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When the Session Border Controller Became the Toaster

Do you remember your first DVD player? I mostly do. I mean, I can't tell you the manufacturer, model number, or even what color it was, but I do remember the price, and it was a lot of money. With tax, it cost close to $500, and that's not the kind of cash I part with easily.

What do you think that my latest DVD player cost me? Would you believe nothing? My neighbor was throwing his out and since mine was having problems with skipping, I took it. His worked perfectly fine and it kept me from having to go to the store to buy a new one. Of course, that new one would have only cost me around $30, so I was mostly saving myself a drive to the nearby Best Buy.

So, something that was once worth $500 is now valued somewhere between zero and $30. What's up with that?

Commoditization is what's up. Once special, DVD players are now common, boring, and routine. The newer Blu-ray players have better pictures, amazing sound, and wireless access. Even better, I can forgo the external box and stream movies straight to my TV. In other words, the basic DVD player has become as interesting as a toaster. You put in a slice of bread and expect it to pop out all nice and brown.

The sad truth is that technology repeats this process of toasterization (I just invented that word) over and over again. You pay a ton of money for the best digital camera on the market and a short while later, something better comes along at half the price.

Secure SIP Communications
I also remember the first time I helped with the purchase, installation, and configuration of a session border controller (SBC). This was a few years ago when you either bought a big one from Acme Packet or a smaller one from Acme Packet -- and either way, you'd be paying a fortune. Even a small one was close to the price of a Lamborghini. Those babies weren't cheap, but if you wanted to secure your SIP trunks, you paid what you had to pay.

Ah, but that was then and this is now. Acme Packet is now Oracle and you can find plenty of competition out there. Off the top of my head, I can think of products from Avaya, AudioCodes, Genband, Sonus, Cisco, Edgewater Networks, Frafos, and Squire Technologies. Thankfully, all that competition has driven the price down for a reasonably sized SBC to that of a decently equipped Toyota.

While I don't have personal experience with every make and model out there, I've read most of the spec sheets and they all tout the same things -- session counts, encryption, decryption, wire speed, RFC 2833, network time protocol, and an enterprise management system.

In other words, you put in a slice of bread and it pops out all nice and brown.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking SBCs. In fact, I would never recommend opening up your network to external SIP traffic without an SBC on your network edge. That's like connecting to the Internet without a firewall -- which we all can agree would be very, very foolish.

It's just that when an SBC vendor brags about TLS (secure SIP signaling) or SRTP (secure media), I yawn. Big time. I know you do it. Everybody does TLS and SRTP, and you would have an extremely unimpressive product if you didn't do them, too.

Impress Me
What I want is something exciting. I want to know all the stuff your product does outside of what I already know that it has to do.

So, what are those exciting things? What makes my ears take notice and my heart start to race? (Yes, I carry my nerd membership card in my pocket.)

Let's start with licensing. Let's say that I buy a bunch of SBCs and I want to pool their licenses. This keeps me from having to "license up" every box for the worst-case scenario. I would much rather license up my enterprise and allow those licenses to flow to where they're needed.

And speaking of boxes -- get rid of them. I want a scalable, virtual product that doesn't short me on features. I'm putting the other aspects of my communications system into a virtual server farm, and I want to do the same with my SBCs.

Let's think new and different. I'm excited about WebRTC, and I want you to be just as excited. Not only do I want to run my WebRTC through an SBC for security and normalization, I want it to support the newer codecs such as Opus.

SIP trunks are cool, but if you really want to warm the cockles of my unified communications heart, tell me what you can do for remote SIP endpoints. Also, tell me how you support SIP endpoints that do more than SIP. How about those clients that use Web services and HTTP? Can I use them with your SBC?

As more and more people consider the cloud for their communications, I want to know how your SBC fits into that world. Can you work in a hybrid configuration where I have a lot of cloud and a little on-premises -- or vice versa?

Okay, I could go on and on like this. But better yet, I want the SBC manufacturers to go on and on and impress me with more than simply how many sessions they support.

C'mon. Make my heart race while you brown my bread. Is that too much to ask for?

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

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