UC utilizes this feature more effectively and efficiently.

Find Me – Follow Me

Find me – Follow me a glossy term given for connecting to person though any available resource he is available with. Now a call lands at a office desk while the person is away, the call can be diverted to any other number in the office or to his mobile phone if he is out of office or to his softphone if he is out of the state / country. This can be preconfigured on a standard basis if it is a planned outing or can be traced on a round robin way on an unscheduled outing.

Ultimately the call reaches the person even when he is away which makes things simpler for the caller as well as the called person.

E-mail

In today’s world of communication E-mail has become a part and parcel of personal as well as official life style. Email which just started as a communication of words has expanded its service with lot of internal features to make it easier for the users. With UC coming into picture E-mail communication is now a key feature with the integration of fax, voicemail and voice servers.

The E-mail is available with many players in the market starting from Microsoft, Lotus Notes and also open source like thunderbird etc.

Presence

The status indication of a person’s availability is called as presence. When a person is connected to the network through any means of communication like chat client, mobile, etc, a visible indication intimates the availability of the person to the other members of the group or network. This feature though was developed for chat clients; it was used later in a broad way for the availability. And UC requires the feature due to the integration with many servers.

Fax

Few years back Fax was considered only for sending a printed document from one machine to other using telephone lines. But in today’s world when a Fax is sent to a number it can be digitally converted and sent to the respective person’s mail from which he can take a print if needed. This is possible simply because of Unified Communication.

Fax feature is currently available with most of the voice (PBX) server applications.

Web Tool

Web tool is basically the front end management of the integrated products. Earlier servers were maintained through command lines. Later these proprietary softwares were developed to manage the individual tools. Now a common management tool is being developed to manage all the servers in a single window. This not only makes the configuration part easy but also helps a new person to learn the configuration easily and manage it in a much better way.

Earlier all the servers like voice servers (PBX), voicemail servers etc had their individual management tool for every product. But now common tools have come up to configure a single vendor product. Now these tools are available with plug-ins to support inter vendor products also. So this makes the product more user friendly.

Instant Messaging

Instant Messaging is a real-time communication between connected individuals through text messages. For instant messaging we need messaging clients which need to be installed in computer of supporting devices. The client helps to connect to the other members in the network to have a real time chat. This is totally controlled and monitored by a messaging server sitting at some part of the network or world. The instant messaging has really made revolution in the communication between individuals since it is easier and also a real time.

Though this is available as free service currently with some clients like yahoo, g-Talk, etc not many of the voice servers (PBX) in the market haven’t integrated the messaging services. Only few have included in the product package recently. UC integration will really make it more useful since it will be used for chatting and passing messages internally reducing the voice traffics.

Audio / Video / Web Conferencing

Conferencing is to perform a scheduled live meeting, presentation, training and knowledge sharing etc to a group located at a single or different location. When a conference should is needed, a virtual room is created with authentication where somebody can join and view the conference though the video. Also they can post their queries vocally. This makes them feel that they are located together at same place even though they are physically located at different location. We can also create an open conference where anybody can join the conference using a common authentication method.

When a conference room is created and joined though a telephone, where people are united by voice and share knowledge it is called audio conferencing.

When they have a web camera facility they can initiate a video conferencing where they not only hear the voice but also see people on their computer screen. This gives more lively feeling for the conference and also clearer picture to the participants. This is said to be video conferencing.

The Audio and video conferencing can be performed with a voice server (PBX) also, since most of the popular voice servers support audio video conferencing.

Rather when the conferencing is enabled though internet websites, where many websites provide paid web conferencing services, it is called as a Web conferencing.

With UC integration solution we can have a more effective and efficient conferencing methods which can support all.

Text-to-Speech

Text to speech is a feature which can read out a document vocally for us, to hear. This is a feature which was just a fun few years ago, is used to read out greetings, information and even mails. When we want some messages or information to be delivered to a called person we can have the text-to-speech feature enable which can make our works easy. The message may change frequently and so recorded greetings may not be that effective.

Also recently, when a person is away from his work location without any communication tool he can call his desk number and using his credentials can hear his important mails using this feature.

UC which is basically an integration solution, the Text-to-Speech feature can add more value to it.

Integration with 3rd Party

In current scenario every enterprise and individuals use different devices or components from various available vendors in the market based on their requirements. But everyday a new technology added device hit the market and the user cannot keep changing the devices every time. So he needs the device to talk with his existing device so that he can enjoy the new technology also. This necessity has derived the Integration with 3rd party concept.

