Showing posts with label VOIP. Show all posts
Showing posts with label VOIP. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Case Study: MSP InTechnology Improves Network Services Via Automation and Consolidation of Management Systems

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast discussion on how InTechnology uses network management automation to improve delivery and service performance for network and communications services.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Download the transcript. Sponsor: HP.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you're listening to BriefingsDirect.

Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion on a UK-based managed service provider’s journey to provide better information and services for its network, voice, VoIP, data, and storage customers. Their benefits have come from an alignment of many service management products into an automated lifecycle approach to overall network operations.

We'll hear how InTechnology has implemented a coordinated, end-to-end solution using HP solutions that actually determine the health of its networks by aligning their tools to ITIL methods. And, by using their system-of-record approach with a configuration management database, InTechnology is better serving its customers with lean resources by leveraging systems over manual processes. [Disclosure: HP is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

We're here with an operations manager from InTechnology to learn about their choices and outcomes when it comes to better operations and better service for their hundreds of enterprise customers.

Please join me now in welcoming Ed Jackson, Operational System Support Manager at InTechnology. Welcome, Ed.

Ed Jackson: Thanks. Hi.

Gardner: Your organization is a managed service provider (MSP) for both large enterprises and small to medium-sized companies, and you've been facing an awful lot of growth over the past several years. But you have also been dealing with heterogeneity in terms of many different products in place for network operations. It sounds like you've tried to tackle two major things at once: growth and complexity. How has that worked out?

Jackson: In terms of our network growth, we've basically been growing exponentially year over year. In the past four years, we've grown our network about 75 percent. In terms of our product set, we've basically tripled that in size, which obviously leads to major complexity on both our network and how we manage the product lifecycle.

Previously, we didn’t have anything that could scale as well as the systems that we have in place now. We couldn’t hope to manage 8,000 or 9,000 network devices, plus being able to deliver a product lifecycle, from provisioning to decommission, which is what we have now.

Gardner: So our audience better understands the hurdles and challenges you've faced, you're providing voice, both VoIP and traditional telephone, and telephony services. You have data, managed Microsoft Exchange, managed servers, and virtual hosting. You're providing storage, backup and restore, and of course a variety of network services. So this is a really full set of different services and a whole lot of infrastructure to support that.

Jackson: Yeah. It's pretty massive in terms of the technologies involved. A lot of them are cutting-edge. We have many partners. And you are right, our suite of cloud services is very diverse and comprises what we believe is the UK’s most complete and "joined-up"set of pay-monthly voice and data services.

Their own pace

In practice what we aim to do is help our customers engage with the cloud at a pace that works for them. First, we provide connectivity to our nationwide network ring – our cloud. Once their estate is connected they can then cherry pick services from our broad pay-as-you-go (PAYG) menu.

For example, they might be considering replacing their traditional "tin" PBXs with hosted IP telephony. We can do that and demonstrate massive savings. Next we might overlay our hosted unified communications (UC) suite providing benefits such as "screen sharing," "video calling," and "click-to-dial." Again, we can demonstrate huge savings on planes, trains and automobiles.

Next we might overlay our exciting new hosted call recording package -- Unity Call Recording (UC) -- which is perfect if they are in a regulated industry and have a legal requirement to record calls. It’s got some really neat features including the ability to tag and bookmark calls to help easy searching and playback.

While we're doing this, we might also explore the data path. For example our new FlexiStor service provides what we think is the UK’s most straightforward PAYG service designed to manage data by its business "value" and not just as one big homogenous lump of data.

It treats data as critical, important or legacy and applies an appropriate storage process to each ... saving up to 40 percent against traditional data management methods. There’s much more of course, but that gives you a flavor, I hope.

Due to the HP product set that we have, we've been able to utilize all the integrations and have a fully managed, end-to-end lifecycle of the service.

Imagine trying to manage this disparate set of systems. It would be pretty impossible. But due to the HP product set that we have, we've been able to utilize all the integrations and have a fully managed, end-to-end lifecycle of the service, the devices, and the product sets that we have as a company.

Gardner: I have to imagine too that customer service and support is a huge part of what you do, day in and day out. You also have had to manage the help desk and provide automated alerts, fixes, and notifications, so that the manual help desk, which is of course quite costly, doesn’t overwhelm you. Can you address what you've attempted to do and what you have managed to do when it comes to automated support?

Jackson: In terms of our service and support, we've basically grown the network massively, but we haven’t increased any headcount for managing the network. Our 24/7 guys are the same as they were four or five years ago in terms of headcount.

We get on average around 5,000 incidents a month automatically generated from our systems and network devices. Of these incidents, only about 560 are linked to customer facing Interactions using our Service Desk Module in the Service Manager application.

Approximately 80 percent of our total incidents are generated automatically. They are either proactively raised, based on things like CPU and memory of network devices or virtual devices or even physical servers in our data centers, or reactively raised based on for example device or interface downs.

Massive burden

When you've got like 80 percent of all incidents raised automatically, it takes a massive burden off the 24/7 teams and the customer support guys, who are not spending the majority of their time creating incidents but actually working to resolve them.

Gardner: Let's back it up. Five years ago, when you didn't have any integrated systems and you were dealing with lots of data, perhaps spurious data, what did you think? I know that you're an ITIL shop and so you had to bring in that service management mindset, but what did you do in order to bring these products together or even add more products, but without them being also unwieldy in terms of management?

Jackson: It was spurred by really bad data that we had in the systems. We couldn't effectively go forward. We couldn't scale anymore. So, we got the guys at HP to come in and design us a solution based on products that we already had, but with full integration, and add in additional products such as HP Asset Manager and device Discovery and Dependency Mapping Inventory (DDMI).

With the systems that we already had in place, we utilized mainly HP Service Desk. So we decided to take the bold leap to go to Service Manager, which then gave us the ability to integrate it fully into the Operations Manager product and our Network Node Manager product.

