Managing convergence

Convergence changes things. Although combining voice and data across the same packet network wouldn’t, in theory, imply dramatic changes in the organization and operations of an IT department, in practice companies that implement convergence find themselves revisiting almost every aspect of their operations.

That means making some of the obvious changes as well as some that might be less evident.

Most IT executives realize it’s a good idea to combine voice and data teams, but from what I’ve seen, many haven’t gotten to it yet. As I’ve previously noted, if you’re looking to implement convergence, and you haven’t yet integrated your teams, here’s a relatively painless way to do it: Ask each group to create a selection matrix for selecting VoIP PBXs and phones, along with a short list of preferred vendors. Let the groups work independently at first. Then gather them in a room and jointly review the selection criteria. You’ll most likely find it an eye-opening experience on both sides.

But that’s just the first step. You’ll also need to thoroughly revamp how you handle management — not just of the data network but of the company as a whole. Why? Because one of the second-order effects of convergence is that it stresses the infrastructure. With convergence, applications that previously had unlimited access to network and computing resources now have to compete for resources. Without the tools and processes to fairly allocate resources you run the risk of having your mission-critical applications trample each other.

For example, you’ll often hear that the best way to handle voice across a converged network is to give it top priority. That works fine if you’ve configured your infrastructure so that “top-priority” traffic has bounded latency across the WAN — but doesn’t help much otherwise. So you’ll need a service-level agreement with your WAN providers that covers latency, plus tools that let you validate that your WAN is performing adequately.

Moreover, you’ll want to limit the bandwidth available to your voice traffic so an unexpected spike in voice calls doesn’t starve data applications. Yes, I know that sounds counterintuitive. But you don’t want an unexpected surge in interoffice gossip to shut down, say, Oracle Financials just as your accounting team is attempting to close the books at the end of the quarter.

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–Johnson is president and chief research officer at Nemertes Research, an independent technology research firm. She can be reached

Related links:

A few pointers on convergence

Convergence improves customer service, survey indicates

VoIP pointing way toward complete convergence