IP is at the heart of projects to get voice and data travelling over the same networks, writes Nick Langley
What is it?
Internet Protocol (IP) has become the prevailing inter-networking standard because it is cheap, ubiquitous and universally recognised. It can run unchanged over existing local and wide area network infrastructures.
IP can carry voice as well as data, encouraging firms to believe they can combine existing voice and data networks on a single infrastructure - so-called convergence - with huge savings in installation, upgrade and management costs. As data overtakes voice as the dominant traffic on public networks, telecoms companies are planning to migrate to IP.
There are implications for anyone who works in networking. The boundary between the voice and data departments is vanishing, and each will have to learn the other's skills. But, while the assumption is that telecoms people have the most catching up to do, people from the data side may face the biggest cultural change.
What is it for?
IP is responsible for moving packets of data from node to node, and TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) for verifying that packets are delivered to the right system intact and in the right order.
Where did it originate?
TCP and IP are two elements of the Internet protocol suite that originated with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) in the 1970s. Darpa sponsored Stanford University and Bolt, Beranek and Newman to develop the suite. TCP/IP entered the public domain when it was included in Berkeley Software Distribution Unix.
What makes it special?
TCP/IP is now universal, bolted onto every operating system. It is central to the strategies both of computer companies such as IBM, and communications companies like Cisco and Nortel.
How difficult is it?
The concepts are very simple. But, as they take on responsibility for voice, data networking staff will have to get to grips with a new way of looking at acceptable network performance and concepts of traffic engineering. Quality of service is as important as uptime for time-dependent traffic such as voice and live video. The killer for these applications is delay, and worse, variable delay.
Where is it used?
In local and wide area networks and increasingly in telecoms networks.
Don't assume that
Getting your business an IP address will automatically lead to an IPO (initial public offering).
The dotcom sector has learned the hard way that
IP addresses may be longer than telephone numbers but don't automatically translate into larger sums of money.
What's coming up?
Converged voice and data services such as Internet-based call centres.
Rates of pay
Systems developer £32,905
Senior analyst programmer £37,000
TCP/IP training is on offer from suppliers of networking products and their training partners, such as Cisco specialist GeoTrain, Novell's authorised education centres and Microsoft's certified technical education centres. IP training forms part of many Internet and Webmaster courses.
There is also plenty of free TCP/IP course material on the Internet, but be warned - much of it is seriously out of date. However, it is still good for understanding the basics.
www.newhorizons.com: 0171-684 2000;
www.knowledge-centre.co.uk: 01252-715155; .