Since we had the initial integrations, we've added extra integrations like Universal Configuration Management Database (UCMDB), which gives us a massive overview on how the network is progressing and how it's developing. Coupled with this, we've got Release Control, and we've just upgraded to the latest version of Service Manager 9.2.

For any auditor that comes in, we have a documented set of reports that we can give them. That will hopefully help us get this compliance and maintain it.

So it has given us a huge benefit in terms of process control, how ITIL is related. More importantly, one of the main things that we are going for at the moment is payment card industry (PCI) and ISO 27001 compliance.

For any auditor that comes in, we have a documented set of reports that we can give them. That will hopefully help us get this compliance and maintain it. One of the things as an MSP is that we can be compliant for the customer. The customer can have the infrastructure outsourced to us with the compliance policy in that. We can take the headache of compliance away from our customers.

Gardner: Having that full view and the ability to manage also discreetly is not only good business, but it sounds like it's an essential ingredient for the way in which you go to market?

Jackson: More and more these days, we have a lot of solicitors and law firms on our books, and we're getting "are you compliant" as a request before they place business with us. We're finding all across the industry that compliance is a must before any contract is won. So to keep one step ahead of the game, this is something that we're going to have to achieve and maintain, and the HP product set that we have is key in that.

Gardner: I suppose too that a data flow application like Connect-It 4.1 provides an opportunity to not only pull together disparate products and give that holistic view, but also provides that validation for any audits or compliance issues?

Recently upgraded

Jackson: We recently upgraded Connect-It from 4.1 to 9.3, and with that, we upgraded Asset Manager System to 9.3. Connect-It is the glue that holds everything together. It's a fantastic application that you can throw pretty much any data at, from a CSV file, to another database, to web services, to emails, and it will formulate it for you. You can do some complex integrations in that. It will give you the data that you want on the other side and it cleanses and parses, so that you can pass it on to other systems.

From our DDMI system, right through to our Service Manager, then into our Network Node Manager, we now have a full set of solutions that are held together by Connect-It.

We can discover the device on the network. We can then propagate it into Service Manager. We can add lots of financial details to it from other financial systems outside of the HP product set, but which are easy to integrate. We can therefore provision the circuit and provision the device and add to monitoring automatically, without any human intervention, just by the fact that the device gets shipped to the site.

It gets loaded up with the configuration, and then it's good to go. It's automatically managed right through to the decommissioning stage, or the upgrade stage, where it's replaced by another device. HP systems give us that capability.

Gardner: So these capabilities really do allow you to take on a whole new level of business and service. It sounds like the maintenance of the network, the integrity, and then the automation really helps you go to market in a whole new way than you could have just several years ago.

I don’t know of many other MSPs that have such an automated set of technology tools to help them manage the service that they provide to their customers.

Jackson: Definitely. One of the key benefits is it gives us a unique calling card for our potential customers. I don’t know of many other MSPs that have such an automated set of technology tools to help them manage the service that they provide to their customers.

Five years ago, this wasn't possible. We had disparate systems and duplicate data held in multiple areas So it wasn’t possible to have the integration and the level of support that we give our customers now for the new systems and services that we provide.

Gardner: Of course, HP has been engineering more integration into its product and you have been aggressive in adopting some of the newer versions, which is an important element of that, but I have to imagine that there is also a systems integrations function here or professional services. Have you employed any professional services or relied on HP for that?

Jackson: When we originally decided to take the step to upgrade from Service Desk to Service Manager and to get the network discovery product set in, we used HP’s Professional Services to effectively design the solution and help us implement it.

Within six months, we had Service Desk upgraded to Service Manager. We had an asset manager system that was fully integrated with our financials, our stock control. And we also had a Network Discovery toolset that was inventorying our estate. So we had a fully end-to-end solution.

Automatic incidents

nto that, we have helped to develop the Network Operations Management Solution into being able to generate automatic incidents. HP PS services provided a pivotal role in providing us with the kind of solutions that we have now.

Since then, we took that further, because we have very good in-house knowledgeable guys that really understand the HP systems and services. So we've taken it bit of a step further, and most of the stuff that we do now in terms of upgrades and things are done in-house.

Gardner: It's a very compelling story. I wonder if we have more than just the show-and-tell here. Do we have any metrics of success? Have you been able to point to faster time to resolution, maintaining service-level agreements (SLAs), or something along those lines, that we could help people appreciate what this does, not only functionally in terms of bringing new services to your customers, but also in terms of how you operate and some important metrics that affect your bottom line?

Jackson: Mean time to restore has come down significantly, by way over 15 percent. As I said, there has been zero increase in headcount over our systems and services. We started off with a few thousand network devices and only three or four different products, in data, storage, networks and voice. Now we've got 16 different kinds of product sets, with about 8,000, 9,000 network devices.

In terms of cost saving, and increased productivity, this has been huge. Our 24/7 teams and customer support teams are more proactive in using knowledge bases and Level 1 triage. Resolution of incidents has gone up by 25 percent by customer support teams and level 1 engineers; this enables the level 3 engineers to concentrate on more complex issues.

In terms of SLAs, we manage the availability of network devices. It gives us a lot more flexibility in how we give these availability metrics to the customers.

If you take a Priority 3, Priority 4 incident70 percent of those are now fixed by Level 1 engineers, which was unheard of five or six years ago. Also, we now have a very good knowledge base in the Service Manager tool that we can use for our Level 1 engineers.

In terms of SLAs, we manage the availability of network devices. It gives us a lot more flexibility in how we give these availability metrics to the customers. Because we're business driven by other third party suppliers, we can maintain and get service credits from them. We've also got a fully documented incident lifecycle. We can tell when the downtime has been on these services, and give our suppliers a bit of an ear bashing about it, because we have this information to hand them. We didn’t have that five or six years ago.

Gardner: So, by having event correlation and data to back up your assertions there's much less finger pointing. You know exactly who had dropped the ball.

