Cisco UCM voice over IP system: Product overview

Designed for small and medium businesses, as well as large enterprises, Cisco UCM provides voice over IP technology that can replace a legacy telephone system.

Editor's note: This article is part of a buying guide on voice over IP (VoIP). The features in this series describe the evolution of VoIP, its use cases, and important criteria to consider when buying a VoIP service. The series also compares the top VoIP products in the marketplace. This article gives an overview of Cisco UCM.

Cisco's Unified Communications Manager (Cisco UCM) is an IP-based communications system that supports voice, conferencing, video, data, instant messaging and mobility services. With Cisco UCM, businesses can replace their legacy PBX telephone system with a modern, secure VoIP system that can scale beyond a legacy PBX and provide unified communications services to multiple locations.

Because of the modular design of Cisco UCM, it is suitable for virtually any size company. It uses a server-clustering design, which allows each cluster to reach 30,000 users. Organizations can deploy multiple clusters, significantly increasing this number to well over 100,000 users. Hardware requirements for a Cisco UCM (CUCM) deployment will depend on the organization's size and which add-ons are selected.

CUCM is available as a standalone product or part of the Cisco Collaboration Solutions -- Cisco Business Edition 6000 (BE6K) and 7000 (BE7K). The BE7K edition is a family of end-to-end collaboration services designed for fast-growing enterprises, while the BE6K is targeted toward enterprises ranging from 25 to 1,000 users, and provides the necessary applications to support business growth. Both BE7K and BE6K are offered on a virtualized platform running under the VMware hypervisor.

Cisco also offers the much smaller Cisco Call Manager Express (Cisco UCME) IP PBX service, which is targeted for small and medium businesses. Cisco UCME runs directly on Cisco's ISR routers and, depending on the router model, can support up to 450 users. More information on Cisco UCME can be found on Cisco's website. At the core of the system is the CUCM software that runs on either a dedicated hardware server or in a virtualized VMware environment. A standard Cisco UCM setup consists of the following minimum equipment:

  1. Hardware or virtual server running Cisco UCM
  2. A voice gateway (ISR Cisco Router), responsible for connecting Cisco UCM with the telecommunications provider (PSTN/ISDN, SIP)
  3. IP phones for the company's users

In addition to these, customers can select more servers or services to expand functionalities. These additional services are part of Cisco's Unified Collaboration portfolio.

Cisco offers auto-attendant services through Unity Express (a module inside a voice gateway), Unity Server, or the Cisco Customer Response Solutions server.

CUCM provides more than just the basic functionality of an IP phone. With the use of IP Communicator or the newer Cisco Jabber, which requires Cisco Presence Server, users can extend their IP phone to their desktop, allowing them more comprehensive mobility and connectivity.

Users can also access the Web interface of Cisco UCM and change specific settings on their IP phone, insert speed dials and adjust other settings. Generally, Cisco UCM has been built to provide the end user with a range of advanced functions, such as Web/video conferencing, instant messaging and other capabilities.

The Cisco BE6K is the most popular edition and combines the following packages into a single appliance (rack server) running under VMware ESXi:

  • Cisco Communications Manager
  • Unity Connection
  • Unified Presence or Attendant Console
  • Contact Center or VCS (Expressway)
  • Provisioning Manager

Cisco's flagship product licensing model has changed several times in the past decade due to the increase of services being offered. Licenses are installed on the Cisco Prime License Manager, which monitors Cisco UCM's license requirements and reports back license compliance or noncompliance.

The current licensing model depends heavily on the type of VoIP and collaboration services companies require from Cisco UCM -- this is also reflected partially on the type of IP phone models used. For example, more advanced -- and expensive -- IP phone models have features such as video conferencing and touchscreen capabilities, and therefore require more advanced licenses.

Cisco's website outlines available license types and the functionality each license type covers.

Cisco UCM has a variable pricing structure, depending on the features and functionality chosen. While CUCM can be purchased directly from Cisco's official distribution channels, it is highly advisable that customers contact Cisco directly for the most accurate information. Alternatively, customers can locate a Cisco partner using the Cisco Partner Locator to help guide them through the purchase and installation process.

When installed, Cisco UCM remains fully operational in demo mode for 60 days. During that period, Cisco Prime License Manager must be installed, along with all necessary licenses.

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