Moving to a unified communications (UC) environment is not a one-step operation. There are five potential stages in the process, and they are not all about UC. A sound IT staff and network foundation are preliminary to UC implementation success. VoIP is the cornerstone for unified messaging (UM) and UC. Without VoIP and the connecting IP network, the integration of multiple server platforms, each with a different UC function, would be very difficult. There is a sequence of tasks that lead to UC, as shown in the following timeline.
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Converged IT staff
Many enterprises are planning to move or have moved the telecom function to the IT department to be managed by the CIO. The problem is that most CIOs and IT departments don't know much about voice communications. For the converged IT department to be successful, both the telecom and IT staff needs to be trained in the other's technologies. The cross-training should be vendor independent and should be scheduled before any effort is exerted in moving to VoIP, UM and UC. The cross-training must include all of the staff, since VoIP, UM and UC will be server-, network- and desktop-based functions.
- The telecom staff needs to learn enough about servers and IP networks to appreciate the complexities and nuances of IT systems.
- The server staff will be working with new servers and probably a new operating system (Linux, VxWorks). The server reliability and availability, with appropriate backup configurations, will be more important than the systems that IT manages before moving to VoIP, UM and UC. VoIP is not just another application for the servers.
- The desktop staff will be working with IP hard phones (a new device for both IT and telecom staff) and softphones that will demand high-priority voice applications and reliable operation when compared to the data applications.
- The network engineers will have to deliver a high-performance network with QoS and improved management systems to support VoIP. VoIP training will provide the engineers with the new demands that VoIP will place on the IP network.
- VoIP, UM and UC will require new security measures and will have new security vulnerabilities. The security staff will be working with an ever-increasing number of vulnerabilities that have no real equivalent in data security.
- The data centre manager will have to learn about the operation of real-time applications like VoIP.
Upgrading the IP network
IP networks are typically not prepared to carry VoIP traffic. The LANs will have to be divided into VLANs, separating voice and data traffic. Power over Ethernet will most likely be used to power the IP phones. QoS in the LAN switches should be added. Backup power and UPS will be required in the LAN closets to match the uptime of the legacy PBX being replaced with VoIP/IPT.
Most WANs do not have the bandwidth, QoS, management systems and performance to satisfy the requirements for VoIP. The LANs and WANs need to be evaluated for their performance and reliability, then the necessary upgrades must be implemented before VoIP is turned on. The failure of VoIP is most often caused by inadequate network preparation.
VoIP and IP telephony (IPT) are more than PBX replacement technology. VoIP and IPT are server-based implementations similar to the data implementations already in existence in IT. They rely on IP networks and are supporting the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). The connection to and operation with other servers such as Microsoft's OCS 2007 provide a platform for the delivery of forms of communications other than voice and the integrated user management of these functions and features. VoIP/IPT is the centrepiece that UM and UC are constructed around. Although it is technically possible to move to UM and UC without VoIP/IPT, the vendor community is not offering this approach.
VoIP/IPT already has the voicemail function. Adding email and fax-mail means connecting the VoIP/IPT system to these other servers to deliver UM. Many vendors include UM in their VoIP/IPT offerings, so SIP is not necessary for this integration. However, adding SIP connections allows the enterprise to mix vendors for the most attractive UM solution.
In the tip "Are you confused about unified communications?" which discussed the elements of UC, three approaches for delivering UC were presented:
- Combining most of the UC functionality into one solution with a single broad product offering.
- Taking a portfolio of many communications functions and combining them through a set of shared services.
- Delivering a middleware framework approach that can be used to connect many unrelated and probably multi-vendor UC products.
All of these approaches assume that VoIP/IPT has been implemented as a prerequisite technology. The features and functions that are part of UC may vary among the vendors, but the fundamental requirement of voice transmission operating over an IP network is consistent among the vendors. Therefore, the enterprise has to prepare and implement VoIP/IPT in its migration plan moving to UC.