Every enterprise has a voice server, Email server, etc. But he cannot invest a huge amount to replace everything to implement a UC Solution. So the UC devices should have ready-made plug-ins which can help the existing system to talk with the newly added UC solution. This can be possible by adopting a common protocol by all the vendors or a plug-in has to be developed between the vendors to support the customer.

In today’s market many UC providers have started to collaborate and release plug-ins to support the major market players of various domains, which make it easier for the customer to implement a UC solution in their enterprises.

Security

In today’s world of entire IP and data networks, we are coming across various network threats because of which security is a major concern in the growing VOIP network, since it is using the same data network for call establishment. In VOIP scenario we are frequently coming across issues like registration problems, VOIP call session breakdown, non availability of required services and viruses which creates a threat to the voice network security, and also to the data network security of all the enterprises.

So we need to ensure that the UC products offer enough security measures to ensure that all the server transactions are secured, which is a uphill task for the UC products.

High Availability (HA)

With increasing dependencies on critical applications in enterprise level redundancy is becoming a mandatory aspect. This redundancy need is taken care by the High Availability (HA). In UC which is a integrated solution will definitely need a High Availability option integrated is mandatory. Also we can implement a cluster based High availability to avail the facility of load sharing also.

Hope the above briefing of the UC features would have enriched the knowledge and added more push towards moving Unified Communication (UC). Will discuss on Unified Communication on a Business perspective soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Unified Communication – A Layman Understanding

With common standard protocols like SIP, IAX becoming the bench mark in today’s most of the upcoming communication technologies, telecommunication is using these opportunities to spread its tentacles in every possible angle to unify users through all possible means like mobile phones, landlines, computers, chat clients and even a piece of connectivity tool, under a single umbrella. And Unified Communication (UC) is a front-runner in achieving the unification.

So what is Unified Communication?

First of all, Unified Communication most of the time, is not a single equipment, tool, software package available in a ready to use format. Basically, a soft-hard networked cluster suite, sandwiched using many communication features and applications to unify or connect the customers virtually is called as Unified Communication (UC). Wherever you are located it establishes a virtual connectivity between the required people.

Why do we need a UC?

Today’s globalization is forcing enterprises to give collective effort to withstand at top of the market due to heavy competition from various directions and countries. So discussions and decisions should be made quicker as well as in a secured way. But people running out of time with their demanding busy schedule makes it very tough to group people in making and implementing decisions. That’s where UC is needed to make this possible.

People can be located at any place, city, state and even any country but UC makes them still be connected with people they want to be at any point of time.

What exactly UC does?

And now………….

Think that you want to have a yummy bread toast on a cloudy Sunday watching your favorite football match. You need to go to kitchen, collect the required things like bread, cheese, prepare the slice and place it in the toaster and wait for couple of minutes, collect it and rush again back to watch the match, but to find yourself missing the goal from your favorite player.

But imagine having all the required things to make a toast in a platform just in front of your chair. You should be really happy to make your favorite toast without missing the match. And that is what UC exactly does.

You may be sitting physically in any part of the world, but when you think you want to talk with somebody UC connects to them in no time with easily available resources.

Just before moving further……

What all do we use generally in our working environment and how do we connect with others in and out office?

We use computers and laptops for working and use mobile phones, landline phones, Email, chat client, video conference, Fax to connect with others.

How is this possible through UC?

Enterprises generally use different servers for different mode of communications. PBX Voice Servers, Email servers, Voicemail Servers, video conferencing server, Messaging Servers LDAP server, fax servers, AAA server, etc.

Now, all these servers should be integrated to understand each other.

For Example a guy named “Mark” working with me in a company named “xyz” is having extension 1002 and his mail id is mark@xyz.com.

So now “Mark” is a fixed person who is mapped with the extension 1002 in PBX voice server, to his id in Email server, his messaging id in chat server, and his Fax number in the Fax server. Also this person should be authenticated by an AAA server.

Now when I receive a mail from Mark, I have to just right click and press call to contact Mark through my soft phone since my email server and PBX call server are integrated.

I can receive a Fax to my email id from Mark, since my Fax server and my email server are integrated. And just right click and leave a voicemail to Mark also.

This complete solution of integration is called as Unified Communication.

This integrated servers’ needs to understand the request from other servers and execute the request. Though this seems to be easy in words, it needs lot of work behind the integration.

What are the benefits of Unified Communication?

  • Makes people to connect virtually at any point of time by voice, chat or video.
  • Helps to make quick decisions by reducing the in-between distance virtually.
  • Helps in developing business operations more effectively.
  • Uses day-to-day tools for connecting like mobile, laptop, chat client etc.

I am sure this would have given a fair overall idea on UC. Will discuss on Unified Communication Features Overview Soon!!!!!!!!!!

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