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Special reports - The choice is yours - October 1999
NT is fast emerging as the operating system standard for tomorrow’s comms and unified messaging platforms – but what NT-based comms solutions are deliverable today? Mickel Bak looks at how NT-based fax and unified messaging systems are enabling companies to streamline their communication systems and provide customers with the choice of how and when they access and receive information.
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While much has been written about Microsoft’s Telephone API (TAPI) and the impact it will have on the communications industry, it is NT that has really captured the imagination of telecoms and computer telephony (CT) equipment manufacturers. TAPI may have brought abot ua revolution in the way people control phone calls at their desktop PCs, but it is NT that is changing the way that telephone switching, fax and messaging systems are constructed and sold.

NT is dominant


Statistics paint a clear picture of how NT is coming to dominate the Internet, network server and comms server marketplaces:

  • More than 1 million Internet sites now run on Windows NT Server according to studies undertaken by both Netcraft and IntelliQuest
  • Microsoft shipped 1.56 million new Windows NT Server 4.0 server software licenses in 1998 – nearly 50% more than Novell NetWare and twice as many as the combined versions of Unix, according to research from IDC which also predicts that NT license shipments will grow by 23% per annum until 2002
  • Computer Intelligence claims that the number of Fortune 1,000 companies deploying Windows NT Server increased by 200% percent in 1997
  • Finally, in the comms server space (by which I mean open computer-based servers that provide multiple telephony applications such as switching, voice mail, interactive voice response [IVR], fax etc. on a single platform), NT-based platforms now account for over 90% of all new systems launched.

CT on NT

Even when it comes to public network-based CT systems - a traditional stronghold of Unix - leading CT platform supplier Dialogic reports that 50% of all CT systems deployed in Europe by its partners are now running under NT. NT is becoming the obvious choice for developers of open CT servers running applications such as fax, IVR, voice mail and unified messaging.

A good example of this is Omtool’s Fax Senior version 3.0, an NT-based fax platform that has been designed to take advantage of many Win2K server features such as Microsoft Management Console, the default management utility for the BackOffice family of products. The Fax Senior platform appeals to many corporate network managers looking for a versatile and robust integrated fax server. Its open architecture can be easily integrated with a company's desktop environment, email system and back office development environment. And it’s also scaleable to support hundreds of users across a network and multiple fax servers. Flexibility in terms of support for diverse office technologies is key to the implementation of such systems. And Fax Sr. 3.0 supports a wide range of clients (Windows 95, Windows NT, Windows 3.x, Macintosh, DOS and browsers) and email systems (Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, cc:Mail, MS Mail, Netscape Mail, GroupWise, Eudora and SMTP Mail systems).

The fax of life


MESSAGEmanager from System Solutions is another high performance native NT fax platform for LAN fax, fax broadcast and production fax. The platform is scaleable from a single departmental workgroup to an enterprise-wide deployment, and utilises many NT features such as Microsoft’s DCOM client/server architecture and Microsoft Management Console. It also provides seamless integration with Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, Internet Mail, Groupwise, cc:Mail, Microsoft Mail and HP OpenMail and enables users to print to fax from any Windows 3.1/95 or NT application. One MESSAGEmanager server can handle the diverse needs of multiple desktop, email, mini and mainframe host applications simultaneously on up to 60 lines.

MESSAGEmanager Unified Messaging for Lotus Notes take the capabilities of this system one step further by providing users with a unified user interface for all email, voice and fax messages. All messages are stored in the Notes Message Store – and all messages can be accessed via computer or telephone. To listen to voice messages, for example, you simply click on the media player on your PC and your messages are played back either through your PC sound card or telephone handset. To display a fax, you just click on the attachment.

VoiXX Voice for Microsoft Exchange from Intersis Technologies is another unified messaging platform that makes full use of Windows NT and Microsoft SBS features. VoiXXTravel, for example, enables standard telephone access to the Microsoft Exchange Inbox, allowing users to listen to their voice mail, or any VoiXX object, by directly dialling their Exchange account. VoiXX version 1.5.1 also includes a complete automated attendant.

Finally, Remark! from Big Sky Technologies provides complete solutions for the Lotus Notes environment based on Lotus Phone Notes. Remark! Unified MessagingAssistant, for example, turns the Lotus Notes mail database into a complete voice, fax and email messaging system as well as providing automated attendant and voice mail capabilities. The Remark! Voice Server for Windows NT provides a robust hosting platform for a wide range of custom IVR applications for Lotus Notes. In essence, the combination of Lotus Phone Notes and Big Sky's Remark! Voice Server enables the development of telephony applications that extend the power of Notes beyond the desktop and into the hands of anyone with a touch-tone telephone.

Advanced comms services


A number of advanced comms services are also based on NT platforms. Connaught’s new ‘Fax to E-mail’ service is one such example. This service gives individuals 24 x 7 access to their faxes wherever they are, simply by forwarding faxes to them as email attachments. Faxes can be viewed using a Windows image viewer, or a freely supplied Win3x viewer. Added features that come with this service include: notification via SMS (mobile phone or pager); archiving of all faxes; barring of certain fax senders; forwarding by fax; and fax on demand. The service runs entirely on NT based system using Primary Rate ISDN. Resilience and capacity are built in. It is clear from the capabilities of the systems described above that comms system developers are already using the functionality of NT to the full. Developers are also now starting to push back the barriers of what we have come to recognise as a traditional comms platform.

Leading IP telephony and IP fax equipment vendors such as Ericsson, VocalTec, ArelNet and NeTrue, for example, are now building NT-based systems and looking to exploit the powerful IP telephony capabilities in Com2000. Developers are also showing an interest in Windows NT Embedded – with Microsoft recently reporting that 30% of the 350 vendors taking part in its NT Embedded beta program were comms companies. Microsoft’s recent acquisition of 5% of Dialogic is also a significant move – especially as the agreement between the two companies involves Microsoft becoming a licensee of CT Media, Dialogic’s NT-based CT server software.

CT Media


CT Media takes the comms industry in a radically new direction – enabling managers to buy telephone systems in the future like they buy computer systems today. In other words, enabling them to go to company X for their server hardware, company Y for their voice processing, fax etc. hardware, and several companies for their telephone applications. CT Media effectively provides the resource management capabilities to ‘glue’ such systems together. The list of companies currently developing applications on top of CT Media reads like a who's who of the telephone and computing industries. Aculab, Alcatel, Apex, Aspect, Buffalo, Callware, Cisco (SummaFour), Compaq, Coresoft, CSELT, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Genoa, GTS, Nortel, On-Hold Plus, Parity Software, Philips Speech Processing, RING!, Rockwell, Syntellect, Teledirect International, Voice Control Systems and more.

CT Media is not the only NT-based product that will radically change the way we view communications. At CeBIT 99, for example, Microsoft, in conjunction with Acer Inc., Daewoo Telecom Ltd., Panasonic, Philips and Vestel, previewed Web-enabled telephones powered by Windows CE. Earlier in the year, 3Com announced an alliance with Microsoft to accelerate the deployment of a new generation of easy-to-use converged networks that carry data, voice and video. Then there is the Selsius IP-based phone system for carrying voice along the same LAN as company data.

"Vendors can build a variety of systems using the services in our operating system," said Mark Lee, Microsoft’s chief CT spokesperson in a recent interview. "They can build a dedicated phone system if they want to do that; they can build an IP telephony system if they want to do that; or they can build a comms server device… We’re heading to an open platform, easy-to-use, rich and extensible in APIs with a lot of opportunity for choice and innovation."




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