Avaya Labs Research – Thriving In Pasteur’s Quadrant
“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” [Linus Pauling]
Avaya Labs Research (Research) was created in 2000 when Avaya spun off from Lucent, inheriting and now extending the 75-year tradition of Bell Labs Research. We are responsible for advancing high-potential technologies, understanding customer trends and needs, and establishing alliances with both academia and industry to introduce innovative technologies and competitive solutions. We partner closely with Avaya business units to generate and trial ideas that form the basis for next-generation, enterprise-based telecommunications.
We thrive on generating and testing new ideas. Our preference is for ideas of fundamental interest that also have direct application to Avaya’s business. Donald Stokes labeled such problems as occupying ‘Pasteur’s Quadrant’ in his 1997 book of that name. Just as the great microbiologist found fundamental problems in the difficulties brought to him by the industries of his time, so we look for the fundamental problems in the communication needs brought to us by enterprises. Inside Avaya, our solutions are incorporated into products and services; externally, they are published in research venues.
We focus on Pasteur’s quadrant by organizing into research projects and realization projects. Problems come to us either through business needs or inspirations for future technology. For example, several years ago we had a vision for how to use enterprise directories, event databases, language parsing technology, and user preferences to notify users of events of interest anytime, anywhere, on any communications device. We formed a research project to prototype the technology and, having established feasibility, moved it to a realization project to trial it internally. Following the trial, the realization project partnered with a product division to move it into an Avaya product.
Ravi Sethi, President, Avaya Labs leads Research. Previously, Sethi headed Communications Sciences Research at Bell Labs. Avaya Labs Research is organized into six departments: 1) Collaborative Applications, 2) Data Analysis, 3) IP Communications, 4) Multimedia Technologies, 5) Networked Systems, and 6) Software Technology.
Woven into these areas is a realization function whose purpose is to make our work more effective in meeting Avaya’s business aspirations/needs through rapid realization of new technologies and solutions. Small realization teams bring together people from Research, the Avaya product units, and other Avaya organizations to speed implementation of technologies from Research.
How will and how should the way people communicate change because of advances in technologies? Our research focuses on what users should and will be able to do, rather than concentrating on specific devices, networks, or incremental technological advances. We are at the brink of a communication revolution where just about everything can change. Even the most familiar aspects of using a telephone—its ringtones, ringbacks, dialtone, busy signals—will soon become obsolete, replaced with presence-enabled systems designed to work in an IP communications world. In this new world nothing needs to be more than just a click away. But what is going to make these endless possibilities and combinations of devices, modalities, and networks comprehensible and usable?
We ask what it would take to go the next step and build systems that connect the right people, at the right time, in the right place, in the right ways. This leads us to build systems to manage presence and location, communication application servers, and solutions for different flavors of mobility. If processes were going to be communication enabled, then we ask what it would take to go the next step and build platforms that would determine the who, where, when, and how of communications in the context of the virtual enterprise, where communication decisions are interdependent, to support the full range of applications: personal communication management, supply chain and management, customer relations, emergency response, and more.
As an example, we built a trial system for a world-renowned hospital to provide hands-free, close-knit communication on demand among the hospital staff, based on presence and location information, wireless communications, and specialized headsets.
The Data Analysis Research Department pursues data analysis technology that is shaped by important, real-world applications within Avaya. Examples include:
• Assessing and monitoring data networks so that IP telephony (VoIP) is deployed with high quality-of-service.
• Performance analysis and visualization of enterprise workflow.
• Methods for turning customer data into information for customer relationship management.
• On-line analyses of large data sets.
• Algorithms and queuing theory for contact center routing problems.
• Data mining.
Goals include incorporating the best data analysis technology into Avaya’s systems, products, and internal use; and publishing papers about this work in the professional literature. Sample problems range from analyzing field data to model the advantages and costs of preventive maintenance for large communications systems, to stochastic modeling of overlay networks to evaluate the behavior of new application-layer path selection strategies.
