Avaya virtualizes UC Aura platform

Avaya follows moves by Cisco, Siemens and other communication providers in opening its system up to be virtualized as businesses look to virtualize their UC apps

Catching up with many of the other unified communications vendors, Avaya today announced that its Aura platform now can be virtualized.

Avaya has teamed with VMware to ensure that Aura - the company's UC platform for managing voice, video and other call and contact center applications - can run on virtualized equipment, creating potential cost savings for customers by more efficiently using their hardware, while allowing for easier management of the communication systems.

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Avaya is not alone in offering virtualized UC platforms though. Irwin Lazar, who leads UC market studies for Nemertes Research, says Avaya has trailed the market in terms of virtualizing its platform, with competitors Cisco, Siemens, Microsoft and Shoretel having previously optimized parts or all of their platforms for virtualization. A recent study by Nemertes found that 70% of enterprises were either deploying or considering integrating virtualization technology into their communications systems. Combined with Avaya's wide customer base - especially since its 2009, $900 million acquisition of Nortel - Lazar believes Avaya will have plenty of opportunity to compete in the market with a virtualized Aura product. "We've certainly heard from Avaya customers that they want this capability," Lazar says.

Avaya's telephony, messaging, conference, and hard and soft endpoint call and contact center applications all run on its Aura platform, which today can now run on virtualized equipment. Aura is deployed at small companies all the way up to the largest enterprises with thousands of endpoints, says Gary Barnett, senior vice president and general manager of Avaya Collaboration Platforms.

The virtualized product comes in a couple of flavors. Customers can choose to run Aura as a software-only virtual appliance, in which the program can run on Avaya hardware or existing infrastructure that customers may already have that has been certified to support Aura. Barnett says a wide variety of server blades from companies such as IBM and HP commonly support Aura. Avaya also sells its own blades and server racks, which can come prepackaged with networking, storage and UC software loaded on what Avaya calls its "Collaboration Pod." Avaya expects the Pod, which was announced earlier this year at VMworld, will be available starting later this year or early next year.

Avaya's virtualized Aura platform requires infrastructure that is dedicated to UC functions, so other non-communication applications cannot also run on the servers in which the virtualized UC platform runs, Barnett says. It's priced on a per user model and most existing customers can upgrade to a virtualized platform for about $100 per user, while new platforms will run between $250 and $600 per user based on the number of features included, Avaya says.

Customers can choose to run all or some of the UC applications on the new virtualized platform. A business could, for example, roll out a communications manager and session manager on virtualized equipment, but not the entire system manager. This "mix and match" functionality is a differentiator between Avaya and competitors, Barnett says.

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Virtualization of communication services is the "next big wave" in virtualization, because of the efficiencies virtualized equipment provides users, Barnett says. Having integration with VMware also allows the Aura platform to take advantage of VMware tools, such as vMotion, he says. In this scenario, a UC manager would be able to install updates, fix a broken VM in the stack or provide maintenance to the system without bringing it offline by simply migrating applications from running on one VM to another. Avaya's goal, he says, is to provide a zero downtime environment.

Enterprises seem open to the idea of virtualizing their UC platforms, says Lazar, the Nemertes analyst. Concerns around performance lag when running virtualized environments are beginning to fade. If systems are architected to the specifications the vendors provide, latency should not be an issue, he says, even in a virtualized environment. Large enterprises and service providers, he believes would have the most use for this technology. A virtualized Aura platform could make it easier for Avaya channel partners to create cloud and managed hosted versions of UC platforms for customers, he notes.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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