Managing VoIP networks

Andrew Buckeridge, IT director of Western Australia-based building company BGC, said although Ethernet link performance needs to be monitored, managing VoIP is “mostly pain free”.

BGC chose the Alcatel OmniPCX Enterprise to connect four sites across Perth and Buckeridge said the decision to go with VoIP resulted in a cost saving between sites where are now just Ethernet links.

“It was necessary to add jitter delay so UDP (user datagram protocol) error recovery was possible,” he said.

“The effect on voice quality is nil, however it posed an issue for facsimile which is now routed over the public switched network.”

Buckeridge said BGC purchased the IPMux-1 to save the PDH (Plesiochronous Digital Hierarchy) links. Also, managing users is no different.

“This remains the unchanged as the same voice switching equipment is used,” he said. “Moves can be done on an analogue handset with the OmniPCX 4400. Ours is configured mostly for analogue extensions as it was replacing an existing system using existing voice cabling.”

According to the company, BGC is saving 38 percent of fixed monthly costs by using spare 2MB of bandwidth on its data link to combine voice and data.

With BGC's change to using its Ethernet links to carry voice traffic between its four Perth sites, the ROI using the internal rate of return method was found to be 92 percent per annum, according to the company.

“Security [management is] provided by the use of VLANs in the Amcom Speedlink service,” Buckeridge said. “

Our gateways at each end route IP into our own VLANs.”

Australia’s largest greenfield IP network carrier Comindico has started offering VoIP calls to businesses as a service providing an alternative to the traditional telecommunications providers.

Comindico’s CTO Trevor Harris said there are a lot of things that are different about managing VoIP.

“Voice over the Internet is dead easy but telephony isn’t,” Harris said. “Telephony is all about overall quality of service (QoS) and we have strict guidelines in QoS enforcements to minimize latency.”

Harris said Comindico operates a number of management systems and conceptually it isn’t hard if you enforce low latency and zero dropped packets.

“Telephony can be managed by direct observation of metrics like the number of simultaneous call attempts and call times, and the traffic profile is the overall network indicator,” he said. “Scaling up VoIP is like scaling up your network. The network solutions expand to meet the traffic demands.”

Harris, who has a telephony background, advises not to accept anything less than carrier-grade from your vendor.

“You have to build it to have true carrier-grade features and single points of failure shouldn’t be allowed to exist,” he said.

“IP telephony has to be a case of ‘better than’ traditional telephony.”

3Com’s world-wide senior solutions and technology architect Ilias Kolovos said it’s inevitable that network management of voice will become pervasive.

“The significant benefits of IP telephony are the economies of scale in managing voice and data together, particularly for multiple deployments,” Kolovos said.

“People tend to worry about QoS; however, voice traffic can be prioritized over data.”

Kolovos said to ensure the same level of QoS is available for VoIP, the company’s NBX switch automatically detects phones then prioritizes the traffic.

“Our NBX switches also have the ability to limit application bandwidth, have integrated SNMP [Simple Network Management Protocol] agents and it’s own management application, Network Director,” he said.

Kovolos said 3Com is now porting its high-end VCX IP telephony applications suite to its NBX products resulting in “a consistent transport mechanism across our product line”.

The VoIP market

Research firm IDC predicts the market for managed VoIP services will reach some $288 million by 2008 with a CAGR of 52 percent as the market “starts from a small base”.

IDC Australia’s telecommunications research director Landry Fevre said a move to VoIP should be considered the same way as any project and the decision makers should have identified the benefits expected to derive from the investment.

“A prerequisite is that the system integrator should run a thorough network analysis and assessment,” Fevre said. “Most equipment vendors have put together such tools; this [analysis] needs to be incorporated in every proposal as a must-have.”

Fevre said the differences associated with managing VoIP compared with traditional TDM (Time Division Multiplexing ????) are lower cost of operations, one consolidated network for voice, video and data, and built-in collaboration features. He said "great" VoIP management tools are available from Avaya and Cisco.

IDC’s recent telecommunications survey indicated that the government, education, and healthcare sectors have the highest penetration of self-implemented IP telephony with 13.9 percent of organizations interviewed in this sector currently using the technology.

Over the next three years, SIP (Session Initiation Protocol ????) is promising to be as disruptive to the traditional telephone systems – and the carriers operating them – as the PC has been to the mainframe over the last two decades, according to IDC.

“VoIP is definitely driving up network management,” he said.

Manage VoIP with applications in mind

IP telephony opens the door to a range of network transparent applications and should therefore be managed with the business benefits in mind, according to Integ’s CEO Ian Poole.

Integ, a services group consisting of business units across cabling, data networking, voice, and applications, works with its customers’ sales and marketing people to determine how IP telephony can help their businesses.

“Nearly all clients want to integrate solutions and IP telephony provides an open platform,” Poole said. “And management will definitely get easier with new tools and software.”

Users of traditional PABX systems wanted to outsource management and changes because telephony was very much a separate box with its own cabling system, Poole said.

“Manage [VoIP] like it’s part of the data network and the internal IT group can manage voice applications as well,” he said.

“Users need to be managed carefully and we ensure organizations are aware of any issues with managing hard and soft phones.”

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