Friday, February 20, 2009

Asterisk vs. Cisco Unified Communications

Over my 12 years in the Telecommunications Industry I have worked with a variety of phone systems including Avaya, Aspect, Nortel, Cisco and Asterisk. I am often asked how Asterisk compares to other traditional phone systems. These days I am most often asked to compare Asterisk with Cisco. Many times I am told by a prospect that Cisco can do things that Asterisk cannot, or that Asterisk is not as reliable as Cisco. Allow me to set the record straight regarding the two systems.

Asterisk vs. Cisco, here are some points where we can differentiate. Since I have administered both systems, I can speak with authority on this subject.

1. Cost – Even if Cisco undercuts their cost upfront, they will make it up on the backend. If you buy a Cisco system you will pay a license for every extension on the system, the phones are more expensive, and you have to buy Microsoft exchange licenses for each voicemail box on the Unity voicemail system. On top of this, you will pay for annual support from a Cisco partner who will charge 20% - 30% of the total cost of the system yearly.

2. Features – In some areas the Cisco phone system really excels. The distributive architecture of the system is quite nice. All in all it is a great phone system. However, out of the box if you compare feature for feature Asterisk can do much more. In addition, due to the openness of its architecture you can make Asterisk do pretty much anything that you want.

3. Voicemail Systems – The voicemail system that comes free with Asterisk is 100% better than the Unity voicemail system that Cisco uses. Unity relies on a Microsoft Exchange mail system to manage voicemails. This is a needlessly complex design that does not provide any enhancements to the overall features of the voicemail system. In addition, on the Cisco system voicemail administration is separate from user/extension administration. Therefore, in addition to logging into the Cisco Call Manager to manage the user and extension, the administrator has to log on to a completely separate system to administer voicemail. With Asterisk, combined with our device management software, the User, Extension, Voicemail and device configuration are all managed from one screen.

4. Phones -- Cisco makes a great phone, however in my opinion Polycom makes the best devices currently on the market, and they are priced much lower than equivalent Cisco phones. Furthermore, Asterisk allows you to choose the phones you want to use with your system. Good luck attaching and managing anything to Cisco's Call Manager that does not have a Cisco logo emblazoned on it.

5. System Integrity – Like any application there are good ways to deploy Asterisk and there are bad ways to deploy Asterisk. If you ask around organizations that have Asterisk based phone systems you will find an array of experiences. Many of these organizations will tell you that their phone system is their biggest nightmare. Still others will tell you that their Asterisk based phone system is the best thing since sliced bread.

In most cases the difference between these organizations is their deployment methods. Many organizations are attracted to Asterisk because of cost. Sometimes this leads those same organizations to cut corners on implementation, phones, interface cards, and server hardware. With Asterisk you get what you pay for. Cutting corners now will cost you in the future. Therefore, hire an experienced integrator to build and support your system, listen to their advice when purchasing phones, and don’t cut corners on equipment costs. PLEASE DON'T EVER BUY CHEAP PHONES! Unless you have a staff member that has performed several Asterisk deployments, don’t do it yourself. This strategy will ensure that you have a quality phone system that rattles and hums as it drives up productivity while enhancing the workplace environment, and you will still come out way ahead on cost over a traditionally branded system.

6. Future Proof Technology – Asterisk is open, freely available, and developed by a community of developers committed to constant improvement of the product. This ensures that the latest enhancements and fixes are available to you without the purchase of new software, licensing, or equipment. If the latest version of Cisco's Call Manager arrives on the market with some fancy new feature, plan on starting from scratch to upgrade your environment. In many cases a Cisco Call Manager upgrade will require you to purchase new software, pay for the same licenses again, and often times buying new rebranded HP servers that have been marked up by Cisco three times their original retail price from ~$4000 to ~$12,000.

Several Cisco shops have dumped Cisco in favor of Asterisk. In many cases they cite cost and features as the reason:

http://blog.tmcnet.com/blog/tom-keating/asterisk/asterisk-replaces-cisco-callmanager.asp


http://www.networkworld.com/news/2006/091206-von-sam-houston.html?t5

Here is another interesting article that discusses why some people integrate Asterisk with Cisco:

http://www.voip-info.org/tiki-index.php?page=Asterisk+Cisco+CallManager+Integration


Needless to say they are both good systems, but at the end of the day open standards, ongoing cost of ownership, and flexibility win in my opinion.