Early phases of the migration of voice-based telephony to IP networks are largely complete. The next phase of convergence—involving IP-based applications, data networks and devices—promises even greater benefits in business and individual productivity as well as cost savings. Our research addresses the problem of designing and deploying flexible and customizable services over a distributed framework, while also satisfying the need for cohesive and predictable end-to-end communication service behavior. Specifically, we address the problem of designing end-to-end service elements, protocols and software, using technologies such as SIP and XML, and that execute within end-user devices, servers and applications and that may be deployed on networks that are peer-to-peer, fully centralized or hybrids. Specific areas of focus are: a) rich communications user experience for the corporate employees; b) architectures for IP-based end-user devices; c) next-generation customer service communication infrastructure; and d) distributed, multi-domain communications frameworks.
Consistent with Avaya’s commitment to research aimed at sustained competitiveness, Multimedia Technologies targets basic and applied research leading to product differentiation in communications interfaces.
- Audio technology areas include:
- conversational interaction using speech, speaker recognition, and speech synthesis;
- language and dialog modeling;
- microphone array technology;
- multi-channel sound projection;
- conferencing and audio mixing technologies;
- acoustic echo cancellation; and
- high-quality audio coding.
Visual technology areas include:
- dynamic system video creation for use in contact center and enterprise communication;
- dynamic mixing of video from live, automated, and stored material sources; and
- automated “transcoding” of visual information to/from web, video, and mobile device domains.
Platform technology areas include:
- XML-based markup language definition and implementation (e.g., VoiceXML);
- text analysis techniques to facilitate dialog modeling, document summarization, and automated concept extraction; and
- novel uses of text-messaging systems.
Networked Systems Research focuses on software and systems for enterprise networks, whether wired or wireless. Untethered operation and mobility are the hallmarks of wireless connectivity. Location information is a derivative of these. Our research exploits these characteristics to enhance existing enterprise applications and to develop new ones. Current work covers security, QoS, mobility management, and location-based services in wireless networks. In addition to security techniques carried over from wired networks, we are investigating the use of wireless-specific characteristics for access control, as well as network and transport-layer techniques to augment MAC layer QoS support. Network-layer mobility takes into consideration QoS issues to support converged traffic in the presence of mobility. Work on location-based services looks at applications enabled by location information at different levels of granularity. Current major research topics include:
- Management of converged communication networks and systems.
- VoIP quality assessment of communication infrastructure.
- QoS and security of 802.11 wireless networks.
- Layer 2/3 device and topology discovery.
- Software infrastructure for converged applications.
- Software implemented fault tolerance and rejuvenation.
- Protection against security attacks.
With the best software technology, Avaya can build better and cheaper systems more quickly, and lead the way into the communication future. We must be able to quickly and accurately understand what is needed, what software will satisfy the needs, and what it will take to build it. To that end, we invent tools, languages, components, and ways of organizing, talking about, and specifying software systems that will simplify the job of understanding and building them.
Central questions for software engineers are how to create software designs that are performance-efficient, that can easily evolve over time, and that enable rapid production of products and services. Accordingly, our interests include software families and product lines, architecture, design for change, measurement, precise specification, testing, collaborative, protocol-based applications, notification and response technology, databases, directories, service-oriented architectures, and technology transfer.
An overriding concern in all of these areas is how to measure the impact of new technology when it is introduced. Typical measures range from in-process development fault rates, to predicted resource needs for maintenance after product delivery, to customer-perceived quality as measured by failure rates within fixed time intervals, to product delivery times and schedule slippages when using iterative processes. Using the goal-question-metric paradigm, we suit the measure to the goal of introducing the technology.
We number about 60 people; about 60 percent have a Ph.D. Our researchers are stimulated by seeing their ideas accepted, acknowledged, and put into practice. Avaya Labs Research provides an environment that encourages just such stimulation.
Ravi Sethi is President of Avaya Labs. David Weiss is Director of Software Technology Research and Jon Bentley is a Research Scientist, both at Avaya Labs Research. This article is another in a series of CRN articles describing the activities of CRA’s laboratory members. Previous articles are posted at:http://www.cra.org/reports/labs