Enterprise communications systems are changing rapidly, in ways that are almost certain to disrupt your network. In the past, communications systems lived on their own TDM (time-division multiplexing) networks, connecting proprietary desktop phones via twisted copper pairs within the enterprise and out to the public switched telephone network. The maximum bandwidth per user was limited to 64 kbps, the fixed rate for one voice channel in that TDM network.
Well, that architecture so yesterday! Today, the individual user can conduct real-time audio, video and document sharing sessions that can range up to 8 Mbps of Internet Protocol packets per user. What's more, that bandwidth wants to carve out a prioritized share of the LAN and WAN capacity. This may not be noticeable on a Gigabit Ethernet LAN, but it can overwhelm the existing data connection to a remote site or branch office.
In addition, since this is real-time communications, the users will want prioritized classes of service and will want the routers to support Power over Ethernet (PoE) for every telephone, and battery power for the edge routers.
But wait, it gets more disruptive. Because users are being taught to use real-time communications on their mobile devices, by everyone from ATT, Verizon and Sprint to Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Netflix, they want to do all this communicating from their smartphones and tablets -- on your enterprise wireless LAN and WAN. The access points and backhaul bandwidth of your current Wi-Fi network is due to be flooded past its capacity by this shift in user preferences for communications modes (e.g. voice to video) and devices (e.g. desk phones to mobile devices).
If that's not enough, then why not throw in cloud options for enterprise communications as well. It's all the rage to consider moving communications to the cloud, whether that's just a hosted instance of on-premises communications brands, or any number of new cloud-based options. This move to the cloud might cut communications-based enterprise WAN bandwidth in half; or it might increase it by 50%, depending on whether the users are primarily off-site or on-site when communicating.
Does this sound like a familiar scenario? One place for information about what happening, along with education on how to cope, is the annual Enterprise Connect 2014show in Orlando, March 17 to 20. For decades, this show (formerly called VoiceCon) has been the gathering spot for several thousand enterprise technical managers, engineers, architects and strategists. They are served by a four-day program that covers the full range changes in enterprise communications and networking via keynotes, general sessions, breakouts, exhibitions and -- of course -- lots of interaction and socialization.
This year, the three keynote speakers are from companies that represent three major forces in this industry.
- Avaya (formerly Lucent and AT&T enterprise divisions) represents the incumbents -- those who invented telephony and have the lion's share of the installed base of voice systems.
- Cisco represents the drive to convert all forms of communication into Internet packets to increase usage of and demand for their networks. By most metrics, Cisco has passed the telephony incumbents in current year shipment, so it will become an increasing share of the enterprise communications systems installed base. Cisco is the "video everywhere and for everything" company and accordingly puts cameras and displays into everything, including desk phones.
- Microsoft sees communications as a software application and potentially built into every business application we use, starting with Outlook and Office. They're right, it is a software application, but it sure uses bandwidth and certainly runs on almost any computing device, including tablets and smartphones. By the way, Microsoft is gaining share, too, so this is a third vector for network disruption.
In addition to these keynotes and all the exhibits, you will find a rich conference programthat covers a range of network considerations. There are sessions on video bandwidth usage; SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) trunks to connect IP communications to the network; all sorts of gateways, appliances and session border controllers (SBCs) to connect communications systems into the LAN and WAN; trends, bandwidth and network solutions for BYOD; and options for using SDN to manage all this new bandwidth dynamically rather than on a fixed, peakload-based network architecture.
Communications disruptions are real, so it's best to stay ahead of the digital, software and device transformation in this sector. The Orlando forecast is for highs in the 70s and 80s, so don't miss the chance to escape from the cold if you're tired of winter weather.
Marty Parker, Principal and co-founder of UniComm Consulting, has more than three decades of experience with computing and communications technologies. He has been a leader in strategic planning and product line management for IBM, AT&T, Lucent, and Avaya. Now, as ... View Full Bio