TELECOMMUNICATIONS: How to Avoid the Pitfalls Of Converged Telecoms Environments
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Converged communications has been steadily gaining popularity in recent years, as early troubles of running both voice and data over a single network have been resolved and the true benefits of convergence can now be effectively realised.
However, cautions Dawie Bloomberg, Business Services Director at The Webcom Group, if not thought out correctly there are a number of issues that organisations can run into when implementing this type of communications environment.
"One of the major issues that emerged from early implementations of converged voice and data environments was a lack of forethought as to the consequences of running both protocols over one network. This led to poor quality voice, unreliable networks and clashes between the protocols that caused both to run below optimum," he says.
Bryant Dennis, co-owner of Converged Telecoms, a Webcom partner, adds: "If you simply add voice into a network that is not properly configured for voice it can cause the network to become unstable as conflict between voice and data occurs, causing quality issues around the voice side. This has knock-on effects on productivity and customer relations that can end up costing an organisation a fortune, not just in terms of correcting the network, but also in lost business."
The impact on the data environment, however, is just one of the considerations to be taken into account. Running a voice environment over an IP network opens the network up to security vulnerabilities, which can extend beyond voice into data and video if precautions are not taken to prevent this. In addition, any downtime experienced can also impact security as the data environment may be compromised and any security systems such as IP-CCTV which are attached to the network will also fail, leaving companies open to security breaches.
Some of the other pitfalls of an insufficiently planned converged environment include misconfigurations that lead to routing errors, which can develop into poor quality of service stretching across all types of network traffic including voice and data as well as capacity issues. If the network is already using all of its available capacity to run the data environment, adding voice into the equation will inevitably cause availability problems, which again impacts the quality of network traffic.
"When planning a converged environment it is vital to take into account any legacy services and systems that may be in place, as these may pose challenges when it comes to migrating them over to the new systems," Dennis adds. "The complexity of the network is another factor, as it stands to reason that the more complicated the existing environment, the more complex the new converged environment will be, requiring careful planning.
In order to avoid the myriad pitfalls, a forward thinking approach is the best route to take when planning a migration to a converged telecoms environment, says Bloomberg. "Keeping the customer top of mind in terms of how the migration will affect them is a key consideration. This helps organisations to focus more clearly on what they want to achieve from the new environment and plan where they want to be in the short, medium and long term."
"Planning for the future can help to deal with issues such as scalability, as a failure to take this into consideration can lead to a future environment unable to handle traffic volumes, which again will lead to quality and downtime issues. Within this plan there should also be some thought given to an evolution towards open standards and protocols to prevent the organisation from being locked into using one service provider with proprietary protocols that prevent anyone else from being able to administer the system," he adds.
In addition to these considerations is the fact that convergence simply is not suitable for all organisations. It has the potential to work in any vertical, but VoIP particularly is best suited to medium and large enterprise due to economies of scale -the more people who are using the system the more affordable it becomes per capita. Many smaller organisations simply do not have the volumes of traffic and cannot justify the spend currently required to move to a converged environment.
However, for organisations where implementing convergence makes good business sense, there are a number of benefits including simplified and less costly maintenance. Dealing with one service provider for both voice and data means that a master Service Level Agreement (SLA) can be put into place, which can lead to better quality service all round. On top of this, in a pure IP environment the majority of maintenance can be conducted remotely, saving call out fees. Management tools can be controlled from a single point of access, which means that if any changes are made to the data environment these are automatically configured on the voice environment too, so there is no duplication of effort.
"In a green field site particularly, a converged environment has the potential to save organisations significant amounts of money," says Dennis. "When building from the ground up it makes sense to immediately move into convergence as it means that only one set of cables need be laid. On top of this, combination switches and routers to handle both voice and data can be installed, which reduces the total cost of ownership of the environment by reducing the number of devices needed."
Many organisations are eager to embrace converged telecoms infrastructure. However, in order for such an environment to work efficiently and effectively it is important to plan the migration carefully in order to avoid a multitude of problems that can crop up. The fact is that converged technology is the future of communications, and if companies are to keep up with changing technology, a careful migration strategy and a strong convergence partner are vital to the success of such an enterprise.
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