|John Girard, Gartner VP|
Gartner Inc. researchers predict that it will take until late 2007 for the vast majority of companies to deploy convergence technology that combines their networks. In the meantime, early adopters will forge ahead with voice over IP (VoIP) applications, and even more promising applications like video over IP will emerge, according to John Girard, vice president and research director for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner.
Girard spoke about trends in convergence during his keynote presentation Wednesday at the TechTarget Networking Decisions conference.
Among those listening with interest -- but planning to stay on the convergence sidelines for now -- was Michael E. Morrell, manager of data resource management for Chicago-based Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois.
"I think it has to happen," he said. "To try to keep the two separate networks going doesn't make any sense. I don't see it happening right away, but it will happen eventually."
At the moment, Morrell is preoccupied with wireless network security. It's an issue that requires his constant attention because of the sensitive nature of personal health care data, made even more critical because of new federal privacy regulations. He said that when the bugs are worked out of convergence technology, that's when companies like Blue Cross and the rest of the insurance industry will probably become interested.
For Ajay K. Garg, convergence is "sexy" but his company plans to take a "stepping stone" approach. The director of VoIP development for Evanston, Ill.-based Go2Call.com Inc. said that getting VoIP perfected is the first priority. That's because Go2Call makes its money as an international PC-to-phone provider for consumers and small businesses.
In his speech, Girard offered four recommendations for a quick return on investment from voice and data convergence technology:
- Target your opportunities. Girard said that companies should take advantage of "greenfields" -- or natural opportunities -- to establish convergence without having to disrupt existing network infrastructure. One example of such opportunities is when an organization sets up a new office or remote location.
- Do proactive planning. Don't attempt to tackle convergence all at once. Begin with a deployment for a specific project or remote location and then gradually incorporate it across the enterprise.
- Minimize the number of vendors. The fewer the better, but don't try to whittle that number down to one. That makes an organization too dependent.
- Practice good vendor management. Don't let a vendor sell you on something on the promise it will work well in the future. You need to make them prove that what they're selling will have value to your organization right away. If there are future benefits as well, make the vendor give you a written guarantee of those benefits.
Planning for the unplanned is critical when considering a converged network, Girard said. Networks are threatened by weather, civil unrest, terrorism and other factors beyond an organization's control.
"Make sure that as you build this convergence you don't sacrifice redundancy and recovery," Girard said. To ignore those things is a serious gamble, he said, because Gartner forecasts that two out of five businesses that experience a major disaster will go out of business within five years.
One area that Gartner sees as having even greater long-term potential is video over IP. It will grow at a rapid pace because companies won't have to replace desktops to accommodate video; they are already multimedia-enabled. Also, expectations for video quality are fairly low. While users won't tolerate poor audio quality, they are more forgiving if video is "a little fuzzy," Girard said.
The first major use for video over IP will be in the area of enterprise training, because it will save companies the expense of transporting employees from branch locations to a centralized training facility, Girard said.
Steve Piper, a network support specialist with the National Imaging and Mapping Agency, said that the concept of real-time video training is appealing. The agency, which is part of the Department of Defense, now does Web training, but it's limited to static images like slides. Nonetheless, Piper is content to remain in "wait and see mode" about voice and video over IP.
Despite market skepticism from industries that are cautious about new technology as a rule, video merged with other Internet applications will gain a foothold, Girard said.
Gartner predicts that the IP multicast concept -- such as a streaming video of a company meeting -- will be deployed by 80% of Global 2,000 companies by 2006. Girard said that many vendors offer this service as part of their network-services solutions, so it's an easy deployment option.
"This is the kind of thing that's a no-brainer," Girard said. "You've got to do it."
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