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A session border controller, or SBC, performs critically important functions in today's voice over IP networks. They provide a security gateway between on-premises systems and Session Initiation Protocol, or SIP, trunking services. They enable transcoding between legacy non-SIP platforms and SIP, and among systems with varying implementations of SIP features. They also enable a centralized point for dial-plan and policy management in multivendor VoIP environments.
To date, most SBC implementations have been on dedicated appliances. According to Nemertes Research, just 9.1% of companies using SBCs are deploying them as virtual software in which SBC functions run on general-purpose servers.
Generally, IT leaders prefer appliances for scalability reasons, and they want to isolate SBC functions from other applications. Plus, hardware performance is normally optimized for real-time media.
However, Nemertes also found organizations using a virtual SBC report a 14% higher self-rated success of their SIP trunking initiatives than other companies that use dedicated appliances.
Vendors roll out virtual SBC products
Now, the momentum for private cloud, virtual SBCs and a virtual SBC offered as a cloud-based service by SIP trunking providers is poised for rapid growth. Consider, for example, these recent developments:
- In January, Verizon Enterprise Solutions, in partnership with Ribbon Communications, announced an SBC-as-a-service (SBCaaS) offering based on Verizon-owned or -managed virtual SBCs. This offering enables Verizon customers to procure SBC functionality without upfront capital costs or the need to manage their own SBCs.
- In November 2017, Nokia delivered a virtual SBC offering aimed at service providers looking to either virtualize SBCs within their own networks or deliver a SBCaaS offering similar to Verizon's. Nokia also offers SBCs as virtual software, or appliances, for enterprises.
- Other SBC vendors -- including AudioCodes, Cisco, Ingate Systems, Metaswitch, Oracle and others -- offer SBCs as appliances or software that customers can run on their own virtual servers.
Reducing SBC hardware and costs
Given these rapidly emerging virtual SBC options, enterprises have an increasing variety of choices in how they implement SBCs to secure and manage their SIP connections.
Customers can continue to buy SBCs as dedicated appliances or purchase them as virtual software that they run on their own private clouds. Or, enterprises can buy SBC as a service, in which SBC functions are bundled with SIP trunking contracts and provisioned by a service provider on the provider's network, on the customer network or in a hybrid fashion.
All the vendors I've researched use the same management tools for both appliance and virtual server, meaning customers can easily transition to virtual SBCs as it makes sense. Alternatively, customers can deploy a mix of hardware and virtual SBCs, if required or desired, based on specific needs.
If you haven't examined your SBC architecture in a while -- or looked at the increasing private and public cloud SBC options -- now is the time to revisit the market. Look for opportunities to reduce capital and operational costs by reducing or eliminating dedicated hardware, and consider SBCaaS offerings if they make sense for your organization.