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With downturn over, experts say convergence is 'unavoidable'

Industry experts at the Enterprise Networks conference say converged voice and data networks are the best way to reduce costs and integrate e-mail, voice, video and IM applications.

BOSTON -- Industry luminaries say that a period of unparalleled convergence is taking hold of the networking industry, but legacy technology won't go away quickly.

At the Enterprise Networks 2004 conference, keynote speakers Nick Lippis, chief executive officer of consultancy Lippis Enterprises Inc., and Avaya Inc. CEO Donald K. Peterson said that several factors -- most notably VoIP technology -- will soon force companies to undergo major network transitions.

During his opening address, Lippis said that the recent economic downturn created a "retrenching" era during which network managers were mandated to reduce spending, achieve an ROI on projects within 12 months and ensure that a security "lockdown" was the norm. That period, he said, has come to an end.

For approximately the next four years, convergence will reign, Lippis said, primarily because one of the few ways to further reduce network-related costs is by moving voice traffic onto the data network.

Lippis, who is a contributor to, said other factors precipitating network convergence include increasingly distributed workforces and the proliferation of message delivery systems: e-mail, voice mail and instant messaging. If fact, Lippis said that in many cases enterprises have twice as much IM traffic as e-mail traffic on the network and don't even know it.

"If you measure it," said Lippis, "I think you'll be surprised how much IM traffic is flowing around your organization."

Lippis said the evolution of storage, processor and networking technology -- notably power over Ethernet, virtual LANs and software for ensuring quality of service -- are enabling e-mail, IM, voice and video applications to be integrated with each other on the same network.

However, Avaya's Peterson cautioned that even though the widespread use of IP telephony in the enterprise is "unavoidable," it will likely be 20 years before time-division multiplexing systems disappear. TDM systems are commonly used to put multiple data streams in a single signal by separating the signal into many segments, each having a very short duration.

Peterson added that racing toward network convergence isn't the right strategy. He said the equipment costs may be prohibitive for some companies that aren't upgrading their desktop equipment, and that the best strategy is to wait until a desktop refresh cycle to move away from circuit-switched networks.

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Still, Peterson expressed optimism about the market, noting data from Synergy Research predicting that the number of worldwide IP telephone lines shipped will jump from 6.67 million last year to 11.47 million this year. He also announced that financial services firm Morgan Stanley, a new Avaya customer, will provide an IP phone within three years to each of its approximately 50,000 employees, though he admitted such an aggressive VoIP approach isn't for all firms.

"Every one of us will have a somewhat different solution, depending on the business we're in," Peterson said.

Despite the optimism from the speakers, Richard MacEachern, a network services consultant for Connecticut-based insurance firm The Hartford, said a converged network is still a long way off for many companies because security is too cumbersome.

MacEachern said that for his company, "until we're able to ramp up the network, VoIP is unworkable," largely because of latency and other quality of service concerns.

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