Jackson: Exactly. With event correlation, we reduced our operations browsers down to just meaningful incidents, we filtered our events from over 100,000 a month to less than 20,000 many of these are duplicated and are correlated together. Most events are associated with knowledge base articles in Service Manager and contain instructions to escalate or how to resolve the event, increasingly by a level 1 engineer.

We can also run automatic actions from these events, and we can send the information to the relevant parties, and also raise an incident and send it directly to the correct assignment groups or teams that are involved in looking after that.

Internal SLA

For Priority 1 incidents, which by an internal SLA we have 15 minutes to communicate to the customer, we can do that now within two minutes, because the group that’s been assigned the incident are on the ball straight away and they can contact the customer and let them know of the potential or actual problem.

Contacting customers within agreed SLAs and how we can drive our suppliers to provide better service is fantastic because of the information that is available in the systems now. It gives us a lot more heads up on what’s happening around the network.

Gardner: And now that you have had this in place, this integrated lifecycle, end-to-end approach, you've got your UCMDB, is there now, in hindsight, an opportunity to do some analytics, perhaps even refine what you requirements are, and therefore cut your total cost at some level?

Jackson: We're building a lot of information, taken from our financial systems and placing it into our UCMDB and CMDB databases to give us the breakdown of cost per device, cost per month, because now this information is available.

We have a couple of data centers. One of our biggest costs is power usage. Now, we can break down by use of collecting the power information, using NNMi -- how much our power is costing per rack by terms of how many amps have been used over a set period of time, say a week or a month. where previously we had no way of determining how our power usage was being spent or how much was actually costing us per rack or per unit.

From this performance information, we can also give our customers extra value reports and statistics that we can charge as a value added managed solution for them.

It's given us a massive information boost, and we can really utilize the information, especially in UCMDB, and because it’s so flexible, we can tailor it to do pretty much whatever we want. From this performance information, we can also give our customers extra value reports and statistics that we can charge as a value added managed solution for them.

Gardner: For the benefit of our listeners, now that you've gone through this process, are there any lessons learned, anything you could relay in terms of, "If I had to do this again, I might do blank?" What would you offer to those who would now be testing the waters and embarking on such a journey?

Jackson: One of the main things is to have a clear goal in mind before you start. Plan everything, get it all written down, and have the processes looked at before you start implementing this, because it’s fairly hard to re-engineer if you decided that one of the actual solutions or one of the processes that you have implemented isn’t going to work. Because of the integration of all the systems, you might tend to find that reverse engineering them is a difficult task.

As a company, we decided to go for a clean start and basically said we'd filter all the data, take the data that we actually really required, and start off from scratch. We found that doing it that way, we didn’t get any bad data in there. All the data that we have now is pretty much been cleansed and enriched by the information that we can get from our automated systems, but also by utilizing the extra data that people have put in.

Gardner: Thanks so much. You've been listening now to a sponsored podcast discussion on a UK-based managed service provider, InTechnology, and their journey to provide better information and services for their voice, data, and storage customers. They've employed an automated lifecycle approach and it has benefited them in a number of levels.

Thanks to Ed Jackson, the Operational System Support Manager at InTechnology. Ed, we really appreciated your input.

Jackson: Okay. No problem.

Gardner: And this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks to our audience, and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Download the transcript. Sponsor: HP.

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast discussion on how InTechnology uses network management automation to improve delivery and service performance for network and communications services. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2011. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Transcript of Webinar on How Boston's Seaport Hotel Built a Communications and Web Services Portal Using BlueNote Networks' SessionSuite Server

Edited transcript of BlueNote Networks webinar recorded March 1, 2007.

Listen to a podcast of the webinar here. Sponsor: BlueNote Networks, Inc.

Welcome to a special BriefingsDirect presentation, a podcast created from a recent webinar on the benefits of integrating communications, PBXs, Web applications and back-end applications using web services and SOA. Listen to the story of how BlueNote Networks and the Seaport Hotel in Boston uniquely integrated services and voice-over-IP (VOIP) to create a touch-screen-enabled, in-room portal capability. This communications, customer-service, and information-access approach for guests may well define the next generation of hotel-based business services, while also helping hotels to better monetize their many offerings.

And now, let's listen to this example of a mash-up between SOA, IP communications, external web services, and a compelling user interface. ...

Etta McCarthy: Good morning and welcome to BlueNote’s Technical Webinar Series. Today’s webinar is entitled "Embedding Voice Into Portals Using Web Services,” featuring the Seaport Hotel case study. Our presenters today are Sally Bament, vice president of marketing for BlueNote Networks. And joining her is John Burke, vice president of technology for the Seaport Hotel, located here in Boston, Mass. John will share his experiences with us regarding his BlueNote Networks SessionSuite implementation. With that, I will turn the program over to Sally Bament.

Sally Bament: Good morning, everyone. As Etta said, my name is Sally Bament, and I work for BlueNote Networks. I just want to do a quick recap of today’s agenda, and then we’ll move immediately into the specifics of the webinar. For today’s agenda, we’re going to talk a little bit about portals and portal technology in general, and some of the challenges that current solutions present in terms of voice-enabling portals. Then, we’ll talk about and review a specific technology available from BlueNote that combines applications and IP telephony through Web services.

Then, as Etta explained, we’ll talk in depth about a specific customer case study, the Seaport Hotel. John Burke, who spearheaded and led a lot of the innovation that was rolled out at the Seaport Hotel, will go into detail about his challenges and the "Seaportal" application.

We’ll open up to Q&A at the end. You can ask questions throughout the webinar. They will get posted to us, and we’ll address those questions at the end, time permitting. If we don’t get to all the questions, we have everyone’s email address and we’ll be happy to follow-up directly.

