A network pro’s thoughts on voice Over IP and application service providers

I stopped by a local IS shop last week for a healthy dose of reality, knowing full well that we, the technology press, often get caught up in the hype du jour.

Although I won’t divulge his organization, the vice-president of communications I visited has a US$27 million budget for voice and data and supports about 400 scattered sites.

Our conversation ran the gamut, but I was most interested in his take on two of the hottest topics of the day: convergence and application service providers (ASPs).

Because my faith in convergence is beginning to fray a bit, I was somewhat expecting to find an outright skeptic. But he is cautiously optimistic that it will play some role. His company recently moved the voice group under him partly because the groups share one support organization, and partly in anticipation of convergence.

He has to walk before he can run, however. The first order of the day is continuing to shed legacy Synchronous Data Link Control and IPX protocols on the way to a full IP environment. Once that is achieved, he sees voice over IP showing up on trunks between the organization’s two data centres.

Whether he ultimately pushes it out to the other locations is an open question. Many of the smaller sites are probably better served by low-cost Centrex services, he says. He’ll know better after completing a full-blown voice-over-IP study next year.

Before I could bring up ASPs he pulled the rug out from under me. “Let me get one thing straight,” he said. “I don’t find vendors are very good. They’re having as many resource problems as we are, and in many cases we have more luck than they do. I haven’t found anyone that can live up to what they say they can do.”

Speaking of his Web hosting company, he says: “I have 10 things on the list to do in a week, and I’m lucky if one gets done. You call them and tell them to do X, and then hang up and call back in three days and have to tell them all over again.”

Obviously this isn’t a man that will back his organization’s use of an ASP any time soon.

One of the reasons the ASP model lacks appeal is that he has built an incredibly stable workforce. Of the 30 people in his core data group, he’s only lost one in the last year. No wonder vendor efforts look lame.