A unified world

3Com Australia's Andrew Hindmarch ponders how unified communications will develop in 2008.

The research firm AMI-Partners predicts the debut of unified communications appliances that integrate triple play convergence plus security and mobility for the SMB segment in 2008. While VoIP is indeed a disruptive technology, the important trend to note is that the industry focus is now on unified communications that VoIP is enabling.

Customers will move beyond using VoIP to save costs towards new services that change how employees collaborate and communicate. Therefore, internal IT departments and external service providers need to think about how to create a partner and technology ecosystem that can offer a dynamic range of services.

This is where the value of open network service architectures like the 3Com Open Services Networking or OSN becomes relevant as it allows enterprises and service providers to creatively mix and match open source-based unified communications solutions into the network. Besides, low-cost platforms like OSN applied to unified communications offer the flexibility to change, upgrade and add services as the need arises.

One challenge that has emerged in relation to unified communications is how it will impact existing data applications running on the network. Again, this is where an open services layer can allow network managers to integrate bandwidth control, monitoring and application prioritisation solutions.

One of the most exciting new applications that benefit from running on IP-based networks is IP video surveillance. Today's video surveillance over IP solutions offer significant performance, cost and functionality improvements over older analog CATV systems and these IP video solutions are now taking centre stage due to the current global security climate.

Multi-terabyte storage and bandwidth are not longer cost-prohibitive and this is driving the large-scale deployment of IP surveillance networks. For example, locations in China are already using 3Com's low-cost ethernet passive optical networks (EPON) to monitor long stretches of highway in order to keep the roads safer for motorists. The monitoring is integrated into the EPON IP-based network and storage systems and surveillance applications.

Besides IP video surveillance, technologies like SOA, grids, utility and on-demand computing are increasing the need for storage. The concept of tape backup is slowly fading as optical storage solutions like DVDs can already store several gigabytes of data that can be read instantly without having to wind through a tape.

And rather than just thinking about backup, storage today is about being able to access historical data at any time in order to analyse it and draw business or forensic trends from it. While applications like web, email, online transaction processing, decision support systems, filing and regulatory compliance are important drivers of storage demand, the main driver for large volume storage will be video.

As a case in point, 3Com is a networking company and does not create storage solutions as a dedicated business, but our IP video surveillance solutions require high volume online storage to be tightly integrated. Therefore, we developed the solutions because none existed that would meet the challenge. 3Com has applied for 40 patents on IP storage with an average of five new patent applications filed every month.

Another trend is supporting multiple storage protocols. For example, the definition of IP storage is not restricted to iSCSI or NAS technology, nor does it favour any one protocol. Tomorrow's storage managers must be able to seamlessly integrate storage into the IP network as a solution designed to provide storage resources and data management services.

This must be IP based and integrated with emerging technologies such as 10Gigabit Ethernet, grid computing, virtualisation, replication and mirroring, continuous data protection, and storage WANs.

Nationwide broadband networks are sprouting up all over Asia with the general goal of driving fibre to every end point and enabling gigabit speeds. For example, Singapore is planning to have an island-wide gigabit network by 2012. In most cases, a mix of two main technologies will enable these deployments, namely metro ethernet and EPON.

One example of a metro ethernet deployment is Paneagle Communications, an ISP in Malaysia that has recently participated in the country's first nationwide metro ethernet project. Built on an extensive fibre-optic cable infrastructure along the railway and gas corridors, the network stretches from north to south of the Malay Peninsula and passes through almost all major Malaysian towns. Paneagle's metro ethernet network uses 3Com's 10Gigabit Ethernet switches and is designed to support data, voice and video communications as well as security features like VPN for business users.

An example of the best use of EPON is when it is used to link IP video cameras over long distances on highways in China for traffic jams and accidents monitoring. EPON networks fully utilise or lease the existing IP metro network with no additional deployment cost.

Hindmarch is the senior network consultant for 3Com Australia.


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