Managing convergence requires teamwork

Convergence changes things. Although combining voice and data across the same packet network wouldn't, in theory, imply dramatic changes in the organization and operations of an IT department, in practice companies that implement convergence find themselves revisiting almost every aspect of their operations.

That means making some of the obvious changes -- such as combining voice and data teams -- as well as some that might be less evident.

Most IT executives realize it's a good idea to combine voice and data teams, but from what I've seen, many haven't gotten to it yet.

But that's just the first step. You'll also need to thoroughly revamp how you handle management -- not just of the data network but of the company as a whole. Why? Because one of the second-order effects of convergence is that it stresses the infrastructure as never before. With convergence, applications that previously had unlimited access to network and computing resources now have to compete for resources. Without the tools and processes to fairly allocate resources -- and to measure how well those allocations are working -- you run the risk of having your mission-critical applications trample each other.

For example, you'll often hear that the best way to handle voice across a converged network is to give it top priority. That works fine if you've configured your infrastructure so that "top-priority" traffic has bounded latency across the WAN -- but doesn't help much otherwise. So you'll need a service-level agreement with your WAN providers that covers latency, plus tools that let you validate that your WAN is performing adequately.

Moreover, you'll want to limit the bandwidth available to your voice traffic so an unexpected spike in voice calls doesn't starve data applications. Yes, I know that sounds counterintuitive. How can any application be more important than voice?

But you don't want an unexpected surge in interoffice gossip to shut down, say, Oracle Financials just as your accounting team is attempting to close the books at the end of the quarter.

Obviously, you'll want to architect your network to set those bandwidth limits appropriately to ensure adequate bandwidth for your voice traffic.

Architecting your converged network to ensure optimum performance for all applications will require close collaboration among your voice, data and management teams.

Bottom line? When it comes to convergence, management matters.

Johna Till Johnson is president and chief research officer at independent technology researcher Nemertes Research

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