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PBX PCI Adapter - Positron Telecom's PBX PCI Adapter: A Unique Solution for Virtualized Computing Environments

PBX PCI Adapter

October 22, 2009

Positron Telecom's PBX PCI Adapter: A Unique Solution for Virtualized Computing Environments

By Patrick Barnard, Senior Web Editor, TMCnet


(This is Part 2 in a three-part series of articles based on an interview with Positron Telecom president Richard McGravie. To read Part 1, click here.)

Positron Telecom’s PBX PCI adapter represents a change in approach to traditional telephony. The company’s PCI cards, launched earlier this year, combine an Asterisk (News - Alert)-based PBX, media gateway, echo cancellation and Ethernet interface on a single board.

The architecture matches perfectly to virtualized environments largely because Ethernet is the primary communication interface between the virtual server and the real server. There has traditionally been a break down in the communication path between the application running on the virtual server and the media gateway as it requires to connect to the telephony network. This breakdown is caused by the need for the traffic to pass through a virtual Ethernet card, an Ethernet card on the server, a switch and eventually a media gateway. Voice is very sensitive to jitter, latency and packet loss and this architecture leads to all three. The unique offering by Positron has the PCI card inside the server and connecting to the virtual server through Ethernet which provides the shortest data path possible, additionally terminating the RTP traffic on the card without CPU load on the host server. Positron is the only vendor capable of doing so.

By interfacing Ethernet with the PCI bus, its solutions are operating system independent, with no special drivers required. In addition, all processing happens on the card, requiring no CPU power. What’s more, because all boards in the box are Ethernet based, this allows boards with different telephony interfaces to co-exist within the same host PC.

Not only are these cards easier to install and configure (you don’t have to be a certified technician), they also help customers lower their average cost per port while achieving better reliability and security, improved quality of service, and the ability to gain features and capabilities that other vendors have not yet been able to deliver on a single PCI card.

Richard McGravie, president of Positron Telecom, said the uniqueness of being able to install as an Ethernet adapter means that the solutions play particularly well in VMware environments. The adapter also plays well with applications by communicating directly using SIP protocols running on the adapter.

“VMware is a virtualized server on a PC platform,” McGravie said, explaining that VMware allows for the sharing of operating systems and applications across a local network. “And the advantage or disadvantage of that is that your only real communication method typically is Ethernet. And what we’re seeing is that when you’re talking from a virtual server, through a virtual NIC (News - Alert) to a PC NIC, across the network through some external gateway – beside the fact that it goes against the general philosophy of VMware.

“You see, VMware tries to take things off the floor and put them all into one box – so to have more boxes, more gateways, more routers, is not part of the general philosophy of VMware,” he continued. “That infrastructure causes problems, in that it results in latency and delays. So the RTP traffic, or the voice traffic, which is very particular about the cleanliness or speed of the network, starts to get affected.”

But because Positron Telecom’s PCI cards install as an Ethernet adapter into the host system, “the traffic can be sent to us and terminated inside the PC,” he explained. “So if you make a PSTN call, the RTP is only going from Ethernet to Ethernet inside the PC. So we have zero impact on performance. We have the only adapter on the market that installs as an Ethernet adapter for telephony or media gateway inside a PC.”

To put it more simply, because the voice signals have to go through less switching on the local TCP/IP network, there is less opportunity for packet loss. But there are other advantages of having the Ethernet already installed on the board as well:

“You can get into really complicated and tricky designs with VLANS and multiple network segments, but they cause complications and things we can easily solve simply by putting it into the PC,” McGravie said. “Our solutions can do some really unique things – for example you can have multiple VMware sessions sending traffic to our cards -- simply by sending to a default gateway. Also, because our cards install as Ethernet adapters you can have multiple cards in the same system, and they can be redundant and failover to each other. Or, from our perspective, because all of the traffic is SIP going to each thing, it doesn’t care what kind of density the card is -- so I can have an analog board, an ISDN board and a T1 board all on the same system, and the system doesn’t care, because it’s just sending SIP traffic. The advantage is the PSTN protocol is localized to the adapter and  not a function of the network.”

To put it in another context, he explained that in a traditional “Dialogic (News - Alert)-type world,” when you install a card in a system, you have to install a driver, “but depending on which version, and which series, you can’t always talk board-to-board. But ours is just SIP traffic, so you don’t have those dependencies or those issues.”

By taking this approach, quality of service is improved -- and total cost of ownership is reduced.

“Your network complexity doesn’t need to be heavily designed like it would be if you were running multiple voice and data systems, VLAN switches and everything else,” he said. “Plus we’re a Web-based GUI, for the configuration, so you don’t need to be Cisco (News - Alert) certified in order to install -- it’s designed to be very intuitive. It’s designed for end-users, not for qualified certified configuration partners.”

Not only does this approach reduce the strain on computing resources, it also uses less power, making it an ideal “go green” solution.

“Because we install in the PC with a small little adapter -- we help achieve that ‘go green’ strategy -- with less heat, less power and lower running costs,” McGravie said. “If you put a decent-sized box router in your environment, you’re going to generate more heat -- so there’s even an incremental cost savings in terms of the air conditioning costs.”

Positron’s PBX (News - Alert) PCI adapters, which are geared for SMBs with 2 to 100 lines, are faster and simpler to install compared to traditional open source telephony boards because they integrate Linux, Asterisk, echo canceller, Ethernet (for PCI and LAN), telephone ports (FXS) and gateway (FXO) on a single card. Thus the company has created the first standalone solution that can be installed on any PC.

For more information about Positron Telecom’s PBX PCI adapters, click here.

Patrick Barnard is a contributing writer for TMCnet. To read more of Patrick’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard


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