With that, let us move on to the webinar. Portals are basically websites. They’re typically personalized, and they provide access to information from a variety of different sources. Portals are often built as distributed applications, with that informational content coming from a number of different applications, and they’re usually built with a captive or target audience in mind. So, there’s a one-to-many relationship between the audience or the registrar or user of the portal, and the information and the sources of content that they’re trying to access.

Many types of portal applications are available today. They could be corporate employee portals, showing employee services in larger organizations, information kiosks in airports or other travel destinations, and what we’re going to talk about later, hotel information portals. Voice-enabling portal technology actually provides a number of business benefits, as well as value to organizations. There’s an ability to increase customer reach and customer touch, and, if transactions are involved as part of the portal technology, the assumption is a higher close rate. Portals also provide new revenue opportunities through sponsorships, advertising, and cross selling, obviously a competitive advantage.

I want to make one other point on this slide, before we move on to the next, in terms of the difference between voice-enabling portals and voice-enabling websites. Voice-enabled websites have traditionally been referred to in terms of click-to-call or click-to-call-back capability. In these kinds of applications, the audience is a large, anonymous audience, involving a "warm transfer" of a call to a call center. So, unlike portal technology, it’s a many-to-one relationship. Often, during that warm transfer, if the user has a voice-enabled PC that can all happen from the PC itself.

Voice-enabled portals, as I mentioned before, usually operate with a target or small captive audience in mind, and typically involve a one-to-many relationship. Often there is a co-located client device of some kind -- whether that’s in an office, a hotel room, or even a dorm room -- that is usually associated with that portal technology. The solution that we’re going to talk about today from BlueNote Networks, although the focus of today’s webinar is on portals, can be used for both voice-enabling websites, as well as a voice-enabling portal technology.

There are solutions today to embed voice or telephony features into applications, and that typically involves traditional private branch exchanges (PBXs) and computer telephony integration (CTI) interfaces like TAPI and JTAPI, but there are a lot of challenges that organizations face in leveraging that technology. It’s very complex, involving a significant amount of programming by software developers, and an intimate knowledge of the different PBX vendors' implementations.

Because of that, the time to respond and the time to build applications are usually very long. Integration costs are high because of the customization effort involved, and the programming model of CTI interfaces is typically very different from a Web services or Web development programming model. Often, you need specialized telephony expertise to embed telephony or voice in any application, including portal technology. Also, the development effort is typically one-off. So, you’re building an application tied into a PBX as a one-off application. For those of you on the call familiar with Web services and Service Oriented Architectures (SOA), it does not have the same concept of reusability in terms of Web service technology.

Also, if the application is part of a larger broadband Internet project, that involves traditional PBXs that need upgrading, there’s cost associated with that, whether that’s upgrading for internal VOIP communication or being able to leverage the Internet or IP trunk providers to get some economies of scale in terms of voice calling. So, a lot of high cost, a lot of time, and also specific knowledge and expertise are required. There are solutions, or there is a solution out there, that allow organizations to essentially combine Web services and IP telephony to very easily and simply communications enable business applications like portal technology.

We’re going to shift now and talk a little bit about BlueNote and the solution that we provide to enable companies to do that. First, a little bit about BlueNote. Our focus is delivering software solutions that allow organizations to deliver voice, video, and any other interactive communication service as a Web service. It's a very different way of delivering voice in an enterprise, compared to the traditional PBX model.

Our target market is forward-thinking, innovative enterprises like the Seaport Hotel, and our products include a family of software solutions that combine IP telephony with Web services and associated software development toolkits, and an optional client technology in the form of SessionSuite Desktop, which is a Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) user agent.

SessionSuite, as I mentioned before, combines applications and telephony through Web services. It’s a software application; it looks like an IT application, just like any other data center application. It runs on standard data center servers, and it leverages the existing IT infrastructure in terms of corporate directory, authentication, and authorization systems -- so it can be provisioned and managed just like any other IT application. It's very different from a traditional PBX, typically an island with its own propriety provisioning and management system.

It provides a very rich set of enterprise-level features and services. It has everything that you know and love from your traditional PBX in terms of calling features, but in addition, offers advance services like meet-me conferencing, voice mail, auto attendant services, and others. All of these features and services are delivered to users who are registered with SessionSuite. So, unlike the traditional phone-centric model of the PBX, where features and services are delivered to a phone, SessionSuite allows users to access their features and services independent of their location, independent of the network they’re connected to, and independent of the physical client device they’re using.

SessionSuite can be deployed in a green-field account, but it is also fully compatible with existing PBXs, VOIP systems, phones, and networks that may be in place today. In fact, the example that we’re going to talk about, the case study at the Seaport, highlights the compatibility and the value add we provided with their existing PBX system and PBX phones. SessionSuite exposes all these rich enterprise communication services through Web service APIs. Standard XML-based SOAP interfaces allow Web developers to embed interactive communication features into applications like portal technology.

First of all, let's take a generic walk-through of how the technology works. In this example, there is an existing PBX in place. There are existing PBX phones connected to that PBX. There is a portal application running on a Web server. And, I’ve thrown in a user who is also connected through a SIP soft phone on a PC. We can use an example of a university. Maybe this is a student portal and the students can get access to that portal from their dorm room, where there is a dorm room phone.

In this case, the student would register on that portal, and if they want to look at their course schedule, they can show that information on the portal. Maybe they want to talk to their professor, and the professor has an office and a PBX phone in that office. The student can click on an icon to initiate that phone call to the professor through the Web server running the portal application. A simple Web service request is made into SessionSuite. This is an application initiating the phone call between the student and the professor. SessionSuite, through its interface directly to the existing TDM PBX, creates the call. It causes the phone to ring in the student dorm room. When the student picks the phone up, it connects the call into the professor’s office PBX phone, and creates the call again through a simple Web service request from the portal application.

In this same example, the student also may want to talk to a guidance counselor. If the guidance counselor happens to be using a SIP-based soft phone, SessionSuite creates the call directly from the student PBX phone. That IP phone connected directly to SessionSuite, and similarly leveraging the enterprise features available with SessionSuite, can also initiate a conference call between multiple parties, in this case, the student, the professor, and the guidance counselor. All of this happens through a simple Web service request from that portal application.

