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Cisco knocks out Avaya as IP PBX heavyweight

Andrew R. Hickey

Cisco and Avaya are racing neck and neck to become the largest IP PBX provider, with the pair of powerhouse vendors jockeying for IP dominance.

A recent report by The Info Pro shows a dramatic shift in IP PBX vendor preference along with a 15% growth in the adoption of IP PBX over the past six months.

Bill Trussell, managing director of networking research at The Info Pro, said the growth in adoption over those six months can be seen as a sign that the IP PBX market, while considered mature, is still growing and still has a long way to go.

"Even though it's a maturing adoption cycle, it hasn't certainly gotten to full adoption," he said. "It's about mid-way through its adoption cycle."

Currently, 59% of enterprises have an IP PBX in use, The Info Pro found, while 29% have them in their near- or long-term plans. A study done six months earlier showed that 52% had IP PBXs in use, and only 24% had set adoption plans.

The findings, Trussell said, show that the IP PBX market continues to mature at a good clip, which isn't altogether surprising. Although enterprise headquarters IP PBX adoption as a whole has started to lag, branch offices and midsized companies are starting to fuel much of the IP PBX deployments.

Trussell also said that companies are waking up and starting to understand that VoIP systems offer features and functions that were difficult to perform or unavailable on old or outdated TDM equipment.

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The recent findings are part of The Info Pro's Wave 3 Networking Study, which looks at technology adoption trends and time frames, management techniques, and vendor performance data for all facets of networking. The results are a culmination of 130 one-on-one interviews with networking professionals in large and midsized enterprises.

The results of the most recent networking study show that Avaya's lead among IP PBX vendors is starting to slip away and that Cisco is gaining traction, with more companies saying they plan to deploy Cisco IP PBXs.

Cisco and Avaya are neck and neck with deployments that are already in use, however.

Cisco's new lead, according to Trussell, could symbolise an awakening among companies that now realise that Cisco's commanding presence on the data networking side is also viable when it comes to VoIP. Also, Cisco is seeing a stronger pickup in the branch office and smaller office segment, where its products were once considered either too expensive or too complex.

"Cisco's reaching down into organisations that are further down the food chain, so to speak," he said. "Cisco's able to penetrate that branch office market and offer data, voice and video all at once."

Trussell said Cisco's overtaking of Avaya in enterprise IP PBX adoption plans illustrates a massive shift from The Info Pro's previous study, which had Avaya leading the pack as the strongest in-use vendor and the vendor most companies were planning to deploy. In that study, Avaya beat out Cisco and Nortel in both categories, also beating out Siemens AG, Mitel, Sprint, NEC, Meridian, Iwatsu, Interactive Intelligence, Digium and Alcatel-Lucent.

"Adding an IP PBX to a VoIP system allows for the flexibility of future enterprise growth and a reduction in long-term operational and maintenance costs," Trussell said. "More than 95% of organisations anticipate the majority of their voice traffic will eventually originate and terminate in VoIP equipment or services."

Trussell later added: "Having the added benefits of an IP PBX is becoming the standard. With such a large and rapid adoption rate, a change in vendor preference was likely, with most interview participants noting that they chose Cisco over Avaya for its lower costs, ease of integration, and strong commitment to problem resolution and vendor support."

Cisco's ousting of Avaya isn't all that much of a surprise, he said, considering that markets shift at any given time throughout the year.

"Why would anyone not consider Cisco unless some are of the mindset that Cisco is overpriced and so on?" Trussell said.

And while vendors like Mitel and Nortel once had a massive presence in the TDM infrastructure, that presence is waning as companies continue to move to IP.

"The emphasis in the IP world has moved away from the [vendors] that have traditionally [offered] TDM-based products," he said.

As for the future, Trussell said the IP PBX fight will continue, but probably with a strong focus on the central IP PBX and main headquarters. The shifts that will occur in that market remain to be seen, he said, but the fight now going on between Cisco and Avaya could spark an interesting battle for first place.

"If you look at the top two players -- Cisco and Avaya "“ they certainly are positioning themselves for quite a competition between the two," Trussell said. "It's kind of like watching a horse race where the lead changes and you think, 'This could get interesting.'"