Videoconferencing vendors embrace H.350
By Jason Meserve
Network World, 03/22/04 http://www.nwfusion.com/news/2004/0322h350.html
In an effort to ease management of large IP video or even voice deployments, videoconferencing vendors are rallying around a new specification that standardizes the way endpoint addressing information is stored.
H.350, the IEEE specification ratified in September for storing IP video and audio contact information in a central directory, is appearing in commercial products, most recently Radvision's Enhanced Communications Server 3.5 gatekeeper release, a server that authorizes endpoints on a network and provides dialing plans such as mapping a standard four-digit extension to a device's IP address.
Unlike many "h-dot" standards, H.350 is not a protocol, but a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) schema that standardizes the way endpoint information such as IP address, H.323 ID aliases and associated gatekeeper domain name (such as an H.323 or SIP-based device) is stored in and retrieved from a central database.
For large corporations, this means rather than maintaining a proprietary database of IP phone and video endpoint contact information and another for employee names, addresses and phone numbers, everything can be stored in the same place. All that is required of the central database is that it be LDAP-compatible. No changes are needed to the database.
"Instead of treating voice and video as stand-alone information, we can integrate it with other management applications," says Tyler Johnson, a telecom systems analyst at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and one of the editors of the H.350 specification.
Johnson, who is also a lead engineer on the ViDe.Net project that is trying to connect all the facilities on Internet2 by video, says H.350 was born out of the need to manage all the universities and endpoints connecting to the video network. "With video and voice over IP, just a few dozen or hundreds of users can be tracked on an Excel spreadsheet and you'll be OK. But when you scale to thousands or tens of thousands of users, it completely overwhelms the operating of gatekeepers and call servers," he says.
Most likely, VoIP implementations, which by nature will have more users than video, will benefit more in the short term.
Before H.350 adoption, vendors such as Radvision and Tandberg used their proprietary format for storing the IP address information on gatekeepers and management software, respectively. In January, Tandberg began supporting H.350 in its TMS 8.0 management suite, letting any endpoint the application manages - from Tandberg or a competitor - take advantage of a central directory, regardless of whether H.350 is supported in the endpoint.
HCL Technologies supports H.350 in its Session Initiation Protocol servers, and VCON plans to roll out support in its MXM management application in the second quarter with native support in its current line of endpoints by the end of the third quarter. A Polycom spokesman says the company is committed to the standard in its management products but is not stating any delivery dates.
Even as H.350 becomes more prevalent in video and voice products, it's not meant for everyone. "It shouldn't be deployed in a small company; that's not its use, not its power," says Christine Perey of Perey Research and Consulting. She sees its benefit for large companies and service providers with lots of IP communications devices.