If you are interested in a full list of Asterisk and Cisco features, they can be found here:

http://www.asterisk.org/support/features


http://www.cisco.com/en/US/prod/collateral/voicesw/ps6788/vcallcon/ps556/solution_overview_c22-493511.html

Here is a very good post comparing Polycom and Cisco Phones:

http://asterisk.mdaniel.net/?p=11

For more information about BitWare Technologies and our product please visit our website:

http://www.bitwaretech.com/

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Polycom Soundpoint IP 670 Product Review



This week I received a new shipment of Polycom phones to demo putting me in phone nerd heaven with a box of new toys to play with! Why all this excitement? Well included in this latest shipment if the Polycom Soundpoint IP 670, the flagship product of Polycom’s IP phone lineup.

As you may already know, BitWare Technologies is a certified reseller of Polycom phones. After trying several IP phone brands with our phone systems over the years we settled on the Polycom lineup because of their outstanding quality, great value, exceptional voice clarity, and long history in the industry. We have always been impressed with Polycom’s IP products, but their new line of IP phones featuring HD Voice, faster processors (shorter boot times), and enhanced user interfaces raise the bar even higher.

Polycom describes the Soundpoint IP 670 as “a premium SIP desktop phone with color display that delivers a rich voice, visual, and applications experience”. With 6 line keys, a number of soft keys for custom applications, full duplex speaker phone and support for up to three expansion side cars (providing up to 42 additional speed dial keys), this phone is perfect for executives, receptionists, and power users who require an expandable platform.

Color Display

The most noticeable feature of this phone is the 320 X 160 pixel color display. The large color display features images for customizable backgrounds and colors to enhance the viewing experience. Backgrounds and colors even extend to the optional color expansion sidecar. From the display you can easily view contacts, watch the status of other phone users in your buddy list, and access all the features of the phone.

Polycom HD Voice Technology

Wideband HD voice is now available on the Soundpoint IP 670 and other models including the IP 650, IP 560, and IP 550. Anyone familiar with voice over IP will tell you that voice quality starts with the phones. Now with HD voice, Polycom’s already legendary voice quality is even better. HD voice provides twice the voice clarity of a traditional phone call. In addition, Polycom’s HD voice technology uses their patented Acoustic Clarity Technology 2 to process voice, cancel echo and reduce background noise. Enhanced quality ensures that every word is heard the first time, and conference calls are Chrystal clear!

While HD provides the best voice quality currently available there are some limitations. Current phone lines are limited to half the audio rate of HD voice. So, for now HD voice is confined to IP networks, however, users of this phone will still benefit from Acoustic Clarity Technology providing voice enhancement for both HD and non-HD conversations.

Gigabit Ethernet

The Soundpoint IP 670 ships standard with Gig-E and support for 802.3af power over Ethernet. For anyone working with bandwidth intensive applications on a gigabit network this is a must. Most IP phones are limited to 100-megabit Ethernet ports. Since IP phone users daisy chain their PC to their IP phone through the integrated two-port switch, a 100-megabit reduces a desktop’s network performance by ten on a gigabit network. Believe it or not, most IP phone manufactures are behind the power curve on this feature and do not offer integrated gigabit Ethernet through their phones. Polycom currently builds gigabit Ethernet into the Soundpoint IP 560 and Soundpoint IP 670 phones. One recent BitWare customer chose Polycom Sound IP 560 for their new BitWare Unified Communications Server phone system in large part because of this feature.

Conclusions

The Polycom Soundpoint IP 670 is one awesome phone! It’s difficult not to look cool with one of these sitting on your desk. The customizable color display is by far the most differentiating feature of this phone. Combined with a color sidecar this great looking phone becomes a highly expandable platform supporting up to 32 extension line keys and up to 42 displayable speed dials with presence. The integrated gigabit Ethernet is a must for any office with a high-speed network. HD voice is a great technology investment ensuring that your phone will be able to converse in wideband as the proliferation of convergence continues.

Pluses:

• Full duplex speaker phone
• Color Display
• Expandable supporting up to 3 14-button sidecars
• Acoustic Clarity Technology
• Wideband HD Voice Capable
• Power over Ethernet

Minuses:

• Wideband HD voice is limited to IP networks.

Sources

http://www.polycom.com/products/voice/desktop_solutions/soundpoint/desk_phones/soundpoint_ip670.html


Additional Information

BitWare Products Page: http://www.bitwaretech.com/products.html

BitWare Polycom Showcase: http://www.bitwaretech.com/polycom.html

Power Over Ethernet: http://blog.bitwaretech.com/2009/01/power-over-ethernet-commonly-referred.html