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Is VoIP ready for business?

Concerns over robustness and reliability

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Voice communications delivered using IP (VoIP) networks is currently something of a phenomenon. The use of VoIP is rapidly becoming almost as common an occurrence as accessing the internet.

This trend, which originally started with individuals employing the technology to communicate without incurring telephone charges, is now spreading into mainstream business use. However, some IT professionals are expressing concerns over the use of VoIP in business environments.

According to the results of a recent survey, nearly one in two networking professionals have concerns about the general reliability and robustness of VoIP. The survey of 150 UK-based professionals was conducted on behalf of Network Instruments, a supplier of network analysis and monitoring solutions, and the results are intriguing.

Of those taking part, 62 per cent have either implemented VoIP solutions in their organisations or plan so to do within the next year. However, 48 per cent expressed concerns over the robustness and reliability of VoIP as a technology for serious business use. Several specific issues were highlighted, many focusing on the fact that VoIP, unlike many other applications running on the IP infrastructure, can be especially sensitive to packet loss, jitter and, most particularly, any 'excessive' delay in transmission of data.

Thus, of the networking staff questioned, over half were concerned about measuring the quality of service associated with VoIP while one-third believe their companies are lacking in tools to monitor VoIP functionality. These concerns are fully justified. There is no doubt that as VoIP usage increases IT departments will once again find themselves in a position where the monitoring and active management of network traffic will again come to the fore.

About 10 years ago, many organisations expended considerable effort managing the flow of traffic over their voice and IT networks. As bandwidth increased and computer networks became more robust and reliable, the active effort taken to monitor and manage network services tailed off. VoIP and future network-sensitive, and potentially bandwidth hungry, applications are almost certain to again make active network management an essential component of IT daily life.

This is an area where it is clear that organisations and IT professionals need to learn about the capabilities now available in various VoIP management technologies. Various vendors, including, unsurprisingly, Network Instruments, can supply IT administrators with analytic tools capable of monitoring the technical aspects of VoIP traffic and provide information in a format with which IT professionals will be comfortable, rather than in the language of telecommunications engineers. The more sophisticated tools can also help diagnose problems and provide a variety of VoIP service 'quality' metrics.

As VoIP takes an ever stronger hold in business, both as formal business sanctioned infrastructure and with casual personal usage, it will be essential that service quality is managed proactively lest it become a burden on both IT and the business itself.

VoIP has massive potential, but it will demand adequate monitoring and administration. Tools to help ease the management workload will be required and/or the administration of VoIP will be devolved to a managed service provider. VoIP has great potential business benefits, particularly in terms of enabling greater business flexibility but it cannot run itself.

On a final note, it is also interesting to note that the Network Instruments' survey also found that 29 per cent of those questioned had worries concerning the monitoring of call data. The survey alas did not distinguish whether these call monitoring concerns arose from a call security or call administration/resource consumption/chargeback basis. The security of VoIP systems can be an issue, but is addressable when VoIP is brought into governance considerations. VoIP is here to stay for the foreseeable future; are you ready?

Copyright © 2006, IT-Analysis.com

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