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May 22, 2009

Deploying VoIP on the LAN: Cross-Training In-house Teams Saves Time, Support Costs

By Patrick Barnard, Senior Web Editor, TMCnet


A new era in telecommunications has exploded with the adoption of Voice over IP (VoIP), third generation (3G) mobile, and next-generation voice and data services. Telecom is undergoing a series of radical changes due to the ongoing convergence of telephony and Internet Protocol networks.
 
But deploying an IP PBX (News - Alert) or managed voice service over an existing LAN comes with challenges. Every LAN is different: Most use a mix of network topologies and vendor environments. Furthermore, every LAN is used differently – some companies may feel, after initial readiness testing, that the LAN is up to carrying voice. But after they layer VoIP on the network, they discover that QoS issues present themselves, especially when network traffic peaks.  

IP phone system makers continue to strive for ease of deployment in all of their products, with many now sporting network readiness and other troubleshooting out-of-the-box tools to help make installation and set up much easier. Companies are now discovering that their IT teams can handle these migrations in house, with little to no support from third party system integrators, provided that the team has received the proper cross-training. Many companies are finding that cross-training employees in both voice and data systems can actually save money in the long run by reducing or eliminating the need for third party support. What’s more, they’re finding they achieve faster response times with in house support.
 
Engineers are all-to-often unprepared for the dual networking and telephony challenges they’ll face when supporting the interoperability of the network. While millions are spent on Voice over IP equipment, the requisite engineering experience crucial to a massive project’s success may be lacking.
 
Cross-training in networking fundamentals, TCP/IP, telecommunication fundamentals, Voice of IP, and convergence may sound like a tall order for a company’s engineers. But, the benefits from a systematic approach to training and skill development can be significant. When both voice and data personnel understand the interoperability of the network, troubleshooting a problem takes less time. Minimizing or eliminating the risk of outages can save the company money and preserve customer satisfaction.
 
According to the RCCSP Professional Education Alliance, a horizontal industry alliance of 32 professional training companies, the key to success lies in cross-training the entire team within one coordinated training and certification curriculum. RCCSP maintains that coordinated training paths result in the use of common language and terminology, a shared plan for execution, and standardized best practices – results that can bring two diverse voice and data teams into one cohesive convergence team.
 
For companies looking to migrate to IP communications, RCCSP recommends PlanPlus, a training and career development series that brings engineers from many backgrounds up to speed. The entire series offers a whopping 230 hours of training that can be taken one week at a time throughout the year. Courses are offered year-round in cities across the US. Team members can attend a few at a time, minimizing the impact of training time on service levels.
 
The PlanPlus training path includes six 1-week courses:
 

“PlanPlus is a planned, progressive learning path that can be tailored for each individual. Team members select the training courses they need to compliment existing skills,” explains Nina Kawalek, President and CEO of RCCSP. “Each course prepares participants for what’s to come further along the path. There’s a logical flow to the presentation of concepts, skills and hands-on practice labs.” 
 
The series begins with “Networking Fundamentals”, a broad-based course that moves step-by-step through the basics of data networking, practicing in a hands-on environment with leading-edge technologies from Cisco, Juniper, ADTRAN, HP, Dell, and Microsoft (News - Alert). Attendees learn basic network functions, standards, and protocols, and prepare to tackle advanced networking skills.
 
In “TCP/IP Networking,” students gain the essential knowledge and skills required to set up, configure, support, and troubleshoot TCP/IP-based networks. They leave with a solid understanding of how each of the TCP/IP protocols works, giving them the ability to deploy the most effective type of network for the organization.
 
Telecommunication Fundamentals” covers the current telecom landscape and how voice is migrating from a circuit- to a packet-switched network. Attendees learn how to evaluate existing technology options to determine which will best meet organizational data and telephony requirements, from mature digital transport/access services to emerging voice and data services using voice over packet technologies. With the technology, marketplace, and regulatory structure of telecommunications are in a continuous state of transition, this course ensures that engineers fully understand the service options available to the organization and how voice technologies integrate into existing data networks.
 
In the fourth course of the series, “Voice Over IP Foundations”, engineers discover how and why Voice over IP works, why VoIP works, and how to use VoIP. The one-week course involves completion of 32 hands-on lab exercises featuring the latest VoIP software, ensuring that learning curve mistakes are made and corrected in a controlled lab rather than the company’s live environment. On the very first day, attendees configure an IP network using Cisco (News - Alert) routers and switches, learning IP fundamentals that make VoIP easier to understand. The remaining four days focus on VoIP and IP telephony. In the skills-building labs, attendees gain proficiency with some of the most popular VoIP software and hardware, such as Wireshark, trixbox (formerly Asterisk@Home), Linksys (News - Alert) Ethernet phone, SIP-based ATA, and SIP-based Server and PBX products from Brekeke Software, Inc.
 
In “VoIP Implementation Project Management,” engineers focus on practical tools and techniques as they spend 75 percent of the training course working on a VoIP project from initiation to close. Participants learn the project management framework of initiation, planning, execution, control and formal closing. Working individually and in teams, attendees write objectives, conduct stakeholder analyses, and develop a work breakdown structure and risk management plan for a case study project. They also practice estimation techniques, dependency analysis, and network diagramming.

For those who want to earn certification credentials, a “Convergence Technologies Professional (CTP) Certification” preparatory course completes the series. This five-day, comprehensive review of learned and practiced skills and techniques prepares attendees for the Convergence Technologies Professional (CTP) certification exam. CTP certification is the largest vendor-neutral convergence certification program. It is recognized as the official convergence program of the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA (News - Alert)) and approved by top communications technology manufacturers, including Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, Toshiba, and Mitel.

Multi-vendor equipment is utilized in hands-on classroom labs throughout the series to maintains vendor-independence. “Outside vendor-provided product training is valuable, especially for single-vendor solutions. But, to deal with today’s multi-product and sometimes transitioning solutions, people need a solid understanding of multi-vendor product interoperability,” adds Kawalek. “Generally accepted industry concepts and vendor-independent terms are used throughout the series. Companies have seen their teams’ communications improve as a result.”

Only recently have companies revived projects that were previously postponed or scrapped due to economic belt tightening, including upgrades to communications networks. “A 20 percent savings plan was added to the PlanPlus program last year in response to the economic downturn,” says Kawalek. “Only now are we beginning to see training and travel budgets free up.” Even so, the savings program has become so attractive, the 20 percent discount will stay, she adds.

Patrick Barnard is a contributing writer for TMCnet. To read more of Patrick’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard




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