Eee-Eye, Eee-Eye, VoIP

Communigate Systems promises its "SIP Farm," a unique and seamless cross-platform clustering technology, is up to the challenge as IP-based communications like VoIP, email, IM and Web conferencing displace traditional telephone tools.

As IP-based communications services like IM, email, VoIP and Web conferencing displace traditional phone communications, providers face a growing challenge to scale to meet rapidly increasing demands for service.

With its new “SIP Farm,” Mill Valley, CA-based CommuniGate Systems is promising that carriers, internet service providers and businesses will be able to realize wide-scale interoperability and seamlessly grow their SIP-based VoIP networks to serve as many as tens of millions of users.

SIP Farm is based on CommuniGate's Dynamic Cluster application server platform, currently in use on the company's well-regarded CommunigatePro email and messaging servers, serving some 115 million end users and deployed primarily by large enterprises and ISPs. The platform promises a level of scalability that is essential for widespread VoIP implementation, according to Thom O'Connor, CommuniGate Director of Product Architecture.

“The biggest VoIP implementation providing direct connections to both the IP and switched networks is probably Vonage,” said O'Connor. Currently, Vonage, the largest SIP-based VoIP service provider, claims to have about 1 million customers.

“Many telcos provide service to 30 to 50 million customers, so there's a big gap between what exists and what's needed for VoIP infrastructure,” O'Connor said.

O'Connor believes that Skype, a VoIP service claiming millions of users of its proprietary peer-to-peer software, can't be compared to the SIP Farm platform. “Skype has no guarantees for security, privacy, or quality of service for end users,” O'Connor said.

“Server-centric VoIP allows service providers and enterprises to control their services for service level agreements, security, quality of service, and enables the capacity for E911 and lawful interception required by the federal government.”

Server clustering (linking servers so they act like a single computer) is CommuniGate's 'secret sauce.' While other platforms provide clustering, the technology is unnecessarily complex and costly.

“Every product on the market today is a stand-alone box or based on the Oracle database,” said O'Connor. “But the real reason people use Oracle is to provide clustering. They're using a database just to get clustering. The administration and hardware costs to support this are high.”

In the CommuniGate Pro Dynamic Cluster, service requests are distributed across all (or a subset of all) front-end servers. This allows the system to add capacity and redundancy simply by adding nodes to the cluster. Dynamic Clusters can themselves be grouped into “super clusters.”

The number of users that can be supported by a single cluster varies according to storage requirements that in turn depend on the application, according to O'Connor.

“The need to move to a Super Cluster is estimated to be at about 15 million users, but is very dependent on use profile,” says O'Connor. “If this is a VoIP-only environment, this number goes upwards as disk I/O is much less than with email."

The result is a highly resilient system.

“The redundancy means that you can lose one or more servers and the signaling is reallocated,” says O'Connor. “From an end-user point of view it's transparent.”

Another advantage of the CommuniGate approach is lower hardware costs.

“Service providers can start with two to four Intel boxes,” O'Connor explains. “They can just add resiliency, add network nodes, simply by adding boxes at very low cost.

“You can also mix operating systems,” he continues. “I can put Solaris boxes in a cluster with Linux boxes.” CommuniGate sees the future of SIP Farm reaching beyond voice. With an interoperable infrastructure, VoIP providers can easily offer other services.

“We believe there will be a great long term advantage in providing email, instant messaging, calendaring and VoIP with audio and video services all within one environment,” says O'Connor. He sees the future as “'Internet Communications' with a consolidated identity management and value-add service offerings to decrease administration and hardware costs.”

Industry experts agree.

“If you look at the future of instant messaging, email, presence, voice, they will definitely be converging,” says Michael Osterman, Principal, Osterman Research, Inc. “SIP Farm is a step in that direction. They've made it easier to integrate voice with other forms of communications. The voice applications they've developed are a step in the right direction of making VoIP more integrated with messaging.”

A fully-functional SIP Farm trial download is available at: