With SIP, Less is the New More
With efficiency and reduction on the minds of software developers and hardware designers everywhere, we are clearly headed toward a "less is more" communications world.
It's easy to get sidetracked with technology, and that is the danger, but ultimately you have to see what works with the music and what doesn't. In a lot of cases, less is more. In most cases, less is more.
-- Herbie Hancock
Hello, my name is Andrew Prokop and I am a public radio addict. Except on rare occasions, Minnesota Public Radio is the only station I listen to on my home stereo (do you youngsters still call them stereos?). It's also the main station on my car radio. Yes, I will sometimes bop around the dial while driving, but for every ten minutes spent listening to music, I spend two hours listening to news and information.
There are quite a few programs I love listening to (All Things Considered, On the Media, This American Life, etc.), but one of my favorites is Science Friday with Ira Flatow. Ira can take a subject that doesn't sound the least bit interesting and turn it into a riveting discussion. Recently, he hosted a research scientist that spoke about bacteria eating viruses called phages and I was glued to the radio.
On that same show, Ira was joined by that bowtie-wearing-mechanical-engineer-turned-entertainer-educator, Bill Nye the Science Guy. If you live in America, I am sure you all know who Bill Nye is. He has been on TV since my kids were little. He's whacky and fun, but he is also very smart, and his shows are always educational.
Bill said something that caught my ear. He said that one of the biggest tasks of today's scientists is to come up with ways of doing more with less. For instance, how do we make our factories more productive, our cars more efficient, and our lives more comfortable through the use of less energy? It's really a very simple notion, but one that will consume many of the world's best minds for a long time to come.
That just happens to be the exact same issue we face in communications. Enterprises have less capital to invest in "the telephone system." They, like the rest of us, need to use less power. They want to be productive and profitable using fewer resources. They want fewer management interfaces that manage a large number of services. (Note that I didn't say servers; they want less of those.)Less Power
Unless you are communicating using tin cans and string, you need power. Your power-over-Ethernet (POE) phones chew up power. The network between those phones and the communications system chews up power. The communications system with its myriad of application servers chews up power. Your cooling systems need lots of power to keep everything from overheating.
Thankfully, every one of those issues is being addressed. More efficient phones, routers, and switches have been developed. Back in my Nortel days, we discovered that our network devices used up to 60% less power than their Cisco equivalents. The enhanced versions of those more efficient products are now under the Avaya umbrella. Additionally, the Avaya 9600 series of IP telephones use 40% to 60% less than the Cisco 7900 series IP phones. When you realize that 80% of a VoIP's energy consumption comes from telephones, those percentages add up to huge savings.
Also, as we move away from stationary desk telephones to mobile devices, we cut the POE cords and access enterprise communications from multifunctional devices. This leads to one less device to power.Less Space
This is clearly where virtualization comes in. Pulling services off dedicated servers and virtualizing them onto shared hardware is contributing to a significant reduction in the space required to house your communications system and adjunct processors.
The move toward SIP allows you to start ditching gateways and line cards. I worked with one company whose switch to SIP trunks allowed them to significantly shrink their communications system. It went from overflowing its allotted space to looking awfully lonely in a nearly empty room.
Let's take this even further and move your communications system into the cloud. You go from a room full of gateways, servers, and dedicated appliances to a couple of SBCs. You could even potentially eliminate the SBCs by pushing your trunks into the cloud, too.Fewer Resources
When I started in the world of communications, every component had its own unique management interface. To make matters worse, many of those interfaces ran on dedicated pieces of hardware. The various interfaces didn't look or act alike and often required specialized skillsets to use.
We've entered the age where a management interface is a webpage and the tasks to manage a system have been combined. For example, instead of adding a new user to both a call processing server and a voicemail system, you add him or her one time using a single, integrated interface.
We've also grown past the point where if you had three of the same thing, you managed all three separately. We now have enterprise management systems that can manage hundreds of boxes at a time. We've also implemented architectures such as flatten, consolidate, and extend that combine several geographically separated communications systems into one logical platform.
All this consolidation leads to efficiencies in management which in turn leads to fewer people dedicated to keeping a large communications platform up and running. An IT professional can learn one interface which will then allow him or her to manage many disparate services across the country or around the world.
Cloud communications also plays in this arena. Instead of your IT staff managing your communications system, why not turn the task over to your cloud provider? This allows you to focus your efforts on running your business and not on your telephone system.Less is the New More
Even though SIP was the last thing on Bill Nye's mind, his idea of doing more with less is certainly applicable to the world of communications. Are things perfect? No. Can we actually manage everything from a single interface? Not yet. Can we eliminate all those space-consuming gateways? Not yet. Can we still lower our power usage? Absolutely.
The point of this article was to address the progress we have already made. However, we are far from done. Thankfully, efficiency and reduction are on the minds of software developers and hardware designers everywhere. This year was better than the previous, and next year will be even better than this one. There will always be new challenges, but we are clearly headed in the direction of "less is more."
Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.