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Aura will power Avaya-Nortel unified communications integration

Jessica Scarpati

Software has become the new face of unified communications (UC) integration as enterprises with multivendor systems and applications want to tear down silos between different communications and collaboration platforms. Avaya is hoping this trend will help it retain Nortel customers as it promotes its flagship SIP-based communications platform, Aura, as the heart of its Avaya-Nortel portfolio integration.

Following the release of an Avaya-Nortel roadmap last week, that wager appears to have been a solid one. Former Nortel Enterprise Solutions users appear ready to embrace Aura -- which uses

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session-initiation protocol (SIP) in its five core applications -- as their new communications platform.

"It's obvious that Aura is going to be the platform of the future," said Brad Tompkins, president of the International Nortel Networks Users Association (INNUA). "That is the direction the industry's going anyway, whether Nortel was purchased or not."

Vanessa Alvarez, an industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said the focus on Aura will be a natural next step for Nortel users, who had already begun to go down that software-based path with its Agile Communications Environment (ACE) product, which uses service-oriented architecture to embed UC tools into business applications and processes.

"The Aura platform fits very well into where communications is going," Alvarez said. "It lends itself very well to the data center and deployment, and for enterprises, that's a good thing because they can then make an IT and telecom decision all at once."

Avaya-Nortel roadmap aims for 'flexible' transition

But Nortel users who are lukewarm to Aura or don't have the budget for a new deployment shouldn't feel left in the dust, said Alan Baratz, Avaya senior vice president and president of the company's Global Communications Solutions.

Instead, Avaya officials pitched the Avaya-Nortel roadmap more as a road trip -- encouraging Nortel users to embrace Aura as a way to lower their UC total cost of ownership but noting that sales and support for many Nortel products will continue for years to come.

Baratz said that Avaya aims to help Avaya and Nortel users to transition "from today's integrated voice-based PBX systems to the future world of open, flexible, modular, real-time communications" to support voice, video and data through SIP.

"This cannot be about rip and replace. This should not be about capping your current investments," Baratz told thousands of viewers in a recorded webcast. "This needs to be all about protecting your current investments and growing with the new Aura architecture."

Avaya and Nortel users will be able to achieve better UC integration by deploying Aura on top of their existing PBX -- be it Avaya's or Nortel's -- and keep the same user interface and feature set, Baratz said. By leveraging the new ACE feature for UC integration into business processes, users can also put applications on top of Aura.

"It doesn't matter whether you're an existing Nortel customer or an existing Avaya customer -- the story is the same," he said. "If you want to add another system, we'll sell it to you … but at the same time, we are bringing Aura to market as an 'on-top' capability for both [vendors' systems]."

Nortel investments protected under Avaya-Nortel integration

Meanwhile, a few Nortel UC products will be lost in the shuffle. Although no firm end-of-sale dates were announced, Avaya will discontinue the Nortel Multimedia Communication Server 5100 and Multimedia Conferencing platform sometime in 2011.

The long-term support of Nortel products and flexibility of the Avaya-Nortel integration plan was "very comforting" news to Nortel users, Tompkins said.

"The product roadmap has really given a lot of options and time [for users] to make their leap forward when it's best for their business," he said. "Knowing that this is something that's not going to be crammed down old Nortel customers' throats was a relief to everybody."

Stuart Chandler, president and CEO of Optivor Technologies, an elite Nortel partner, said he has "not heard one negative thing" from former Nortel users and fellow resellers about the Avaya-Nortel roadmap.

"It's been a long time since I've been able to have this kind of comfort level going into something like this," Chandler said. "The customers are going to be protected, and that's critical for us."