Get prepared for convergence

Convergence is supposed to simplify communication for businesses, but it can complicate matters if the enterprise isn’t ready for network consolidation.

The convergence notion is straightforward: companies should operate a single network for voice, video and data, rather than a separate network for each service. Voice over IP (VoIP) is a large part of convergence. So too is video over IP and wireless VoIP, which lets users make calls from cordless phones wherever they happen to be in the office, as if they were sitting at their desks.

Convergence is meant to make network management easier and less costly. Imagine having just one cabling infrastructure to deal with, for instance. Most VoIP systems let companies do away with costly outsourced moves, adds and changes (MACs). Users can pick up and move their phones anywhere. As soon as they plug their phones into Ethernet jacks, the network recognizes the devices and treats them as if they were in their original spots.

Those are the benefits. Here’s a potential downside: if all of the network services reside on a single infrastructure, anything that happens on one service can negatively affect another. A spike in data traffic could cause jitter and delay on the phones. A security breach at the wireless access point could give intruders access to not only data-traffic information, but voice signaling information as well.

There are solutions to these problems. Use virtual LANs to separate voice and data traffic, so although they travel the same conduit, they don’t interfere with each other. Ensure the underpinning data network is fat and robust enough to handle data at least as well as it always has, and voice as well as the separate voice system used to. Lock down the wireless access points with authentication measures so only authorized users and devices can enter the network from these broadcasting boxes.

Most of all, however, get ready to deal with the potential problems listed above. Learn what you can about them before inviting network vendors in for demonstrations. That way, you’ll know to ask the vendors how their offerings deal with tech hiccups like jitter and delay. You’ll be better positioned to find out which convergence play makes the most sense for your firm.

BMW Group Canada in Whitby, Ont. ran into some trouble while IP-enabling its previously non-IP phone system. The company had to re-jig some of the network settings to ensure high-quality voice service for employees and customers. But to hear the firm’s telecom specialist Katherine Woolsey talk about it, you get the sense that the problem, though frustrating, came as no major surprise, as if the company had an inkling of the sorts of situations that could crop up before embarking on the IP journey.

Now BMW Group Canada’s IP phone system runs smoothly. MACs are easier than ever, and some employees get to use their cell phones as extensions of the corporate IP PBX. That spells improved productivity; staffers may leave their desks, but they’re never out of touch.

BMW Group Canada was prepared. All businesses should be so ready for the coming of convergence, if they mean to reap the benefits of network efficiency.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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