Voice, data camps prepare for war

Thanks to the advent of IP telephony, a battle is brewing between voice experts and data-com managers, a confrontation that industry insiders and analysts suggest could turn the network operating centre into a combat zone.

Customers, industry analysts and vendors are bullish about IP telephony, the technology that sends voice traffic over data networks and offers a single-wire connection for both voice and data.

The proponents say IP spells simpler administration and lower costs compared to traditional phone systems, like PBXs, because this older technology relies on a separate network to push data. The dual-wire architecture is cumbersome and outmoded, they say. IP, with one wire, is the way of the future.

But others worry that this convergence of data and voice systems could spell division among network caretakers. They say IP introduces a battleground, a plane of war where data communication experts and telephony gurus will fight for control of their companies’ connections.

The theory, said Dan McLean, IDC Canada’s director of enterprise network services research, goes something like this:

“Once you had this whole notion of network convergence really starting to pick up steam and get established, it would create this turf war between the voice-com people within a business and the data-com. If we’re talking about technology that’s more familiar to data-com, [data experts] were probably going to win the war.…You can infer that the days of traditional telecom people in businesses are certainly numbered if this technology takes off in a big way.”

Since IP takes its cues from the data network world, McLean’s words suggest a poor future for telephony experts. However, IP retains the voice features of traditional telephony and requires knowledge of voice systems. In this light, perhaps it’s the data network employees who should hold on to their hats.

Either way, this turf war could make the network manager’s job that much more difficult, said Rod Anderson, a network consultant with Ram Computer Group Inc. in B.C. “You can’t get them in the same room,” he said of the phone camp and the data commanders, particularly when they operate under different managers. “If you can, they’ll just throw buns at each other over lunch.”

Still, optimists say the situation need not be so hostile. Early IP implementers insist that there are ways to keep the peace between voice and data experts in the network operating centre.

Don Henkelman is the chief information technology officer with the B.C. Cancer Agency, an organization dedicated to improving the chances of survival when people contract the deadly disease. The agency rolled out its own IP telephony system recently, an architecture for voice, video and data created by Cisco Systems Canada.

Henkelman said the agency stemmed any brewing distrust between voice and data experts early. When it came to staff members and their areas of expertise, “about six years ago, we converged together video, voice and data,” he said.

This integration was the by-product of an experiment in teleconferencing at the agency. Henkelman said his staff members were on the verge of combining voice and video communication, so logic suggested they should work in the same department.