Kearns' column: Voice-over IP coming in loud and unclear

Often, when discussing new medical or scientific breakthroughs, ethicists will recommend not pursuing a particular technology because it's in some way morally wrong. The catch phrase for this is: "Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should."

I think it's time we focused on voice over IP with this phrase in mind -- not because there's any ethical problem, but because it just doesn't make sound business sense. I'm reminded of a setup we had when I worked in the old Thomas-Conrad testing laboratory with which we could demonstrate Arcnet connectivity over barbed wire. It worked (just like voice over IP), although not terribly well (just like voice over IP). This test didn't lead to a campaign to network the perimeter of every ranch in Texas, though; it was simply to demonstrate the robustness of the Arcnet protocol. Similarly, voice over IP demonstrates the robustness of the IP protocol. But I'm not ready to throw away my phone just yet -- I like being able to carry on a phone conversation that sounds as if I were face-to-face with my correspondent.

This all came up recently at NetWorld+Interop in Las Vegas while I was talking to a representative from Lucent. Lucent and Novell had just announced an agreement to use Novell Directory Services to directory-enable Lucent's Definity switches. Because this will now let you manage your voice and data networks through the directory, it removed the one major benefit I saw for voice over IP: a single point of management. We can only hope the other major phone switch vendors will see the light. Without that compelling benefit, voice over IP returns to being the electronic equivalent of two tin cans and a piece of string. Of course, the Lucent representative tried to sway my thinking. I knew he had never managed a network when he used the argument: "But what will you do with all that unused bandwidth on your data network?" Those of us from the trenches all know that data grows to fill the available bandwidth -- always has, always will.

Datacom and telecomm have different priorities and strategies. They're like oil and water, and we should never attempt to mix them or disaster may result.

Dave Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at

Tip of the week

If you've followed my advice and ignored Windows 2000 until now, it's time to start preparing for it. The first thing you'll need to understand is Active Directory, its implementation and implications. Microsoft has posted a large amount of technical information you should download, print and read. Point your browser to technet/deploy/adtech/adtech.htm.

-- Dave Kearns

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