Cloud Telephony – a Buzz or not a Buzz?

By: Alon Cohen

From Wikipedia: “Cloud computing is a paradigm of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Users need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure in the “cloud” that supports them.”

From a user perspective every hosted application is in the cloud. From a technology perspective things are not quite there yet.
Many talk about the Cloud as if it is some kind of a known quantity; the fact is that most clouds are less “predictable” but very scalable hosting facilities. There are only few real public clouds out there and maybe the most famous one is Amazon EC3 (Stands for Elastic Computing). Cloud computing enables developers to build a very scalable system without thinking hard about how they will scale if they encounter huge demand.

The term cloud is used as a metaphor for the Internet, based on how the Internet is depicted in computer network diagrams and is an abstraction for the complex infrastructure it conceals.

Cloud computing is great for websites and databases and e-commerce and ton of applications that do not care much if a packet is delayed by few milliseconds, they do not care if an application instance is using a slower computer shared by few other applications or if it happen to be running faster on a virtual processor that happened to be available on some virtual servers at a specific moment in the cloud.

Telephony is a bit different in that respect. When you deal with applications such as telephony that require relatively accurate timing to transfer an audio stream with very low latency, where a server must send a packet every 10 or 20 milliseconds to every user it is serving for as long as the user is using the phone. In those situations you do not yet see real use of the public cloud at the current state of the art.

Telephony applications need a somewhat more predictable environment or a very specialized cloud to be effective. Some portion of the application like databases, storage of Voicemails and so on, could certainly be implemented using the public Cloud. Voicemail Transcription is an example of such application that does not require real time performance and often us the Public Cloud to transfer the Voicemail files to the transcribers, and to get back the transcribed text of those messages.

Phone.com in fact built its own Cloud to enable scalability of the business logic, but we keep the media servers (those who manage the real time calls) as a very isolated very specialized entity in that space.

As Cloud computing becomes more mature, we will be able to request premium services that define real-time performance and we might be able to move more of our software to a public Cloud. It is also conceivable that in few years the requirement dictated by voice traffic will no longer pose a challenge for the public Cloud infrastructure and Cloud Computing for telephony will become more than a just a buzz word but a day to day reality.