The Debate: Integrated vs. Unified Messaging

Among voice mail and email system vendors, the debate is on: client-based or server-based.

Chris Bajorek

April 30, 1997

2 Min Read
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Among voice mail and email system vendors, the debate is on. Will the industry opt for amultiple message-store (client-based) solution or a single message-store (server-based) solution? AsFigure 1 and Figure 2 illustrate, the architectural difference is in how many separate databases,directories, and message copies the integrated or unified messaging system must maintain.

With integrated messaging solutions, you must often store message objects on both the nativemessage server and the email server. One reason for dual storage is to avoid the time-consumingprocess of having to convert files from your desktop message viewer on the fly. The conversion isnecessary to change files from the native message format to the fastest format. For example, dualstorage lets you quickly review a voice mail message in native format by making a telephone callinto the voice mail server or by playing the message out in .wav format from your Web browser ordesktop messaging program.

So, what happens if your email server goes down while you are calling into your voice mailsystem to delete two voice messages from your inbox? You now have a synchronization problem betweenthe two message servers. Figuring out how to keep both message lists in synch is challenging. Onevendor of integrated/unified messaging systems told me the company could never arrive at asatisfactory synchronization solution. Synchronization is tricky.

Unified messaging systems don't have this synchronization problem because only one copy of everymessage is on the system. However, vendors of unified messaging systems say this method of messagemanagement is much more difficult to implement. To work effectively, unified messaging relies onfeatures that require close cooperation among email and operating system vendors.

Another unified messaging issue is message retrieval performance. With voice mail, for example,the unified messaging server has to retrieve the next voice mail message object so that the voicemail server can begin playing the message to a telephone caller very quickly. Although email usersare conditioned to wait a bit before they read their email messages, telephone-based voice mailcallers expect immediate response to their touch-tone commands. Not all messaging platforms todaycan meet this requirement.

Unified messaging vendors say the best possible path is a phased approach from today'sintegrated messaging to unified messaging systems, given the current state of messaging platformsand their APIs. The good news is that companies, including Octel, have already announced trueunified solutions. Expect to see single-store unified messaging systems from major voice mailvendors in production by late this year.

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