Monday, June 2, 2008

AudioCodes Mediant 1000 - Media Gateway 2.0

Pretty interesting announcement from AudioCodes that is just coming out this morning. The news is about the latest edition of their Mediant 1000 media gateway. In vendor-speak, it's the MSBG - Multi Service Business Gateway. To me, it's media gateway 2.0.

AudioCodes has long been one of my favorite equipment vendors, with a strong track record in two areas - in-house innovation to extend the product line, and being a solid Tier 2 consolidator by acquiring and integrating lesser companies like Netrake. There are lots of companies who are good in one of these areas, but few who can do both well, and AudioCodes is one of them.

I don't often comment on vendor announcements, but I've followed the media gateway space since 2001, and as far as I can tell, the MSBG is a real breakthrough for media gateways and should be closely followed on a few fronts. First, the media gateway vendors, especially those catering to the enterprise market, which is a growing space. Second, the session border controller vendors, as this offering incorporates SBC functionality. And third, the customer. The MSBG simplifies network planning since there are fewer boxes to own and operate, and fewer vendors to manage.

Before explaining this further, I should say a little more about what makes this announcement interesting. The Mediant 1000 is already established, so there is a built-in customer base ready to adopt the new capabilities. I got a chance to talk about this with a couple of AudioCodes executives, and the key idea here is the modular design. Existing customers can add on the new features quite easily, and just take the ones they want. They could even just take the SBC module and integrate it with their existing gateway, even if it's not AudioCodes.

In addition to SBC, the Mediant has modules for router and firewall, standalone survivability and a general purpose server. This makes MSBG a very versatile solution, which is great news for both enterprises and channel partners. It simplifies things for the buyer and gives the seller more options to do business.

To me, the SBC is the big story, but the other features are very attractive too. The server includes an application processor in which enterprises can embed an IP PBX, such as Asterisk. Combined with the survivability feature, this ensures that remote locations such as branch offices or contact centers will always have full-featured telephony service even if the corporate WAN goes down.

To the best of my knowledge, MSBG is the only major media gateway out there catering to the enterprise market that incorporates SBC functionality. These two devices have typically remained separate, largely by choice of the SBC vendors. Media gateways are more costly devices, primarily because they have DSPs, which are necessary for complex packetization requirements such as transcoding. This is a critical function for handing off traffic from PSTN to IP, and because SBCs don't typically do this, integration between SBCs and media gateways is not always so easy. In enterprise networks, the functions of both network elements are best managed at the edge, so there's a stong case to be made for incorporating them in a single box.

AudioCodes has been hearing this message from customers for some time, and give them credit for responding. With the carrier SBC market being dominated by Acme Packet, NextPoint and Covergence, they have wisely chosen to focus on the enterprise space, which is the next big SBC growth area.

If you've been closely following this post, you'll recall I mentioned Netrake earlier. AudioCodes acquired this struggling SBC vendor for next to nothing a couple of years back, and that has given them a solid base of intellectual property, which no doubt has contributed to the MSBG. It's too late for the Netrake brand to contend in the carrier space, so this is a pretty good Plan B.

In my view, the timing is right for this launch, and it should shake things up in both the SBC and media gateways spaces. If media gateways do not evolve, they stand to become marginalized as voice traffic becomes all-IP, whereby SBCs would be able to manage most if not all the key edge functions. That's the worst-case scenario for gateway vendors, although it's really several years off.

However, if you can innovate today, and the market is asking for it, you do it. This is very much a media gateway 2.0 offering, and the market seems ready for it. On that note, this news reminds me of Versatel, a Canadian gateway vendor I did work for a few years back. I doubt many of you will remember, but they had exactly the same idea - an intelligent edge device that incorporated SBC features and could host applications. It was the perfect edge device, but the market wasn't ready for it. They were about 3 years too soon, and well... they're not with us now unfortunately. Timing sure is everything, and in this case, I think AudioCodes is in the right place at the right time.

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Regarding your comment on NextPoint...that company appears to be going in a new direction or positioning for an asset sale with a recent substantial lay-off, adopting a near 100% channel model with no direct sales and outsourcing of support and professional services to external companies. Doesn't sound like a company that's long for providing carrier SBC solutions.

See the recent PR from NextPoint and the blog from a ex-NexToner:

Posted by: Nietzsche at June 2, 2008 01:29 PM

Thanks for sharing this with me. NextPoint - nee NexTone was a client of mine a while back, and I've followed them a long time, but didn't catch this item. Sorry to hear that news, esp with Sri leaving - that's a pretty key indicator of their health right now. In that light, at least in the short term they're going to be vulnerable, and I can only assume AudioCodes will look to exploit this - as will the other SBC players.

Posted by: Jon Arnold at June 3, 2008 09:45 AM

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