Companies are constantly being presented with new applications and alternatives for communicating. Desktops and smartphones are crowded with applications for email, voicemail, messaging, conferencing, video and internet. Individually these capabilities are powerful productivity enhancers, and now systems integrators are providing integrated solutions so that calls and messages can reach each user regardless of location or means of connection. Employees can ow retrieve emails, messages and voicemails from a common mailbox via a single sign-on and collaborate with colleagues in any location.
Businesses are rapidly converging their voice and data traffi c onto private IP networks, but many IT consultants have reservations about using VoIP and other UC applications across existing networks, believing the network will not be of a high enough quality to carry both voice and data traffi c satisfactorily. Done properly though, UC and existing data network services can co-exist in harmony.
Quality of service
A network design based on ethernet switches and routers that support quality of service (QoS) standards on both the LAN and WAN can provide consistent high performance. With the right QoS technology, voice packets can be given priority in queuing, with data packets getting ‘weighted fair queuing’ where data is prioritised differently to meet specific requirements, without affecting audio packet quality.
In addition to this, using IP telephones, gateways and servers with QoS features will assist in achieving smooth voice transmission over links with patchy or no QoS (for example, ADSL). These endpoints within the solution can mark packets, to give the network the ability to recognise the information and use the correct level of prioritisation.
The use of virtual LANs (VLANs) can separate voice traffi c from other traffi c, particularly broadcast-intensive applications, and this will keep the quality high and adds a level of security because the UC applications and appliances appear to be on a separate network to PCs and servers.
Monitoring the network
Software analysis and diagnostic tools can help the network manager to maintain a highquality network. There are new software management tools specifi cally designed for enhancing diagnostics and performance analysis for UC networks using equipment in single or multiple networks. Network management tools can give the network manager visibility in to the UC network, and help them to understand and troubleshoot the service as it is being used – especially when diagnosing problems on mixedvendor networks.
Implementing performance monitoring and analysis tools is a useful way to warn the network manager of impending servicelevel failures. These performance monitoring tools can monitor for delay, jitter and packet loss.
Is it secure?
UC is a set of applications that exists on top of a data network that has (usually) already been deployed, and most people assume that a company’s existingsecurity devices and applications will provide adequate protection.
However, processing voice, video and presence services, by their very nature, connect to a variety of networks and run many standardised protocols that knowledgeable attackers can exploit.
A unifi ed system, while being more convenient and easier to use, also provides attackers with a larger attack surface that contains multiple points of vulnerability. Just as networked computers are more vulnerable to hackers, denial of service and eavesdropping attacks than stand-alone systems, unifi ed communications systems allow for the spread of attacks more readily than do stand-alone communications systems.
At the very least, firewalls should be ‘application aware’. A firewall that permits or denies applications based upon a set of rules such as source and destination IP address and port number is no longer enough. The performance of security devices needs to be assessed too. If real-time IP voice traffi c is passing through a security device, that device will have to be able to deal with latency and jitter.
Power to the desktop
For desktop IP phones, power over Ethernet (PoE) technology saves the time and cost of installing separate power cabling and air conditioning outlets in new installations. It is also a far more elegant way to provide power than having yet another power pack to fi nd a power jack for. But the most important argument for using PoE is that it eliminates the need for a dedicated UPS for individual VoIP devices connected to the Ethernet. With a single UPS conveniently placed at the PoE source, it is possible to continue using IP telephones in the event of a power failure.
Deploying managed power over Ethernet switches also allows administrators to remotely power on and off, and to power recycle end devices such as IP phones via a web browser.
Get your base right
Integrating a unifi ed communications solution with business processes can improve business operations, reduce labour costs and enhance the way that work gets done. But you need to make intelligent decisions about deploying a converged data network and unified communications solution for your customers. And it needs to start with the right network infrastructure.