Still waiting on the convergence of voice/data

Vendors will tell you that it’s the way of here and now, and the future, but you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who’s actually bought into the concept.

Yes, I’m talking about enterprise network convergence or, as it’s better known as these days, multiservice IP networking. There’s been a whole lot of noise, but very little substance as far as large enterprise customers who’ve actually stepped up to build a multiservice network or trash their PBX systems for a pure IP version.

So who’s out there purchasing and deploying this stuff anyway? Hello! Anybody there?

And not just deploying an enterprise multiservice IP network, but utilizing IP for mixing voice and data communications throughout an enterprise, rather than simply plugging in some hybrid communications server thing that is really a legacy PBX system in disguise, acting as a failover through a circuit-switched environment?

Practically every network hardware vendor has announced or will introduce a hot, IP-based PBX or communications business service that, depending on whose flavour you ask for, can intermix with existing PBX systems or drive a pure IP mixed data/voice-messaging environment. These VoIP devices are seen as the driving solution for network convergence in the enterprise and lately we’ve also been hearing that network convergence will probably have to take off in the enterprise first before extending out as a carrier and consumer service.

It’s been a long wait from the first time multiservice networking across a single IP-based network was first proposed as a concept. Deployment of a pure multiservice IP network – again, talking about that kind of digital network that is actually being used to transport mixed rather than separate circuited voice and data – has yet to be seen in the large business enterprise in Canada. Rumour has it that a whole lot of IP multiservice-capable equipment has been sold but little if any of the pure multiservice IP function has been activated.

The market still abounds with confusion. The great debate over IP’s readiness as a multiservice platform continues and even equipment makers have wide ranging differences of opinion regarding the merit of enterprise mixed messaging PBX replacements. Some argue that pure IP still isn’t ready for prime time, given the largely unresolved matter of creating Quality of Service (QoS), to ensure the swift and assured transport of delay sensitive traffic like voice and video along IP network infrastructures. Then there’s the matter of traditional voice equipment reliability, which some claim can’t be assured with less reliable PC-based equipment. There’s the need to purchase IP telephones and perform recabling. And finally there’s the issue of PBX feature richness, which can’t yet be recreated in a mixed messaging server environment.

So, given that IP-based PBX replacements are seen as the current driving application for multiservice IP within the enterprise, you have to wonder whether this stuff actually works under any circumstance, since nobody seems to want to take the plunge. That’s really a key question and probably the single factor that inhibits the deployment of multiservice IP in the enterprise – does it work and who’s willing to find out?

What’s needed is a trailblazer – a significantly large Canadian business with the gumption to actually implement a real, live, pure multiservice IP-based PBX messaging environment, to prove it works in the enterprise and, maybe more importantly, in a compelling application. What’s also needed is a success story, in order to convince potential customers to buy into multiservice IP and encourage network service companies to bone up on the skills needed to implement enterprise network convergence.

Some network hardware vendor out there needs to pilot a successful project with a customer by removing the risk to that same customer. Offer to fully finance or at the very least heavily subsidize the venture, plus throw all the in-house technical support and expertise it takes to ensure this mixed messaging IP PBX system stays up and running – reliably.

Surprisingly, such a scenario hasn’t yet happened – or at least such a situation hasn’t been trumpeted. Other than Cisco itself claiming it has trashed its PBXs and installed an IP telephony solution across its North American operations, no other large enterprise in Canada appears to have followed suit.

Most network hardware companies are currently on a drive to recruit solution partners who will implement such environments, trying to convince them that there’s a serious and lucrative business opportunity as installers of IP-based enterprise mixed messaging systems. However, many integrators and network services companies remain sceptical and unconvinced.

The proof for customers and solutions integrators would certainly be in the pudding.

Some network hardware vendor out there should step up to create the much-needed example of a large company that removes its legacy PBX and replaces it with a similar IP mixed messaging platform – again, using only IP to drive all communications traffic. Deliver the total promise. Show how an IP-PBX system can actually achieve significant cost savings and provide a platform for hosting dynamic voice/data messaging applications. Demonstrate that this is a reliable environment. Build the feature richness of old world PBXs into new age Windows NT-based mixed messaging IP servers. Show how much easier it is to manage a single network environment that supports all communications traffic types.

Do this and Canadian business just might be convinced.