Although times are tough for network equipment vendors, as formerly free-spending customers continue to keep a tight lock on IT budgets, one of the brightest rays of hope for the industry continues to be the series of developments around Internet Protocol (IP).
Some of the advantages have been discussed by vendors, analysts and the press for a long-enough period that it might be easy to start taking them for granted. But those advantages are just as real as they were when the networking world started fully realizing their potential during the last 10 years.
The ability of equipment vendors to make their devices, and therefore the networks on which those devices sit, more intelligent, is one of the most exciting elements of IP. Routers and switches that automatically decide that certain packets of information are more important than others and then direct those packets to their destinations before any others has allowed corporations to speed up their infrastructures. By doing so, business processes move that much faster, enabling more efficiency.
Such prioritization is especially important when it comes to moving voice traffic across an IP network. While the odd data packet can go missing and not cause too much of a headache, too many lost voice packets can render the application useless.
For those organizations that have switched from a traditional PBX-, carrier-based voice infrastructure to an IP-based one, numerous advantages have been realized. Lessening the involvement of the telco in the delivery of voice services to employees and external customers has reduced costs and, in many cases, the headaches associated with the traditionally slow-moving service arms of incumbent telephone companies.
Other advantages of the IP voice setup include the convenience of four-digit dialing (where multiple seven- or 10-digit numbers spread throughout an organization are replaced simply by four-digit extensions), and the relative luxury of managing one network that combines voice and data versus the task of managing two separate systems dedicated to each.
Although many of these enticements have been tirelessly touted by IP shillers and proponents, many of the concerns around IP also continue to linger in the technology’s overall picture. These include concerns around the security of such systems, the often formidable initial cash outlay required, and the intensive management of the involved migration process.
Overcoming these obstacles has proven to be a slog for IP-based product and service vendors. Success has been realized in many markets, such as in the government and education sectors, but for many potential customers, the barriers have proven large enough to deter adoption. With IT budgets tight and up-front investment in IP networks often substantial, such barriers mostlikely won’t come crumbling down any time soon.
Instead, IP will continue to assume a larger portion of networking infrastructure in Canada, but will do so at a pace that often appears less exciting than the benefits the technology offers.