Switches smarten up

Corporate networks are hitting the books and wising up to the needs of their users, and this edification process couldn’t be happening soon enough for Hank Poelvoorde.

He’s the vice-president of technology and information systems for Vancouver-based Envision Credit Union, the fourth-largest in Canada. The financial institution was formed in January 2001 with the merger of two smaller credit unions. With the marriage came a new set of technological challenges, as the firm saw its customer base blossom to about 100,000. The merger seemed like the perfect time to conduct a network overhaul, one that would lead to a more centralized environment running on fewer platforms.

“(We wanted to design the) architecture so that it was pretty much common, in that it was [Internet Protocol.]…That went for telecommunications as well as for data and applications,” says Poelvoorde.

Fortunately, the desire to change coincided with a development in network equipment manufacturing towards the “intelligent network”: the inclusion of features in devices, primarily switches and routers, that allow them to “see” what kind of traffic is running across them and to make informed choices about what to do with it.

Andrew Sage, director of marketing for Toronto-based Cisco Systems Canada Co., describes this concept as “content networking.”

“The network becomes aware of what it is that’s being transported on top of it,” says Sage, whose company leads the market in intelligent devices with its AVVID (Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data) platform. “What kind of information is that? Is it HTML or is it PowerPoint? Is it a voice stream? And then making a very different decision about what to do with that data, depending on what it is. We can also say, Is that coming from an important customer, in terms of my top five in what they spend, or is that coming from one of my basic customers?…You can prioritize your gold customers over your bronze customers.”

It is the ability to make these time-saving choices that has manufacturers, service providers – and especially customers like Poelvoorde – drooling over the possibilities surrounding intelligent devices.

IP intelligence

Like many medium and large Canadian enterprise environments, Envision is rolling out IP telephony applications to its employees. Instead of building and maintaining a call centre, the credit union decided to turn its existing staff into call centre reps and bring the calls to their desks by way of a converged IP network.

“Because of convergence, we saw call centres really becoming pass