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When you decide to go looking for a CRM partner, you will find no shortage of potential mates. Nearly every outsourcer has appropriated the CRM tag. Service bureaus see this as a way to lock in long-term revenue at higher-than-commodity prices. What you need to find out is whether they're worth putting the ring on and signing the contract.

VLMW1301-GS08_Datasheet PDF

When you decide to go looking for a CRM partner, you will find no shortage of potential mates. Nearly every outsourcer has appropriated the CRM tag. Service bureaus see this as a way to lock in long-term revenue at higher-than-commodity prices. What you need to find out is whether they're worth putting the ring on and signing the contract.

Don’t quite get the picture? We’ve put together a short video for you. Check it out, below.

VLMW1301-GS08_Datasheet PDF

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Like many other tech journalists, I got an invite this week to a Jan. 15 press conference at Facebook headquarters. The invite says, Come and see what we’re building.”

Within minutes the tech press started speculating on the news. Facebook is providing no details, a fact that throws kerosene on speculation that has ranged from a Facebook phone to a new partnership or service.

My top guess is this is related to the Open Compute Summit , the regular event Facebook hosts around open source design for its data center systems. It’s a reasonable guess since the summit starts the day after the press conference. At a Facebook holiday gathering for the media, two representatives of the social networking giant said they have big news in store for the event.

VLMW1301-GS08_Datasheet PDF

I have a couple ideas about what would be big news at that summit. The main one is a new member with lots of clout. That’s a pretty high hurdle on a number of fronts.

If an Amazon, Google or Microsoft joined, it would really give the push for open data center design specs a huge boost. But that’s very unlikely given those companies continue to signal they believe they can get an edge in building faster, lower cost and lower power data centers by keeping their designs secret.

VLMW1301-GS08_Datasheet PDF

China’s Tencent and Baidu are working with the project at some level. It’s possible another data center player of that ilk, such as eBay, might join the project. I would call that medium-sized news.

Among tech partners, Facebook already has most of the chip and systems companies falling all over each other to support them. Backers include an Intel general manager and Arista Networks founder on the Open Compute board and event sponsors such as AMD, Applied Micro, Calxeda, Dell, HP, as well as top disk and solid-state drive makers and contract manufacturers.

One thing that could quickly kill IP Centrex, or at least cause it to suffer setbacks, is poor quality of service. While most vendors and service providers claim to have the QoS issue under control, the reality is that guaranteed quality for realtime IP applications still has not been proven out in the local loop. Particularly in cases where service providers are talking about bundling Centrex with other IP-based applications, there is a need for QoS methods that can simultaneously preserve bandwidth efficiency (i.e., not require dedicated virtual circuits) and enforce policies and prioritization on a per-IP-flow basis.

Natural Microsystems(Framingham, MA – 508-620-9300) has proposed one possible solution to this problem with its PolicyPoint technology. PolicyPoint would integrate with a router (either as its own standalone, Ethernet-connected box, or possibly embedded in the router itself) on the customer premise to implement classification, metering, and traffic-shaping capabilities on individual packet flows as they enter and leave the enterprise. In a hosted services environment, the ASP or carrier providing the applications would also manage the customer's routing policies, so as to guarantee different levels of service according to the type of application being delivered.

Until now,” says Brough Turner, chief technology officer for NMS, there has been a heavy focus on quality of service for the network backbone, through technologies like MPLS, but those efforts extend only from the backbone to the edge. As you start to move into things like IP Centrex, the question becomes how to manage services going into and out of the enterprise? There are plenty of solutions for the backbone and the local area network, but it's the segment between the enterprise and the wide area – where you typically have a frame relay, fractional T-1, or T-1 connection – that causes the biggest bottleneck. Unless you can provide some sort of QoS or IP managed service capability on that access link, without provisioning separate paths for voice and data, you're going to be stuck with the old world of services.”

PolicyPoint can use other QoS mechanisms, like TOS bits or the DiffServ field, to classify packets, along with their source and destination addresses and TCP or UDP ports. The system can also allocate bandwidth dynamically in response to a particular application's class of service and demands. Eventually, packets would reach an ATM or MPLS network, where the PolicyPoint classifications would be mapped onto a virtual circuit, or a label switched path.

While Turner is optimistic overall about the prospects for IP Centrex, he cautions that QoS considerations such as these, on the access leg of the network, are something that anyone designing equipment or building a network needs to consider. Another important issue, he notes, is how IP Centrex will be able to interact with firewalls and Network Address Translators (NAT). At the moment, it's difficult to get a business quality VoIP service like IP Centrex to support a NAT, and in most cases the endpoints typically require visible IP addresses to communicate back to the softswitch. With a NAT, you wouldn't necessarily know how to route an incoming call to a particular extension, since that extension's IP address is hidden behind the firewall. It is possible, in some cases, to open a pinhole” in the firewall, allowing certain types of traffic to pass through and find their destination, but there is no standard way of doing this. Such a standard will hopefully be forthcoming, so that no special manipulation of a regular enterprise firewall will be necessary to allow for VoIP traffic.

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