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Catalyst Conference 2002: Virtue in VoIP patience

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology may be sexy, but analysts and vendors have differing opinions on whether now is the time to implement VoIP.

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you believe the media and vendors, now is the time to move to voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). If you believe the analysts, you should sit back and wait.

At the Catalyst Conference 2002, hosted by the Burton Group, analysts said that for the most part VoIP has failed to deliver the massive cost savings and sexy applications vendors had promised. While they think that networks will all move to VoIP in due time, those who are patient will benefit from waiting until end-user applications catch up and open standards are embraced.

The biggest issue surrounding VoIP is cost. Most large enterprises already have voice systems that work perfectly well at a fairly low cost.

Burton's road map to VoIP
Have you decided to go down the VoIP road, in spite of the uncertainty? These steps from Burton Group senior analyst Irwin Lazar can help you have a smoother ride.

  1. Baseline the current network
  2. Determine the impact of VoIP on the total enterprise
  3. Determine the ideal network infrastructure
  4. Determine the gaps between the current network and the ideal
  5. Develop a migration plan
  6. Develop a network management plan
Making a move to IP telephony can require extensive upgrades to company networks, including upgrading hardware, providing power to IP phones and improving redundancy. The justification for this cost and disruption to the business is often hard to find, except in instances involving certain applications, new construction or extensive international calling, said Ray Keneipp, vice president and service director of the Burton Group.

"For all practical purposes, I don't think there is much cost justification for IP telephony," Keneipp said. "That said, you can recoup some of that value in ease of moves, adds and changes. The resiliency you build into your data network is translated to your phone system, and users can plug their IP phone in anywhere there's connectivity to your network and get the same services."

VoIP vendors frequently cite staff reductions as a cost-lowering benefit of the technology, but reducing staff may not be an option in actual practice, noted Keneipp. Indirect expenses such as training may increase as users are introduced to the new technology and the IT staff is educated to support it.

Proponents of IP telephony have said for some time that the technology enables exciting new applications. So far, beyond a Web-based phone interface, users have not seen many applications other than those they already have with traditional phone systems, said Keneipp.

"We're just getting to the real applications. The technology to just do voice is mature, but I think we're about a year or 18 months away from the apps that will be able to really take advantage of this technology."

Implementation hurdles are also a serious matter that may discourage some organizations. According to Irwin Lazar, senior consultant and practice manager for the Burton Group, "The success of your project depends on the ability of your network to provide the same experience that your users have come to expect in terms of service reliability and consistency."

While both analysts called IP telephony "mature," they warned that providing satisfactory service for users can be a challenge. Major quality of service (QoS) measures and network tuning will probably be necessary to create toll-quality voice, and creating QoS policies that give the highest priority to voice may interfere with other applications that are critical to your business.

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Ask SearchNetworking expert Ted Studwell a question about VoIP

VoIP also brings in security issues that have never been considered for voice. Unlike the PBX, a VoIP server can be vulnerable to denial-of-service attacks, worms, viruses and weaknesses in the operating system.

"All the same problems you have running your Windows, Unix, and Linux servers are now on your phone system," said Keneipp.

As with any technology, VoIP deployment should be selected for a clear business reason. Keneipp cautions against making the move for economic reasons alone.

"If all you're doing is toll bypass, I'd tell you to stick with ATM," Keneipp said.

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