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Five Things You Need To Know About VoIP
Thinking of moving to VoIP, or you've already made the switch? Her are are five things you have to know about VoIP when getting started, or getting up to speed, straight from the expert's mouth.

By Phil Britt / Network Pipeline
February 1, 2006

As you consider how to best use VoIP on your network, there are five important concepts you should keep in mind, according to Jon Arnold, who operates J. Arnold & Associates, a Toronto, Ontario-based VoIP analyst firm.
1. The VoIP-enabled network includes voice and data

"With VoIP, you have to get away from the idea that voice is one thing and data is another," Arnold says. "With VoIP, voice is just another application. The concept of a converged network is a complex beast."

While it might be acceptable to take down a corporate network for maintenance or upgrades, this typically isn't acceptable when voice is included. Voice conversations by their very nature need to be real time. Even a relatively small amount is generally considered to be unacceptable, let alone any full-scale outage of voice communications.

"Voice is real time, data is not," Arnold says.

While network outages are bad enough themselves, particularly as network uptime becomes more mission critical in business operations, business all but comes to a complete stop with of delays or the complete outage of voice communications. So planned network outages need to be scheduled when voice communications aren't needed. Based on the same reasoning, backup systems are more critical once voice is added to the network. Additionally, companies should consider maintaining at least some traditional voice communications capability as a backup.

2. Remember to use new efficiencies By installing VoIP, an enterprise has voice and data running on the same technology, potentially providing significant cost savings. But to maximize those savings, an enterprise needs to eliminate redundancies. The first and foremost is the technology redundancies, like line charges (outside of what might be retained for backup/emergency purposes, as mentioned above), hardware and software systems related to traditional voice, etc.

But another redundancy companies may have after going to VoIP is in staffing. An enterprise with voice and data networks tends to maintain IT staff to handle each because few technicians have expertise in both types of systems, Arnold says. With VoIP, an enterprise no longer needs to employ traditional telecom IT staff. However, any retained IT staff needs to understand voice applications that operate under VoIP.

3. Security is a bigger factor By adding voice applications to the network, an enterprise has another potential "back door" hackers can access for more critical applications and systems. So IT staff has to make sure that all voice applications and VoIP-enabled hardware contain all the virus/spyware/anti-hacker protections as other network systems, including any protections needed specifically for VoIP applications.
"Data firewalls aren't engineered for voice applications," Arnold says. "Some data guys don't understand the nuances of voice, so they don't take the necessary steps to protect it."

4. Consider Scalability and network-readiness VoIP applications require network resources. This becomes an issue if the network is already running near full capacity. It also becomes an issue if the network has common spikes in usage that put it near full capacity. The closer the network gets to capacity, the more potential problems with unacceptable latency in voice applications or with the possibility that the voice applications won't run at all.

One potential way around this is to ensure the network is configured and applications are structured in such a way that voice applications are given priority at peak times. Some consumer-based VoIP systems, for example, provide bandwidth for voice ahead of bandwidth for any other applications.

The other solution to this dilemma is to add more bandwidth. If the network is already near capacity, adding bandwidth is probably a good investment, even if no VoIP applications are planned.

5. VoIP impresses the masses This is more of a small enterprise consideration, but important nevertheless, Arnold says. IT staff tends to want to work with forward-looking companies, ones using the latest technology. Customers and investors similarly tend to want to be involved with firms using the latest technology. Traditional phone service doesn't fit that need. VoIP does.

"VoIP enables smaller companies to look and act more like big companies," Arnold says. "For those companies (large and small) that are publicly traded, showing shareholders that [the enterprise] is using the latest technology tends to keep them happy. You want to show people that you're ahead of the [technology] curve."