Nortel revs hybrid communications server for SMBs

Nortel Networks at the end of this month plans to release an upgraded version of Enterprise Edge, its communications server designed to help small and medium-sized businesses integrate voice and data traffic into a single network, company officials said this week.

Enterprise Edge 2.0 will include expanded IP functionality, including DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol), DNS caching and firewall support. The server will also include a faster Pentium III processor and support additional PSTN (public-switched telephone network) interfaces that will allow Nortel to sell the system in Europe for the first time, Nortel officials said, speaking at a meeting here with IDG editors this week.

The 19-inch rackmounted system is aimed at companies interested in combining some of their voice and data traffic over a single IP-based network. Along with rival Cisco Systems, Nortel has been championing integrated networks, saying they can lead to reduced management and operational costs and open the door for new types of messaging applications.

Enterprise Edge integrates traditional PBX functions with packet-switch capabilities, including voice-over-IP and quality-of-service data routing. At its heart are a call server built around Nortel's Media Services Card (MSC) and an applications server based on an embedded version of Windows NT.

Nortel designed the server so that if the Windows NT component crashed, the MSC server would continue to exchange circuit-switched calls, said Richard Solosky, director of portfolio marketing for Nortel's small business solutions group.

"The call server part runs independently of the Windows NT part for reliability and availability," Solosky said.

The Enterprise Edge can assign policy for different types of data, giving voice traffic priority over text files, for example. To allow administrators to set policy for individual users or groups of users, Nortel is developing a policy switch that will function as an add-on to Enterprise Edge. The switch is due to ship worldwide in the third quarter this year, Solosky said.

Also in the third quarter, Nortel expects to ship Enterprise Edge 2.5. That product will add support for Nortel's own line of i2004 IP telephones, which are due to ship in the same time frame.

Looking further ahead, Nortel is working to include DSL (digital subscriber line) and VPN (virtual private network) capabilities directly into Enterprise Edge, with the goal of making VPNs more affordable for smaller businesses. For the DSL component, Nortel is developing a DSL card in PCI Card format that will plug directly into the communications server.

"Our goal is to reduce the entry point for VPN down to the 10- or 20-user level," Solosky said.

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