A 'swiss army knife' approach to managed services for SMBs

* U4EA Technologies tackles the SMBs need for a customer owned Business in a Box vs. a managed service

U4EA Technologies last week announced that its Fusion 200 has been certified by Siemens Enterprise Communications for interoperability with its HiPath 8000 V3.1 IP-based SIP softswitch and subsequent use by Telefonica. While the idea of an integrated access device isn't new (we recall IADs had worked with frame relay and ATM many years back), what is interesting to us is the trend for service providers to increasingly focus on providing a managed service using an integrated platform with built-in multimedia gateways that are targeted to the SMB.

U4EA Technologies last week announced that its Fusion 200 has been certified by Siemens Enterprise Communications for interoperability with its HiPath 8000 V3.1 IP-based SIP softswitch and subsequent use by Telefonica. 

U4EA's Multi-Service Business Gateways (MSBG) combine the functions of a SIP session controller, router, switch, firewall, IDS, VoIP gateway, QoS and OA&M into a single device, and its Fusion Series was developed specifically for SIP-based next generation networks carrying multiple types of real time applications co-existing with data and other streaming IP media.

While the idea of an integrated access device isn't new (we recall IADs had worked with frame relay and ATM many years back), what is interesting to us is the trend for service providers to increasingly focus on providing a managed service using an integrated platform with built-in multimedia gateways that are targeted to the SMB.

Addressing the SMB needs for a customer owned “Office in a Box” or “Business in a Box” vs. a managed service, we spoke with Ken Epps, U4EA’s CEO. Using service providers and relationships with larger manufacturers as a channel, U4EA targets the “micro office” with two or three people, scaling up to the midsized business with 500 to 1,000 employees.

We asked Mr. Epps about the relative advantages of a customer-owned “Office in a Box” compared to a service-provider managed “Office in a Box.” He said, “the majority of advantages go to the service provider because the SMB is increasingly dependent on the service provider to offload the IP infrastructure. And SMBs like enabling technologies and depend on the newest [ways to] help them deliver [their] new products and services. Service providers are more equipped to do that.” He added that “service providers also have a business relationship with SMBs that CPE manufacturers don’t [always] have.

“When we covered AT&T’s new “Business in a Box” offer last month, AT&T also noted that part of strength of a service provider offer is that the carrier can more easily bring big business technologies down-market to the SMB.

The advantage of an integrated device is that it is both multi-functional and typically low priced. For example, high-end U4EA systems list at just under $2,000 for larger offices and go down to a few hundred dollars for the micro-office. But, the inherent weakness of any multi-function device is that each individual feature may not be nest of breed, rather like a “swiss army knife” that has lots of flexibility, but may not be the best substitute for a kitchen knife. However, we think that the relative price-to-value for the flexibility offered may mitigate the “swiss army knife” approach. And when a carrier has to manage the entire solution and back the multi-service device features, the choice may turn out to be one less infrastructure worry for the SMB.

Next time, we’ll hear from Acme Packet with their views on Microsoft OCS security.

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