Vendors Address Remote Communications

As businesses look to support the growing number of remote workers, IT vendors are rolling out tools to improve communications among distributed work forces and to help IT administrators manage and secure those communication tools.

As businesses look to support the growing number of remote workers, IT vendors are rolling out tools to improve communications among distributed work forces and to help IT administrators manage and secure those communication tools.

At MediaLive International Inc.s Interop New York show Dec. 12 to Dec. 16, Microsoft Corp. released to manufacturing a Web-based version of its Office Communicator 2005 enterprise instant messaging client. The Web-based version, Office Communicator Web Access, is an AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML)-based client that allows users of Microsoft Office Live Communications Server to access their corporate IM and presence capabilities from a Web browser.

The move is part of the Redmond, Wash., companys ongoing unified communications strategy, said Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of the Live Communications team in the Real-Time Collaboration Group at Microsoft, in an interview at the show.

"The way we see unified communications is that you already have an identity in the enterprise that should be used to reach you wherever you are, whichever device you are on, whichever computer you might be sitting on—only if you want to be reached because, through presence, you can control a lot of that with intelligence around controlling who reaches you and how important calls get to you and that the other calls dont," said Pall.

In forthcoming versions of its real-time collaboration tools, Microsoft is aiming to make it easier for users to move between different communication tools, such as IM, video and voice, said Pall.

Also at the show, networking company Avaya Inc. extended its partnership with Polycom Inc., of Pleasanton, Calif., to make videoconferencing easier to use and to lift some of the management burden from ITs shoulders.

Videoconferencing has yet to gain widespread adoption among businesses, but the two companies say theyre hoping to address some of the obstacles around its use by making video as easy as a phone call.

"Most companies have video in the conference room, but its always been seen as a separate, rather difficult thing to use that has IT support problems because somebodys got to come in and set it up for you. Our view is, as companies deploy IP telephony and as they link in their branch locations and home locations with [Avayas] VPNremote [Client] phones and softphones, it will be much easier for organizations [to use video]," said Lawrence Byrd, director of communications, IP telephony and mobility solutions for Avaya, of Basking Ridge, N.J.

Avaya has integrated Avaya Communication Manager software for IP telephony with Polycoms group videoconferencing systems and multimedia bridges so businesses can use a single IP network for voice and video.

The company also released the next version of Avaya Desktop Video Edition, which embeds Polycoms desktop video technology into Avayas IP softphone. The Avaya IP softphone interface displays user presence and device information, and users can hold, transfer or mute video just as they do for voice. Users can tell if a caller also has video capabilities, and up to four distinct videos can appear on the screen.

At the show, Avaya also introduced a new VPN client for its IP telephones. Avayas VPNremote Client software, which works with its 4600 Series IP phones, allows remote workers to have office-level functionality on their IP phones, said Avaya officials.

New York University, which has been testing Avayas new offering, plans to roll out several hundred phones with VPNremote Client software for critical university staff as part of its business continuity strategy, said Dan Malone, director of communication operation services for NYU. For example, the school has 72 call centers distributed throughout its campus that handle diverse types of inquiries.

"I can imagine if some of the call centers couldnt get here, such as in the case of a storm, transit strike or—God forbid—another disaster like 9/11, that this would allow our call centers to continue to operate. That is a huge business application that could continue to operate remotely. That is business continuity at its finest," said Malone.

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VPNremote Client software is available now. The software costs $330, and Avayas IP phones range from $400 to $650. Avaya will add support for additional third-party VPN vendors in the second quarter of next year.

Also at the show, Seattle-based security vendor Aventail Corp. rolled out a new Web collaboration add-on appliance for its SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) VPN.

Aventail Secure Collaboration includes a Web-based help desk tool, Web conferencing, IM, VOIP (voice over IP) chat and videoconferencing. Aventail Secure Collaboration is integrated with the Aventail Smart SSL VPN so that IT managers can centrally manage policy and control. Users access the tools through a portal and have to sign in only once.

Aventail Secure Collaboration will be available in the first quarter. Pricing starts at $4,995 for 10 concurrent users. The 1U (1.75-inch) appliance supports 500 concurrent users and Windows, Mac, Linux and Pocket PC platforms.

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