Cisco is pitching its Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data (AVVID) application suite as the future of integrated voice and data networking.
The network giant demonstrated its offering in Milan earlier this month, claiming that it would help network managers to cut costs and improve the efficiency of their networks.
The only problem is that, despite an impressive portfolio of customers that are already using the technology, it is clear that AVVID will need to provide much more before it becomes widely adopted. Existing customers include Scottish newspaper Business AM, retail outlet Sports Soccer, and exhibition company ExCel.
But part of the problem seems to come from Cisco's decision to outsource some of AVVID's development to its partners. For example, Cisco demonstrated the product using its voice-activation capability, which theoretically means that users could use the technology to place orders over the phone, dictate and hear voice mail, access databases and other wonderful things.
In practice, however, voice technology is not quite there yet. While it might be possible to make voice identification fairly accurate by matching staff voices with voice prints held in a database, it is unfeasible to do the same with customers - particularly if they speak a different language to the company handling their calls. The point is an important one because AVVID is being touted as a cheap method of linking voice and data networks across several countries.
Eric Chapat, Cisco's IP telephony marketing manager, admits that this is a problem, but claims it will be solved when Cisco's voice product partners deliver the goods. "We're leaving that to those with skills in developing voice products and who have important audio labs. It is not our core business. However, we will want to see localised products, firstly in English, then in French, German and Spanish," he said.
There are also unresolved security issues with voice over IP. For example, a hacker armed with a digital voice recording could access all sorts of interesting things residing on the network. AVVID will also not be able to deal with more traditional types of gateways and network attacks for the short term at least.
"The customers who have signed up for AVVID so far have done so because they are interested in scalability and reducing costs. They have not been so interested in security," said Chapat.
Perhaps this is because most of the customers listed so far have designed fairly closed networks for localised traffic.
But if Cisco wants to enter the lucrative financial services market, it will have to address security issues extremely quickly. And once again, it is looking at third parties to provide the answers. Chapat expects products that have been developed to handle both sides of the firewall to be released within a year.
But whatever AVVID's short-term problems may be, the technology should not be ignored by network or telecommunication managers because its design can offer users important benefits. It removes the need for expensive PBX equipment to be placed on every site, for example, and enables telephone and data logging to be controlled centrally.
According to Sports Soccer's IT manager John Ashly, putting PBXs in every store would have cost his company millions of pounds, but AVVID worked better and was a fraction of the cost.
"Scalability was also very important and AVVID is very much enabled for the future with applications," he said. "I'm planning to install another 500 IP phones soon."
The ability to manage the system centrally could even mean that expensive call centres become a thing of the past because it would enable operators to work from home - the software would make it appear to customers that staff are working together seamlessly in the same place.
But according to David Passmore, director of research at the Burton Group, AVVID's main advantage is that it doesn't simply strap legacy systems onto an IP network.
"Instead it provides the market with a set of tools and solutions that will ultimately bring the scalability and ease of use of the internet to the voice world," he said.
It may be some time before we find out whether or not this proves to be the case, however.
|What is AVVID?|
|AVVID is a series of IP-based communications applications that were designed by Cisco and more than 200 of its partners. It runs on the Windows 2000 operating system and Cisco claims that compatible packages must be written to a so-called 'open standard'. This means that Cisco has made some AVVID code available to its partners and that everything has to work together. It does not imply conformance with the open source model, which would see AVVID source code made freely available on the web. |
New products released by Cisco last week include an e-servers application engine, an improved IP phone, a PC version of an IP phone, Web Attendant, Auto Attendant, IP IVR and contact centre applications. They cost $150 per user.
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