Microsoft Corp. is embracing the latest supposed elixir for a problem holding back Internet telephony.
The software giant, with the help of networking hardware kingpin Cisco Systems Inc., intends to add ICE (Interactive Connectivity Establishment) programming to many Microsoft software releases starting in 2006, said Russell Bennett, a Microsoft program manager.
Why is Microsoft doing this? Because the company believes ICE is the best bet yet to break up a longstanding technology logjam thats keeping corporations and consumers from adopting Internet phones, which Microsoft and other major technology companies have made multi-billion dollar research and development bets will soon happen.
Yet theres no other major technology maker aside from Microsoft to commit to adding the ICE software to its products. Microsoft is, in essence, believes it is going to get the ICE ball rolling.
"Everybodys got an eye on ICE," Bennett said during an interview. "But theyre just sitting back on their haunches, waiting and seeing. Were putting our necks on the chopping block and saying this is something we think will work and well deploy it."
The issue ICE supposedly addresses is known as "NATs in the firewall." NATs, short for Network Address Translations, is one of many security measures that go into the so-called firewall protecting a computer networks outer core from unwanted intruders. As a consequence, NATs and firewalls are an integral way that large networks of Internet-connected computers are tethered to each other and the world outside the office.
NATs pose a significant problem for telephone calls made using VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). The biggest issue is that VOIP systems are confounded because a NAT changes a devices Internet address, and the VOIP calls dont get through.
ICE supposedly solves the problem by letting the networking elements responsible for VOIP calls learn of the devices new IP address.
There have been many that tried to deal with the NATs issue, but few succeeded. Along with the historical handicap, Microsoft also faces a more immediate issue: the ICE protocol is still under development, and has yet to be finalized by the international computing standards creator Internet Engineering Task Force, which defines Internet standards.
By adding ICE now to its products, Microsoft runs the risk of having to redo everything should there be any changes between now and the time the standards ratified.
Microsoft might not have to wait so long, however, to find out if it made the right move. The standards group is meeting this week, and on its agenda is ratifying the ICE protocol.
"Weve held back long enough for deployment plan for communications, feel we need to make this move now, to catalyze the business," Bennett said.