N+I: Cisco convergence vision still a bit cloudy

Despite the fanfare surrounding the launch of Cisco's convergence architecture, the company still has a way to go before its vision for enterprise IP telephony is complete.

Cisco last week announced AVVID at the NetWorld+Interop 99 show. Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data is a broad, overarching blueprint that specifies how users should implement some 30-odd Cisco products to achieve voice, data and video network convergence.

What Cisco did not mention during the AVVID launch is that it will require a significant systems integration (SI) effort on the part of users to fully implement the architecture. Also management of the AVVID environment is piecemeal; Selsius Call Manager, the software that handles call management in an AVVID network, cannot manage Cisco IOS devices, which permeate enterprise networks.

And even though Cisco boasts that AVVID products are shipping now, the company will drop another AVVID shoe next year with more products to flesh out its plan.

To address the integration challenge, Cisco training some of its systems integration partners, specialized VARs and more sophisticated end users on how to overlay voice onto an existing Cisco data infrastructure. These AVVID training programs are equivalent to the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert program, Cisco officials say.

Cisco makes no excuses for the effort it takes to implement AVVID.

"There is a lot of SI" involved with AVVID, says Jayshree Ullal, vice president of marketing in the enterprise line of business. "Voice is a system. We're integrating all the components of a system."

A big component of AVVID is management, an area in need of some integration itself. Selsius Call Manager, a software package obtained with Cisco's acquisition of Selsius last October, manages the IP phones and PBXs. It does not manage IOS devices, which are under the domain of CiscoWorks 2000.

Cisco plans some tighter integration in the first half of next year with a suite of CiscoWorks 2000 applications that collect detailed calling data from Call Manager, among other features.

The voice-oriented CiscoWorks 2000 will ship with a wave of other AVVID products that further fill out the architecture. Included in that batch will be analog PBX trunking for Cisco's Catalyst LAN switches, a second generation of IP phones, a new release of Call Manager as well as new unified messaging, virtual call center and directory applications.

Cisco says users can ensure the reliability of the converged network by designing it to support distributed call processing over redundant and alternate paths. The ability of data networks to guarantee reliability of voice is a big question mark of convergence.

"We'll provide the same level of uptime" as today's circuit switched networks, says Mario Mazzola, senior vice president in Cisco's enterprise line of business.

Designing redundancy and alternate paths in the converged network may help alleviate downtime due to router resets caused by IOS bugs or new feature set implementations, the Cisco officials say.

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