Cisco exec maps out enterprise network convergence

In a keynote here at the Computer Telephony Expo, Cisco Systems vice president of enterprise marketing Peter Alexander traced the impact of the Internet on communications and explored how the convergence of voice and data will usher in a new communications model for businesses.

"Is convergence real? Yes," Alexander said. "Over the next 12 months we will see second-generation client technologies, enhanced networking capabilities, carriers delivering voice and video in the WAN, as well as a broad vendor list supplying application software and client devices."

The Internet is shaking up business climates by driving global competition and deregulation, and by accelerating the pace of change, Alexander said. As a result, core business operations, such as customer care, supply chain management, and employee services, are in a state of flux.

These changes also are impacting communications in all aspects of enterprises, Alexander noted.

The next wave in communications for enterprises, according to Alexander, will be linking the call-center infrastructure and services with the Internet to achieve integrated Web, voice, and messaging applications.

"We are paying a tremendous cost for maintaining the PBX. There are cost and complexity issues that could be mitigated by convergence," Alexander said. "The data network could absorb the voice infrastructure at a tremendous cost advantage."

Putting the pieces of convergence into place relies heavily on adequately preparing today's networks, according to Alexander.

The key requirements for networks to support converged traffic are QoS (quality of service), DSP (digital signal processor) compression, and multicast, Alexander said. In addition, Alexander emphasised that client systems linking to this network must be based on open systems.

QoS is needed to ensure predictable latency for packets carrying voice traffic. One way to achieve this quality, Alexander noted, is by putting packets in priority queues, which can then apply a differentiated class of service for latency-sensitive traffic. Alexander also identified the use of DSP technology to compress voice traffic so it uses less bandwidth.

Multicast technology is important in convergence because it allows a data source signal to be requested across a network. The stream is transmitted across the networks once, and multiple users access the content via a copy from a local LAN switch. Because only one signal is carried for multiple users, the stream uses less bandwidth and does not overwhelm the network, according to Alexander.

This year will mark the arrival of the second generation of IP telephones, which Alexander said will be based on open standards, will provide access to new applications, and will cost less.

One issue with the use of IP phones on the corporate desktop is the current need for a backup power supply in case of a power outage. Alexander said that Cisco is developing technology that will support 48-volt power supply to IP phones over Ethernet cabling without changing the wiring infrastructure.

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