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Avaya ACE: Hey, Look What We Found!

When Avaya bought Nortel, they got a middleware platform that improves integration, especially in networks with multiple vendors' systems. So is the cost/benefit worth it for your enterprise?

Flashback to Avaya's webcast in December 2009 announcing the Nortel acquisition.

While details of the event are a bit fuzzy, one thing in particular stood out for me. As Avaya executives were boasting about the newly acquired Nortel (and rightfully so), it seemed like they had just figured out that they had acquired a new portfolio of powerful technology in the deal; especially Nortel's Agile Communication Environment (ACE).

It was strange thinking that this deal was worth almost $1B and it seemed as if Avaya hadn't fully vetted Nortel's products until after the deal was done. It was like buying a house and then finding a suitcase full of cash in the attic, except in this case it's a compelling software application that enables a broad range of automated UC business processes across mixed vendor infrastructures--not just Nortel or Avaya customers.

So, the question is; how do you realize the potential of this newfound asset and not squander your good fortune?

What is Avaya Agile Communication Environment (ACE)?
While this column isn't a technical review of Avaya Agile Communication Environment (ACE), it may be helpful to level set a bit first. Borrowing from Avaya's literature, Avaya ACE is about Integration (in multi-vendor environments), Applications (either pre-packaged and custom), and Automation (Communication Enabled Business Processes).

In short, Avaya ACE is an open software platform designed for building multi-vendor Unified Communications (UC) and Communications Enabled Business Process (CEBP) applications with Avaya and other common applications such as:

* Microsoft Outlook, Office Communications Server 2007, Internet Explorer
* Cisco UCM 6.0/7.0, Tandberg Videoconferencing Server
* IBM Lotus Notes and Sametime

And of course, since Avaya ACE was developed by Nortel, it is fully compatible with Avaya’s (formerly Nortel's) Communication Server 1000 platform.

Architecturally, Avaya ACE is an open software-based middleware solution sitting between the business application and network communication layers. The application layer comprises the set of SOA-based web services available for business software integration.

The network communications layer includes a wide range of Avaya and multi-vendor communications servers and systems, with Avaya ACE integrating with the network communications layer via open and vendor-proprietary adapters. Avaya provides both a developer toolkit for simple custom application development as well as numerous pre-packaged applications with the Avaya ACE platform.

Avaya ACE base software is supported on either Linux or Windows operating system and runs on the following hardware/server platforms:

* HP ProLiant DL 360 G7 (Microsoft OS deployments only)
* IBM xSeries x3550 (Linux or Windows)

Avaya provisions only the HP Proliant servers. A company can implement Avaya ACE on its own servers if the platforms meet or exceed Avaya-specified minimum technical server specifications. For installations requiring high-availability (e.g., 1+1 resiliency), two identical Avaya ACE server platforms are required (IBM 3550 servers for Avaya ACE on Linux and IBM 3550 or HP ProLiant DL360 G7 servers for Windows).

The final core component of Avaya ACE is Application Integration Engine (AIE). AIE software provides a single point of access for Avaya ACE packaged applications and hosts Avaya ACE packaged applications and supporting software components. AIE also exposes Avaya ACE Web services through simple APIs built on REpresentational State Transfer (REST) design principles.

The network diagram below shows how Avaya ACE and the Application Integration Engine (AIE) "fit" in between the business applications and network communication layers.

Avaya ACE Software, Licensing, and Pricing
Avaya ACE is currently running release 2.2 with 2.3 coming out next month (December 2010). With release 2.3, Avaya ACE is taking direct aim at Microsoft's Lync (aka OCS R3, aka Communication Server 14) with an add-in for OCS which allows users to access Avaya Aura functionality from the Microsoft Office Communicator client, with the lower-cost investment using OCS Standard CAL only (no Enterprise CAL needed).

Note that there will be NO software license price change from Avaya ACE 2.2 to 2.3.

As depicted in the Avaya-provided diagram below, Avaya ACE software licensing is based predominantly on user-based licenses with software fees falling into three categories:

* Server Based Licenses (e.g., Avaya ACE Base Software, Application Integration Engine)
* Web Service Licenses (e.g., Message Drop & Blast)
* Application Licenses (e.g., Click to Connect API)

Avaya ACE applications may be purchased as pre-packages or custom web-based applications that are developed by Avaya Professional Services or members of Avaya's DevConnect Program. With literally thousands of members, Avaya's DevConnect Program is intended to promote the development, compliance-testing, and co-marketing of third-party products that are compatible with Avaya ACE and standards-based Avaya product, and other vendor products from IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Tandberg etc.

