GoogleVoice Yes it's true, but it's not exactly what you would think...

In mid-2007, Google acquired the "one phone number for all your phones" startup GrandCentral Communications.  The concept is that you register to get a single phone number that you'll be able to keep for life.  The magic of GrandCentral is that it allows you to register multiple phone numbers behind this "virtual" number and then if you decide to move or switch cellular carriers, you just change your settings in your GrandCentral account and all your friends and relatives will never know.

For the last year and a half, nothing much has changed with GrandCentral and I was starting to wonder if it was going to go the route of Dodgeball.  But, this all changed with the announcement of Google Voice.  And it seems that Google hasn't been sitting idle as they've added some very interesting features.

Google number

Google Voicemail

Voice Features

When I first thought about this service back when I setup my GrandCentral account, I was a bit skeptical but there are some new added features that make this service very compelling.

Transcriptions

There is now an automated process that will transcribe all your voice mails into text and send them to you via email or SMS.  Now, you can selectively pick and choose the voice mails you want to hear (or whether you want to hear them at all...) based on a cursory glance on what is in the content. 

Phone routing and Forwarding

Now think about this.  Wouldn't it be cool if you could build a policy around who calls you and what occurs when that happens?  Imagine setting things up so that only your family and inner circle of friends are forwarded to your home phone, business contacts are passed on to your cell phone, and all others are sent to voice mail with SMS messages sent to your cell.  You have full control of what actions occur based on the caller.  Not only that, but you can configure different voicemail greetings depending on who the caller. Very cool stuff!

Conference Calling

To setup a conference call is as easy as having everyone dial your Google Voice number and you can pickup on all of them at once.

Call Switch

Ever had one of those situations when you are driving home and you pickup your cell for a call.  You then enter your home and your cell signal goes way down.  Now you can have Google Voice transfer your existing call to your home phone without having to hang up.

Sending and Receiving Calls

Bye bye long distance calling plans.  With Google Voice, you can call any US number for free.  You initiate a call through their main or mobile website and first your phone will ring and then it will connect you to the caller and your Google Voice number will show up on the caller ID for the target of your call.  What's cool on the receiving end is that you can listen to your voice messages while they are happening and decide whether to "pick up" or not.  This is very similar to how we use to do things old-school voicemail boxes next to your phone.

 

So What Does This Have To Do With Load Balancing?

VoiceServerFarm Well, let me tell you...  I thought about this and while I was listening to the latest This Week in Tech (TWiT), Leo mentioned the feature of routing your call to one or many of your registered phones.  Being from the load balancing world, it immediately clicked that this was exactly the same model as server farm load balancing in the network world.

In the networking world, you would create a Virtual IP address (VIP) to front a farm of servers (web servers for instance).  Then you throw a bunch of servers behind the VIP and the load balancer would route incoming requests through the VIP to the appropriate server to handle your request.  This could be done in a round-robin fashion or with more advanced policy decisions based on the content of the call or client characteristics such as the source IP address or the type of browser the user is making the request from.  

Think of your Google Voice number as a Virtual IP address.  With Google Voice, you add yourself a few cell phones, a couple desk lines and now you've got a server farm of phones behind your Virtual Phone number.  Oh, and you can do custom policy based just as you would with network load balancing . But in this case, you would substitute the type of browser or the client IP with the callers number.

What about the VPN?

That's an easy one.  VIP is for a Virtual IP address.  Your Google Voice number is now your own personal Virtual Phone Number (VPN).  So, I am hereby laying copyright claims on the term VPN as a Virtual Phone Number.  B-).