For another extension of this technology, maybe there is an icon for pizza delivery. A student wants to order pizza. This is obviously a partner relationship and involves a call that’s made outside of the campus over the Internet. Similarly, with a simple Web service request from that portal application to a partner service, in this case a local pizza company. All of this is through Web services initiating calling and creating sessions through SessionSuite.

Let's take a quick walk-through the SessionSuite products that enable the previous application. In the application leveraging the portal technology in the Web services, all of that was enabled using a product called SessionSuite SOA Edition from BlueNote Networks. SessionSuite SOA Edition provides a very rich set of communication services. We’ve talked about the telephony services, everything from traditional calling features to advanced services. It is based on SIP, includes a full SIP server, SIP registrar, proxy and redirect server. As I mentioned before, users are authenticated, authorized, and given access privileges, no matter where they’re physically located, whether within a company, over the Internet, the public voice network, or an IP network.

SessionSuite SOA Edition also provides optional encryption technology. We didn’t highlight that on the application example I just showed, but we provide both media as well as signaling encryption. It also includes intelligent media handling to optimize voice quality, particularly if calls are occurring over links like the Internet. SessionSuite provides a number of capabilities such as compression policy based codec selection and echo cancellation to optimize that quality of voice over that Internet link.

We also embed NAT and firewall traversal tools. So, if users are connected across foreign network boundaries, or across a NAT or firewall boundary, we can support the SIP traffic into SessionSuite without the need to have separate session border controllers. We also provide a direct connection to the PSTN or to a traditional PBX through a TDM gateway feature.

SessionSuite also includes a user portal, so that, for example, the professor could set up such specific user preferences such as call blocking, call forwarding, and other features. And there is a management system so that a system administrator can manage all of the different components of SessionSuite SOA Edition. Most importantly, SOA Edition also exposes, through application programming interfaces, a set of Web services that allow developers to embed some of the capabilities that we’ve talked about into business applications.

The next slide talks about those APIs in a little bit more detail. SessionSuite essentially provides three APIs. The Session Lifecycle API was actually used in the previous example. The Session Lifecycle API essentially allows a developer or an application to establish and terminate a call. It also allows you to forward calls, transfer calls, add parties to calls, and drop parties from calls. It also allows data to be correlated with a session or with the call. This is particularly important for call-center type applications that I referenced earlier, such as voice-enabling a website.

There is also a second API, called the Session Management API, that basically provides all the capabilities that you could get today from a management system. It allows you to provision users and services. It allows you to integrate with alarm systems and provide statistics retrieval.

Third, and very unique, there is something we refer to as a Session Plugin Framework. This allows SessionSuite to actually make a Web service request to another application to affect what SessionSuite does with the call that’s in process. So, for example, the professor may have had a calendaring application that has certain rules and policies built in. If a call is received from a student, while the professor is in a lecture hall, maybe there is a rule that forwards the call to a cell phone or to voicemail. This allows call processing behavior to be affected by SessionSuite making a request to another application.

In addition to the APIs, as I mentioned before, SessionSuite allows for the loose coupling of data to accompany a session or a call. In the case of warm transfer from a website, for example, information about an account or the Web page that that user was on can be transferred with the call or with the session. All of this is abstracted from the detailed knowledge of telephony. So, no specific CTI or even SIP experience is required to develop and embed voice and telephony technology into business applications.

This next slide shows a SIP call flow, the sort of knowledge that you would need to embed a SIP-based call into an application. With SessionSuite and our Web service APIs, through a simple command to create session between user A and user B, a Web developer can initiate a phone call as part of an application, and embed that in a business application.

So, in using SessionSuite and leveraging Web services to embed telephony into business applications, obviously it’s a lot quicker. Leveraging Web service technology shortens project cycles and certainly lowers development risks. You can leverage existing IT developers, so you don’t need an intimate and detailed knowledge of either a vendor specific CTI or even SIP. We allow organizations to actually leverage and modernize their existing PBX infrastructure.

In the example I showed, we essentially Internet-enabled and application-enabled that existing PBX. There was no rip-and-replace of either the phones, the PBX, the underlying network, or any of the cabling that would otherwise be required if you were upgrading a PBX to an IP PBX. It provides a foundation for reusable services, because we delivered communications as a Web service. You can reuse it for multiple applications.

In fact, we showed how we could use it for internal communications, as well as for external communications with a partnered service, the pizza delivery company. We’ve shown also how an organization, a university in this example, can actually derive additional business value from their existing telecom infrastructure by voice-enabling their student portal technology.

With that, I’m now going to hand things over to John Burke, who is going to walk you through the Seaportal.

John Burke: Good morning, everyone. My name is John Burke, and I am the vice president of technology at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center here in Boston. Today, I’m going to share with you an exciting new innovation that we’re offering our guests. It's called a Seaportal, and is enhancing the experience of our guest staying with us.

First, let me tell you a little bit about the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center. We are a single property and not part of a chain. The Seaport is one of the Fidelity Capital Companies, now called Devonshire Investments. We are an AAA, Four Diamond property located on the waterfront in Boston. We are considered a group hotel, serving business travelers that come to Boston for trade shows at the Seaport World Trade Center, and Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

We have 426 rooms, 57,000 square feet of banquet space, 120,000 square feet of exhibition hall, and an amphitheater that seats over 400 people. We have a unique set of facilities that differentiate us from our competition, and we focus on an extraordinary personalized experience. We are in the business of making our guests feel special. Not only is the Seaport a great place to stay, but our employees voted us the best place to work in 2006.