Below is a table highlighting some of the more common Avaya ACE applications--both pre-packaged and web-based applications:

To give you a sense of budgetary costs, the following table presents several Avaya ACE license Right-to-Use (RTU) fees assuming their National List Price:

Keep in mind that you will certainly need internal resources to plan, develop, test, implement, and support these solutions. You'll also need to budget-in professional services and software/hardware maintenance costs.

Project Example
To give you an idea of the cost for an application, assume you have geographically dispersed Avaya and Cisco IP telephony servers with mostly hard phones deployed, and with significant office space going unused. Your 1,000-employee workforce is now mostly mobile and you want to reduce office space and lower long distance costs.

For this Avaya ACE solution, the applications would be Hot Desking and Mobile Cost Optimizer. The hardware and software components for these apps are:

* Deploy ACE Server (High Availability or standalone)
* Deploy ACE Application Integration Engine server with:
--Hot Desking application
--Mobile Cost Optimizer application

The budgetary project LIST costs for software licensing assuming high-availability server design and 1,000 users would be:

Avaya ACE Base Software for two redundant servers: $20,000 ($10,000 * 2)
Avaya ACE Application Integration Engine (AIE): $1,200 (1*$1200)
Mobile Cost Optimizer User Licenses: $125,000 (1,000 * $125)
Hot Desking User Licenses: $30,000 (1,000 * $30)

Total List Cost for Software Licensing: $176,200

With this investment, there should be an expected rate of return as well. For this example, the ROI is primarily realized through reduced cellular expenses using the Mobile Cost Optimizer app (there may be reduced real estate expenses as well but they aren’t included in this example).

For the sake of space, the quick and dirty ROI (I've seen the high-level ROI analysis and Avaya can share it with you), assuming 500 US mobile users making an average of 2-3 five-minute international calls per day, would result in a cost savings of 5 to 12 cents per minute; the ROI could range from about 10 months to 23 months.

Two final points. First, Avaya's ROI is based on list pricing. Actual software license discounts for a project of this size would likely be in the 40-60% range. As such, even with more conservative assumptions, with discounts factored in the ROI could actually be better. In addition, any long distance usage cost reductions are not included either.

Second, every customer environment is different and your cost saving "mileage may vary," and as with any vendor-led ROI example, much more analysis is required to confirm a project’s ROI/NPV before making any capital funding decisions.

Wrap up Now let's fast forward a year, from the Avaya-Nortel call mentioned at the beginning of this column, to 4Q2010.

CEBP applications are really nothing new, having been deployed for years on IVR systems and within contact center environments (e.g., screen-pop, if-then routing, skills-based routing, mixed media routing, last agent routing). However, what is new is using CEBP to leverage customer business application platforms and extending it across all lines of the customer's business.

From my conversations with several folks from the Avaya ACE leadership team, (Sajeel Hussain, Allan McGowan, and Rob Casey), I believe they absolutely understand and can tell a compelling story about Avaya ACE’s value proposition--but frankly, they can't do it alone. From my experience, I'm not sure the Avaya/Business Partner field sales organization is up to the challenge.

Honestly, the more I learn about Avaya ACE the more interesting of a product it becomes. For Avaya, this platform more than any other gives them an opportunity to engage non-Avaya customers in new ways to explore/solve business problems with CEBP solutions in heterogeneous environments.

Avaya's challenge is that to capitalize on Avaya ACE's potential (remember the suitcase of cash found in the house) requires that their direct sales and their business partners truly understand the technology as well as their customer business operations, requirements, and applications infrastructure. And to do that well, requires the right technical resources and a more business analyst/consultative approach when engaging customers. As I've argued many times, it's less about the technology and more about having the right people properly execute against a good plan.

So here's my suggestion: The next time you have an Avaya or Avaya Business Partner visit, ask them to tell you all about Avaya ACE and what it can do to help you solve your business problems. I'd be very interested to know how they answered your question.

For more on Avaya ACE, check out the following links:

* McGee-Smith, No Jitter column, March 28, 2010

* Research June 2010

* Avaya adds to Aura with ACE 2.2 and Contact Center--FierceVoIP July 2010

Up next, Cisco's CUBE, Microsoft's Lync 2010, and an Avaya Business Case...

Until then, all the best.