Networking

What you need to know about the Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series

Cisco's Unified Communications 500 Series is an excellent remote branch office VoIP call manager/phone system. Learn about the solution's various features.

Cisco's router and switch hardware lineup has changed so much over the last year that it can be difficult to keep up with all the model numbers and new capabilities. So it shouldn't surprise me that I was stumped when a colleague asked if I have used a Cisco UC500 and if it is a router or a switch. I had not even heard of a Cisco UC500, so I decided to do some research.

Here's what I learned about the Cisco Unified Communications 500 (UC500) Series for Small Business.

What the Cisco UC500 line has to offer

The UC500 product line can perform firewall functions and encrypt your traffic with a VPN; it has PoE switch ports that can power the VoIP phone on your LAN; it has network address translation (NAT); and it can serve as a wireless AP (if you choose a model with that option). Cisco's UC product line can perform static, but not dynamic, routing between its interfaces.

The UC500 product line's real strength is its VoIP call manager functionality. The UC500 offloads the VoIP call manager functionality from being on the router, which is something that most network administrators weren't crazy about in the first place. The UC500 also fits nicely into a small branch office cabinet or network closet while still providing very strong Cisco Call Manager and voicemail functionality.

The list of features includes the following:

  • Provides call manager VoIP call processing for Cisco and standards-based SIP phones with Cisco's Unified Communications Manager Express built-in.
  • Offers Cisco's Unity Express for voicemail and automated attendant.
  • Communicates with Windows PC applications for VoIP with Cisco "unified call connectors."
  • Unified Communications allows you to receive voicemail in your e-mail via IMAP.
  • Music on Hold through a built-in jack on the UC or through a WAV file.
  • Power fail over (PFO) for analog ports that go to the PSTN. This means that if the power to the UC500 fails, the analog ports become pass-throughs for 911 or alarm line calls.

Comparing UC500 devices to ISRs

Cisco's new routers are called Integrated Services Routers (ISRs). (Here's an example of a router from Cisco's ISR 1800 product line.) These routers can perform a combination of security, wireless, and VoIP functions, yet not all ISR routers perform the same functions.

Although UC500 solution devices and ISRs look very similar and both run the IOS, there are differences. For instance, the UC500 does not have built-in or expandable WAN ports, and there are no HWIC slots in a UC. In order to connect a UC500 to your WAN, you have to run the 10/100 Ethernet WAN port to a router; this means that you cannot use a UC500 as a branch office router. The UC500's purpose is to be a VoIP call manager appliance.

While the routers in Cisco's ISR lineup (beginning with the 1800 series) have the option for Call Manager Express to be available on them, it isn't as full featured as the UC500's VoIP offering.

It seems to me that the UC500 is an ISR that lacks WAN interfaces but is strong in VoIP call manager functionality and connectivity. On the other hand, the ISR can be a call manager, but it is lacking the strong points of the UC500.

Summary

The lines are blurring between the dedicated devices that we used to be able to visualize. In the past, you could put your hand on the switch, the router, the firewall, and even the VoIP call manager. With the advent of the ISR and the UC500, those lines are less and less distinct.

David Davis has worked in the IT industry for more than 12 years and holds several certifications, including CCIE, MCSE+I, CISSP, CCNA, CCDA, and CCNP. He currently manages a group of systems/network administrators for a privately owned retail company and performs networking/systems consulting on a part-time basis.

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