Get ready — convergence is coming: IDC

When asked about network convergence, computer professionals have more questions than answers, according to Dan McLean, analyst at Toronto-based consultancy IDC Canada Ltd.

But make no mistake about it — convergence is coming, so everyone should begin to prepare for it, McLean said. Users have to make an effort to learn more; equipment vendors need to understand that potential customers are confused and should work hard to help users understand; and service companies are the ones who will likely make it happen, so they need to begin partnering with the right people.

“There isn’t the expertise right now,” McLean said, speaking at a Network World Canada Masters Series workshop in Toronto in April, where the topic of the day was convergence.

He recently completed an IDC Canada study which examined attitudes toward convergence. Approximately 350 Canadian companies of varying sizes were surveyed.

McLean said the one question people thought most important to answer in regards to convergence was, “What benefits will it provide to my applications and business processes?”

“There’s a clear lack of that picture for most of the people surveyed,” McLean said.

The next two most common questions had to do with money — “What cost savings could be realized?” followed by “How much will it cost?” People found that questions about how the technology actually works, what products are available and whether or not it would simplify management and operations were less useful than questions having to do with a business case when deciding on convergence implementations.

Seminar attendees were surveyed during the workshop. When answering the question “How familiar with the concept of network convergence are you?”, the majority — 76 per cent — answered “Somewhat familiar,” while 8 per cent answered “Not familiar” and 16 per cent said “Very familiar.”

As for the question, “Do you plan to implement network convergence (if you aren’t already)?”, while nobody answered “not at all,” 40 per cent responded that they didn’t know. These findings were similar to those of the IDC study.

Stories shared by participants at the workshop also reflected the findings of the IDC study — most thought convergence was a great idea, but were unsure about whether it was right for them right now because there were a lot of details that are unclear. Cost factors and the business case for converging networks were the main areas where attendees said they still needed to be convinced.

The few people at the workshop who had been experimenting with convergence were doing it mainly for specific purposes, such as eliminating tolls on phone calls between branch offices of the same company located in different cities.

David Venditti, technical analyst in the technical services division of Mississauga, Ont.-based SNS/Assure Corp., said hearing McLean’s presentation and opinions of other attendees made him feel better because he realized he was in the same position as most people.

“I’ve come to these types of events before and said, ‘Wow, everyone’s using all this great technology — why aren’t we using it?'” he said. “But I guess in reality, a lot of people are in the same boat as us — they don’t know how to use it, they don’t know how it fits into their infrastructure, they don’t know how much it costs.”

Venditti agrees convergence is coming, although he doesn’t believe the phenomenon is being driven by customers.

“This may be a pessimistic view, but it’s very much driven by the vendors telling you this is what’s coming, this is what we’re going to be using,” he said.

“Maybe they have a vision we don’t have.”

He said he is not yet convinced that convergence is the best option for his network in the near future.

At the workshop, McLean’s co-host Jerry Ryan, a Massachusetts-based consultant, brought up some key issues that need to be resolved before people fully accept convergence technology.

Customers don’t want to compromise reliability and voice quality, for instance. In an informal audience poll taken by Ryan, most agreed voice-over-IP quality can range anywhere from awful to very good. But the traditional telephone platforms are “highly efficient and we’re afraid to compromise that,” Ryan said.

He said there are also issues of how to power IP phones — when the power goes off now, traditional phones keep ticking — as well as quality-of-service issues, ensuring the LAN can actually handle voice, for instance. And as McLean discussed, there are difficulties right now in quantifying the value proposition.

“It isn’t as easy to see the benefits as you might think,” Ryan said.