Break Through Your Biggest VoIP Roadblocks

VoIP can have big paybacks...or it can be a money pit. Hre's how to make sure your VoIP deployment goes as smoothly as possible.

June 14, 2005

4 Min Read
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You have the software and the voice over IP (VoIP) switches. You have the cool phones that plug into the RJ-45 Ethernet jack on the wall. Everything is set to propel your business into the world of telephony for the 21st century...

But it doesn't quite work.

Info-Tech Research analyst George Goodall says that enterprises often run headlong into unanticipated obstacles in their VoIP deployments; the best way to deal with them, he says, is to anticipate them in the first place. "In fact, the first question to ask is whether this is something you want to do now, or not," he says.

Indeed, the first big obstacle that many organizations face is a disconnect between upper management and the people who have to implement the new system. "The decision to deploy VoIP is often driven by the CEO, who says 'This is really great technology, let's go for it,'" he says. "But your PBX (private branch exchange) might be working fine and the deployment, rather than making things better, turns into a big disruption."

There's no way to make a VoIP deployment easy and painless, whatever the vendors say. If the technology solves real problems and adds real functionality, then the pain is worth it; if it does not, then the whole project will be a disaster. The problem comes when C-level executives demand improvements over the existing system that the IT department can't deliver, because the old system works fine."A whole lot of organizations upgraded their PBXs for Y2K," Goodall says. That means they're only half way through their projected ten-to-fifteen-year lifecycles."

The disconnect between the boardroom and the IT pit can be particularly problematic when the latter just doesn't have the expertise to pull off a successful voice migration. Until the advent of IP telephony, after all, the phones were all typically managed by one department, and the data networks by another. Without voice expertise in IT, a VoIP deployment is, to put it simply, a fine recipe for trouble.

"IT often says 'We do data just fine; how hard can VoIP be?" Goodall says. The answer is that it can be very difficult, indeed. The problem, he says is that, even though VoIP allows organizations to transmit voice over a single data infrastructure, it is not "just data." The big question begged by every deployment, Goodall says, is how much is adding voice to the data network going to stress the network?

"This is important, because if you have congestion on the Web or with e-mail, you can deal with it." he says. "People are usually able to sit tight and wait for the mail to come back up, but if the phones go down, or if you get constant delay and jitter in you voice connections, that's another issue entirely."

The place where many VoIP deployments hit a bottleneck is on the network itself. You had better be sure it can take the load before you add it. "Organizations often forget that they have to start with a rigorous analysis of the network infrastructure and know where the bottlenecks are," Goodall says. "That invariably leads to problems. Networks have grown organically, and organizations don't always run the hardcore applications that really stress them. But VoIP will stress a network."

As a result, companies that pursue a rip-and-replace, all-at-once deployment strategy often find themselves hitting a brick wall. As promising as VoIP might be, the bottom line, Goodall says, is that a successful deployment should be approached as a multiyear proposition. At the other end of the disconnect between the boardroom and the IT department are the IT professionals whose job is to make sure everything runs smoothly and who know that there will be Hell to pay if it doesn't."You get a situation where IT departments are risk-phobic and say 'we've got to go slow," he says. "But then you get a C-level pusher trying to get everything moving faster. A C-level executive might take the Skype hype seriously, and buy into the whole idea of toll bypass, when the real savings are actually contained in four walls. But you won't see that if you don't take the time to plan and implement carefully."

Those savings can only be realized after factoring in the cost of infrastructure upgrades, and Goodall notes that if the implementation requires some level-3 switching equipment, that cost can ramp up considerably. Without that in mind, there is a real danger of a VoIP hangover and, that could be, like the e-commerce hangover of a couple of years ago, the biggest obstacle to a successful VoIP deployment.

Once committed, of course, there can be no going back, but the commitment has to pay dividends. "When the big-bang deployment fails, it fails dramatically," Goodall says. "Even if you have to live with your decisions, you could be soured on the whole thing. And when that happens, you have to wonder why you went down that road in the first place."

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