Case Study: Industry insiders blast IP telephony myths

Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto took its IP telephony project very seriously, planning for every situation that could disrupt communication with the outside world.

But it seems the institution was caught off guard somewhat by the upshot of proper preparation: The IP phone system worked as planned.

"We had to migrate 30 servers, six of them critical, and it came off without a hitch," said Dr. Lynn Nagle, Mount Sinai’s CIO, after a seminar about IP telephony in Toronto. "I think it was because of the diligence behind the planning."

Planning is an important aspect of high-tech undertakings, but before the preparation stage comes the fact-finding mission, wherein IT managers learn the difference between vendor-driven hype and fact. Nagle and other IP-savvy pundits presented their views on this at Tuesday’s seminar, sponsored by network gear maker Nortel Networks Corp. and the incumbent telco Telus Corp.

Concerning the notion that IP telephony is easier to manage than traditional voice infrastructure, "the management component is really quite complex," said Jeremy Unwin, Telus’s representative, blowing holes in that theory. "It is easier in that you can collaboratively bring things together, however you have to be very, very careful about quality of service management with IP telephony."

As well, despite prognostications that private branch exchanges (PBXs) are doomed to fade away in light of voice over IP (VoIP), the traditional exchange will in fact survive, said Dr. Jim Metzler, an industry analyst with Ashton, Metzler & Associates, headquartered in Sanibel, Fla.

"I seriously believe PBXs will go the way of the mainframe," he said, pointing out that some companies use mainframe computers for specialized work. Metzler said the PBX would likewise remain with us, finding a home in branch offices, or refurbished to work in concert with IP backbones.

Metzler also said IP telephony is about more than signalling protocols and quality of service. It’s a political matter too. Apparently the oft-noted tug-of-war between telecom and datacom managers for control of the voice network is no myth.

So who’s winning the battle? "In my experience, it’s the data guys," Metzler said. "Voice is just one more application to them."

However, "what I’m seeing more often now is IP telephony driven by senior management, pushing to have the two at least play nice in the sandbox."

Metzler said cross-training is key. "IP telephony will be successful if the same people can spell ‘SS7,’ a voice signalling technology, and ‘OSPF,’ a routing technology."

Dan Gregatti, spokesperson for Nortel Networks Corp., also sunk the notion that IP telephony is all about technology. After an almost-altercation with his wife, Gregatti learned that VoIP is a social catalyst as well as a high-tech change agent.

Gregatti’s story: While visiting Nortel’s training ground in Boston, he called his wife on a phone that happened to connect via VoIP to the company’s call server in Toronto. "She says, ‘Where are you?’ I say, ‘I’m in Boston, in the lab.’ She says, ‘No you’re not. I see a ‘416’ number here.’ I say, ‘OK honey, let me explain how this works.’ Immediately she says, ‘I don’t want to hear it.’"

IP telephony affects not only social change, but even clothing choices for the workplace, judging by this bit of wisdom gleaned from Nagle, who got the phrase from one hapless Mount Sinai tech worker. Fact: IP telephony projects require shifting some heavy equipment around the office. Dress appropriately. To wit, "when you’re pushing 400 pounds of half-a-million-dollars worth of equipment down a ramp, be sure you have rubber-soled shoes on."

More about Ashton, Metzler & AssociatesDatacomNortel NetworksOFTTelus

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