The Seaport is a leader in pioneering innovative technology programs. We were the first hotel in Boston to offer our guests complimentary Internet access. We were the first to offer our guests complimentary wireless access, when that became a viable solution. We are a green hotel, and we have implemented a successful conservation and recycling program. We’ve saved over 360,000 gallons of water in a year, which equates to about 142,000 less pounds of laundry.

The Seaportal is the next step of innovation. In the hotel room there are actually three devices with which you can communicate with guests: the telephone, the computer, and the entertainment system and television. We envision all three of these technologies merging in the future. This is not going to happen overnight, and it depends in large part on the comfort level the guests will have with this technology. I can’t envision my parents using this device to watch TV, make phone calls or order room service, but I know my kids will.

The Seaportal is the first generation of this technology convergence, where we merged the phone and the computer into a single device. These are some of the requirements we gathered through focus groups with our guests. We had to limit what we built in the first version, so that we could hit the target date. However, the beauty of Web technology allows us to add functionality very easily in the future.

I wanted to give you a sense of the timeline for this project. It represents a cross-functional team effort from hotel staff, IT, telecom, and without their help and commitment, this would not have been possible. The concept for the Seaportal came out of FCAT or Fidelity Center for Advanced Technology. They were chartered with providing the next innovation technology to position us ahead of our competition. The strategic funding we received for this project was provided in May. FCAT provided a wire-frame prototype, shown here on the right, which is what I affectionately call "where the rubber meets the sky."

We held focus groups with our customers and people who stay with us on a routine basis and presented the FCAT prototype. Out of those meetings, we put together a list of requirements in August, 2006. In September, we developed the website, which is what I call, "where the rubber meets the road," and I’ll show you in detail later in the presentation.

After that, our developers went to work to get to a beta release at the end of November, but it did not include the VOIP-calling capability, which I’ll discuss in more detail on the next slide. We went into system test on Dec. 1 with the VOIP capability. So, the time it took to actually implement VOIP using the BlueNote SessionSuite was less than 30 days. We deployed the first 10 of 100 thin-client devices at the end of December. The feedback that we’ve received from our guests has been outstanding. They love it.

There was one mandatory requirement for the Seaportal, and that was it had to have VOIP. The reason for this is that we were looking for a lower-cost alternative to our legacy PBX. What used to be a profit center, for us is now considered a cost center. This is due to the ubiquitous use of cell phones. A number of hotels claim that they have VOIP technology deployed, and in one sense that’s true. However, in most cases they have installed IP phones and an IP phone switch, and the VOIP calls are going across their internal LAN, not over the Internet. The VOIP capability that we’ve built into the Seaportal routes calls over the Internet using a SIP parent provider.

I want to spend a few minutes and talk about the selection process and how we got to where we are with BlueNote. We began discussion with our legacy PBX vendor, Nortel, in August about the project. We spent about two months with them trying to explain to them the requirements. They came back to us with the solution that we determined was both cost-prohibitive, and couldn't meet the timeline commitment, which was Dec. 31. We looked at a couple of alternatives. We considered Skype, but we quickly ruled that out because of the proprietary protocol and also the flimsy handsets that we would have to use along with the VOIP calling. We looked at Asterisk. It’s a great solution, but we didn’t have the skill set in-house to manage and support this open-source software.

We selected BlueNote, because they had a supportable open-system platform that allowed us to plug their solution into our SOA framework, leveraging Web services. They were able to install and configure our solution to work in conjunction with our PBX in less than 30 days. The nice part about it is that they support it the same way that we used to get support from our legacy PBX vendor. We get to experience the lower-cost alternatives without ripping and replacing our existing legacy PBX. This will allow us to develop a comfort level over time with the solution, so that it will be a viable replacement alternative for higher-cost PBX in the future.

I would like to give you an overview of the Seaportal, an in-room Web portal that is accessed through a thin client PC running Windows XP Embedded. The thin clients refer to computers that don’t have a hard drive and are used mostly to gain Web access. Typically, they can run Unix, Windows CE, and Windows XP Embedded. These devices are not susceptible to viruses and can be easily returned to a known good state by rebooting them.

When a guest checks out, the cache is erased, and the device is rebooted, awaiting the next guest. There are no traces left behind of where the guest may have surfed to, or any information they have left on the device. It is a thin-client with a touch-screen display, and it provides information about the Seaport and the Seaport district. We are offering our guests complimentary Web access. We also offer complimentary long distance and local calling within the continental United States with the Seaportal.

This is the homepage for the Seaportal and what the guests see when they first get into a room. The homepage is divided into sections. As I mentioned, it’s a touch-screen display and the links on the page have specifically been designed for the touch of a finger. The current weather is displayed on most of the screens and the screen is personalized and welcomes the guest by name, which is a further integration with our property management system using the same SOA XML infrastructure.

Across the bottom of the screen are some quick dial buttons for most of the popular services in the hotel. Across the top we list the main functions of the Seaportal. We have context-sensitive help, so depending on the page that you’re on you’ll get specific information about that page. The phone function is where we provide the complementary VOIP calls. There is Web access for the Internet. We have a "preferences" section where some unique functions, such as the parental controls can be set. And I’ll go into that in just a minute. Then, a short seven-question feedback survey in which we ask our guests to tell us what they liked and disliked about the Seaportal.

This is the preferences screen. We display more information about the guests and the reservation. It tells what room the guest is in. Guests can set their home destination or next destination city and state, and that weather will be displayed to the guests when they enter the "My Weather" function, on the News and Weather tab. There is a built-in messaging function on the Seaportal that allows our guests to send and receive email messages while staying at the hotel. Guests can also have these messages forward to an email or a BlackBerry by providing an email address here.

We’ve built in some parental controls for the guests if they’re traveling with children and don’t want them to have unrestricted access to the Internet or phone. By protecting the Seaportal with the password, the phone messages and the Web options are grayed out. We do offer kid-safe sites through the Seaportal such as Nick Jr., Disney and Yahooligans!, under our Family and Kids sections, that will be available to the kids even though it’s child locked.

