Cisco boosts Unity for large-scale rollouts

Cisco Systems has updated the unified messaging product it acquired from Active Voice last year, and plans to target companies in the Fortune 50 space for the first time.

Cisco Systems has updated the unified messaging product it acquired from Active Voice last year, and plans to target companies in the Fortune 50 space for the first time. The move will place it in direct competition with companies such as Lucent and Nortel. Unity is being used at Dow Chemical, which Cisco claims is implementing "the world's largest unified messaging system."

The main change to Unity 3.0 is in its scalability, says Kevin Chestnut, general manager of Cisco's enterprise communications business. Active Voice has been shipping Unity since 1999, and has installed the product at some "large but not massive" sites. The new version takes support up to 48 ports per server, enabling 5,000 users per server and a user directory of 100,000. New clustering support also offers greater levels of availability than previous releases.

Dow, with help from both Cisco and EDS, is in the middle of implementing its AVVD (architecture for voice, video and integrated data) voice-over-IP network, involving plans for the rollout of up to 40,000 Cisco IP phones by the end of the year. As well as Unity, Dow is using Cisco's IP Integrated Contact Distribution software and CallManager call processing, and combining the network with legacy TDM (time-division multiplexing) telephone switches. The latest release of Unity supports AMIS (analog messaging interface standard), enabling legacy voicemail systems to interoperate with the new systems during the gradual phaseout.

Interoperability between IP and legacy systems has been one of the factors holding back the take-up of voice-over IP networks. The other major concern has been the poor quality compared with legacy Class 5 voice switches. But Cisco believes added functionality -- such as enhanced integration through the XML capabilities of its 7960/40 series display firms -- will compensate. "The big driver is interest in the convergence story," says Chestnut. A single voice and email infrastructure is both easier and cheaper to manage, he claims. As evidence, he cites a ramp-up in large deployments. As well as Dow, Cisco has begun the installation of a 35,000-seat system at Motorola in the US.

Other new features of Unity 3.0 include native support for Microsoft Exchange 2000 and Active Directory, replacing a somewhat limited 'compatibility-mode' middleware implementation in earlier versions. Exchange has about a 40% share of the Fortune 500 market, with another 40% using Lotus Domino. Cisco hasn't announced a Domino version of Unity, although Active Voice previewed one last September, before it was acquired. Active Voice bought PhoneSoft in January 2000 to help it break into the Lotus market.

The Unity business has now been fully integrated into Cisco, says Chestnut. Meanwhile, the rest of Active Voice continues as a private company, selling its older voice and unified messaging tools, such as Repartee, PhoneSoft, Replay, Lingo and embedded systems.
the451 (www.the451.com) is an analyst firm that provides timely, detailed and independent analysis of news in technology, communications and media. To evaluate the service click here.

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