Enterprise Communications

Sonus and the SBC Market Embrace Their Virtual Future

by Michael Brandenburg 09 Oct 2013
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After talking to the folks at Sonus about today’s announcement of their SBC SWe (Software edition), I couldn’t help but see that session border controllers are following the same historical path as other technologies that lived on dedicated hardware. Session border controllers, like PBXs and application delivery controllers before them, are examples of technologies that no one honestly expected to be virtualized, but are now ready for production in virtualized communications environments. These platforms have all achieved a software existence. The path that each of these technologies took to becoming virtual, however, feels analogous to the five stages of grief or loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Denial. The first reaction to the premise of virtualization by most of the dedicated appliance makers was pure denial. By using code phrases such as “specialized hardware” or “hardware optimizations”, hardware-based appliance makers signaled that, in their view, there is truly something special inside their sheet metal boxes and that customers would just keep buying next new and bigger box that they shipped.

Anger. Disruptive technologies like virtualization, by their very nature, wreak havoc on existing business models and even whole industries. Fear, resentment, and even anger would no doubt be a common response from those on the wrong end of the disruption. Companies that can quickly shake off the fear and anger, roll up their sleeves and adapt to the changing environment are the ones that will find new opportunities in the face of a shake-up.

Bargaining. Many of the early steps into virtual versions of appliance vendors’ products involved bargaining with customers that were caught up in the wave of virtualization. Some of these first virtual appliances were never actually meant for production environments, instead only offered for testing or training purposes. Even those early virtualized appliances destined for real deployments lacked some of the features or the scalability of their hardware based counterparts. (Unfortunately, some of that bargaining actually never goes away. Rob Arnold’s market insight, Who is Doing What in UC Virtualization: Cutting through the Hype, shows some of the compromises and trade-offs made in unified communications platforms by various vendors to support virtualization.)

Depression. Beyond the likely depressed revenues while some customers waited for a virtual option, realigning a product and company focus to accommodate disruptive technology can take a toll on teams. Again, while never stated publicly, I can only begin to imagine the amount of investment and the sheer man hours required to transition a product purpose-built to run on dedicated hardware to one that thrives in a virtualized environment built with general-purpose servers. It would be a daunting task for any engineer or supporting product manager. I am certain there were more than a few sleepless nights along the line.

Acceptance. Acceptance in this case can be summed up in one sentence: “We are a software company now.” That one statement, uttered countless times across the entire technology spectrum, is more than a throwaway marketing phrase. Rather, it is a fundamental change in how a company looks at its products and more importantly, its customers. The leadership of software companies doesn’t think about the number of boxes they sell, but about the best fit for their products in a customers’ infrastructure.

Ultimately, for Sonus and the entire SBC market, acceptance of a virtualized future is a powerful force. The team at Sonus spoke confidently about their SBC SWe solution and its ability to match the scale and performance of their traditional hardware-based portfolio, but then went even further. The shift to a software focus is actually an enablement for their hardware platforms as well, allowing other applications and solutions to more efficiently co-reside with the core SBC functionality. In essence, software and virtualization has not only enabled Sonus to deploy in more places and environments than they could with their hardware alone, but also expanded the capabilities of their hardware as well. Virtualization is not about abandoning hardware solutions, but about removing deployment roadblocks and enabling the customer to use solutions in ways that makes the most sense for their needs.

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