Now, I’m going to show you the phone capability. As I mentioned earlier, we’re offering complimentary phone calls initiated from the Seaportal to anywhere in the continental United States and Canada. The dial pad is a familiar interface. Simply enter the number you wish to dial and press "Dial." The phone in the room will ring. When the guest picks it up, they’ll get a short message saying that this is a complimentary call, and the call will be completed across the Internet. As I mentioned before, we have speed dial icons located at the bottom of the screen that let you reach some of the more popular or common hotel services.

On the speed-dial screen, there is no need for a keypad, as the numbers are pre-populated. When the guest clicks the dial button, the same sequence discussed in earlier slides, is followed. If the parental controls are enabled, the dial pad is not accessible. However, the speed dial numbers are still available to the child within the room.

We have digitized our compendium documentation and we have provided a services directory under Guest Services on the Seaportal. These are also click-to-dial enabled, and when the guest slicks on those, the numbers will also be speed dialed. Guests can compose, send, and reply to email messages within the hotel or on the Internet. They can use the preferences tab to have those emails forwarded to them to a particular email address. If someone responds to a message sent to a guest that has checked out, they will receive a message stating that the guest is no longer staying at the hotel. When the guest receives a response, a message waiting icon will appear on the function bar at the top of the screen, next to the home button. When the guest checks out, all the messages are erased.

We also offer instant messaging along with that, which gives access to all of the most popular services under Meebo. Guest can use tabs to navigate through the Seaportal without returning to the homepage. Behind the Seaportal, is a content management system, this allows us to leverage or share information between our Seaportal and our external Seaport Boston site. When we edit content on any of these pages that are shared, we only have to edit it in one place. The content can be displayed in different formats using cascading style sheets.

You can also obtain information on health and fitness, airport, and transportation. The Family and Kids section has the links to the more popular sites that kids like. News and weather, where, if you’ve entered your home zip code and state or your next destination, you can get the weather for that location under "My Weather." Then, we have in-room dining or dining, and you can look at what we offer for in-room dining, takeout, or restaurants in the area. The left navigation links gets to popular topics of interest.

When we bring up an external website, we bring it into the Seaportal framework, giving the guest the appearance that they have never left the site. We also use RSS feeds where available, so that we can limit pop-up ads to the guests. Or, guests can launch the Web tab to open an Internet browser with unlimited Web surfing.

When you launch the Web browser, a full browser is launched and we display a disclaimer message that we do not filter any of the access to the Internet. So, it’s a warning message that you may surf to sites that you might find offensive or otherwise not go to, and it provides unrestricted access to guests to surf the Web. They can access their email through the Web. We offer the most popular viewers for reading Microsoft Office attachments and Adobe PDFs. The Internet access is complimentary to the guest. We also offer complimentary printing from the Seaportal using "print me," which allows our guests to print securely to the printer in our business center using a PIN. Guests find this useful for printing boarding passes prior to departure.

On the front of the Seaportal there are two USBs slots that the guest can use to save attachments to a memory stick. BlueNote has also provided us with the browser helper object, which is at the top of the screen. There is a little phone button, where if there is a phone number on a Web page, that can be highlighted. Simply click the browser helper object, which looks like a phone at the top of the browser, and it will dial the number. It also will translate any mnemonics that the guest entered or were on the Web page, such as 1-800-Bestbuy, and it will dial the appropriate number.

So, in summary, for guests there are many benefits: traveling without lugging the laptop or computer and avoiding the hassle of airport security, and that is a distinct advantage in this day of restricted airline travel; accessing the Internet for business or pleasure; making phone calls anywhere in the U.S. and Canada for free; discovering Boston-area information; learning about the hotel services, places to go and things to do while staying at the Seaport; making restaurant reservations online; sending and receiving Internet email, and printing documents or boarding passes in our business center.

I would like to invite you to stay with the Seaport, Boston’s most accommodating host and experience the Seaportal for yourself. Thank you for your time, and I’ll pass it back to Sally.

Bament: Thank you, John. Just to wrap up, obviously we have a live example of an organization that has benefited from what BlueNote provides with the SessionSuite software technology. Seaport demonstrated how easy it was to voice-enable a portal application, and for their particular case, to extend customer reach, their guest experience, and guest loyalty program. They did leverage Web developers; there was no specific telephony development expertise that was needed as part of embedding the voice-calling capabilities into the portal. John highlighted how quickly this was turned around, in terms of from the time of engagement to deploying the first portals in the hotel rooms.

Very importantly, we allowed John to modernize his existing PBX infrastructure, without forcing him to rip out and replace the PBX that he’d been using for a while, but also to modernize it both in terms of making calls Internet accessible, as well as modernize it in terms of the portal application tie-in. We allowed him to build an opportunity and a foundation to look at new ways of leveraging voice and video and such other interactive communications services as Web services as part of his SOA. Most importantly, it showed how SessionSuite can allow organizations such as hotels, universities, other organizations can derive some business-value from their existing telecom infrastructure.

Before we get into questions and answers, I just want to point out areas where you can get additional information. We focused today’s webinar on the specific portal application, but there are many other applications that will obviously benefit from embedding telephony directly into those applications. We have a BlueNote developer portal or developer site, where you can actually get access to all of the information in detail behind our APIs, including developer documentation, WSDLs, XSD schemas and other information. To request a copy of these slides, you can email, but also we will be posting a recorded version of this webinar on our website in the next day or so.

With that, I am going to open up to questions and answers. We have several questions already.

Question: Do I need special phones to deploy this solution?

Bament: We showed with the generic example and also the Seaportal that you can deploy a solution and still leverage your existing PBX as well as TDM phones. However, SessionSuite also can be deployed in a green-field opportunity, and SessionSuite is fully compatible with a huge list of SIP-based hard phones as well SIP-based soft phones. You can actually get a list of the SIP user agents that we’re compatible with by contacting us at We have our own SIP client, called SessionSuite Desktop, which we didn’t cover in the webinar today, but information regarding that product is available on our website.

Question: Will the slide deck be available after the seminar?

Bament: Yes. Again, you can contact Etta, If that’s too much to remember, because I know I have switched the screen show at this point in time, feel free to just email at, and we’ll also have it posted on the website.

Question: Is the session plug-in implemented using SIP servlets?

Bament: No, SIP servlets actually require a fairly significant knowledge of the SIP protocol. What we’ve done, and have been careful to do, is build a high level of abstraction for telephony integration that allows mid-core processing using SOAP-based Web services. We built our APIs this way, so that business application developers and domain experts can easily add telephony and communications to their applications, without any level of SIP knowledge or telephony knowledge.

Question: When I place a call through the Seaportal, do I use a headset?

Burke: No. What we wanted to leverage with the Seaportal is the existing digital handset that was in the room. We felt that adding a headset or an additional handset would confuse our guests. The headset, in particular, we felt that it was not the cleanest way to do it -- to reuse those types of devices. So, we decided to leverage the existing phone infrastructure, rather than supplying a headset or an additional handset.

Question: What Web services standards do you support?

Bament: There is a lot of information on the website, particularly development of portal in terms of the details, but basically we support XML, XML schema, SOAP and WSDL standards.

Question: What do I get with the software development tool kit?

Bament: You actually get developer documentation, WSDLs, XML schemas, sample code, and also a capacity-limited version of SessionSuite SOA Edition. So, that allows you to test applications prior to deploying and rolling out.

Question: How do you control quality of service for VOIP over the Internet?

Bament: Great question. We talked a little bit about some of the capabilities that are fundamental to SessionSuite communication services in terms of intelligent media handling. We have a number of capabilities in terms of policy based codec selection, voice compression, adaptive jitter buffer, echo cancellation and a couple of other capabilities that allow you to really optimize the voice quality over any link, but particularly the Internet.

Burke: In our particular case, we certainly understood that this is something that people have come to expect from the public switched telephone network, and that was a major concern and consideration of ours. That is another reason why we decided to offer this as a complimentary service, because you can’t guarantee the quality of service over the Internet. There are a lot of things that can happen and, if people are familiar with some of the other consumer based VOIP providers like Vonage, sometimes your quality can vary.

Question: How do you secure the voice, what standards do you support?

Bament: I mentioned we support both media and signaling encryption optionally for voice calls. We support SRTP for media encryption and TLS for signaling encryption, and these can be configured as required to address sort of eavesdropping, identity theft and other security concerns and issues.

Question: How is what you’re doing at the Seaport hotel any different than using a standard soft phone client?

Burke: The difference is that we don’t have to install a soft phone on the actual thin client. It’s all done through Web services. You don’t have the complexity of installing that software, upgrading that software, monitoring that software. It simply uses Web services to pass the room number, the guest name, and the number they want to dial to the BlueNote server through Web service. So it’s a much simpler type of environment and this definitely keeps your cost down in terms of desktop support and administration.

Question: How do you handle media services such as call recording and IVR?

Bament: These capabilities are actually integrated into SessionSuite. This is another difference compared to traditional PBX vendor, where typically these are licensed separately. SessionSuite embeds in it call-recording capability. We also have, as I mentioned before, auto attendant, meet-me conference bridging, an IVR support, and also voicemail. A full list of the features and advance services that we support in SessionSuite is available on our website. We’d be happy to answer any questions directly in terms of the detail, but all of those media services are actually integral and part of the SessionSuite SOA Edition software, with no additional licensing or additional products required.

Question: Do you support video?

Bament: Good question. I think I might have mentioned through the presentation about both voice as well as video. We support point-to-point video connections, so there are a number of SIP-compliant video clients that we have tested and interoperated with. Whether it’s voice or video, we don’t care. It’s more the compatibility with the end clients that we’ve tested against.

Question: Where can I see a demo?

Bament: We can provide a demo of SessionSuite either at your location or at our facility. We’re going to be offering the ability shortly to show a demo over an Internet connection that you can access through our website. That’s not available today, but something that we’re working on, and it should be available shortly. In the meantime, we can certainly provide demos at your location or here at BlueNote Networks in Tewksbury, Mass.

Question: Scale ... How does SessionSuite scale?

Bament: What didn’t necessarily come across in the webinar today is that we run SessionSuite on standard data center servers, Linux-based servers. You can run SessionSuite on a single server or distributed servers throughout the network. So, you can deploy servers based on geography, performance, or functionality needs. We actually can scale to well over 300,000 registered user agents. Our products, through deploying multiple servers, can address the needs of very large enterprises. On the other end of the spectrum, we can also run SessionSuite on a single low-end Dell 1950 server, and can support over 1,000 users in that configuration. So, we can scale quite nicely between smaller configurations with fewer servers to very large enterprise deployments that might be geographically distributed.

Question: How do I get a high-level idea of cost?

Bament: We’d be happy to engage in that conversation. Feel free to contact us at But just to give you an idea in terms of cost we license our software. Depending on the application that could be a server license as well as a user license metric, and we can provide the servers, or you can get them. If you have relationships with some of the hardware server providers, you can get them directly from the vendor. Today, we resell Dell, IBM, and HP servers.

Burke: They’re just standard off-the-shelf, Intel-based servers. We purchased a couple of them, because we wanted redundancy, and shipped them to BlueNote. They configured them for us and delivered them back. The reason we did that is because we have a higher volume discount than they do. But you can go either way.

Bament: I think that’s all that we have time for. If there are other questions that come in, we will respond directly on email. We have everybody’s email contact information. I do want to thank you for your time today, for participating on this webinar. We’re always interested in your feedback in terms of how useful this has been and whether we addressed information that you were expecting on this webinar. So, feel free to provide input directly to us. Again, I appreciate your time and look forward to the next webinar from BlueNote Networks. Thank you.

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