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September 2007 | Volume 10 / Nuber 9
The VoIP Authority

Speaking with 3Com’s Brian Allain

A while back I had the opportunity to interview Brian Allain, Vice President and General Manager of 3Com’s Data and Voice Business Unit. The conversation ranged to include a wide variety of topics, and the results of that discussion appear below.

GG: In your view, besides cost savings what are some of the drivers fueling the growth of IP-based enterprise communications solutions?

BA: In addition to cost, there are two other major drivers behind IP telephony. First, even the traditional circuit-switched PBX vendors are putting all their investment into VoIP systems. So if a customer purchases non-VoIP systems it is buying equipment that is soon to be obsolete. Second, customers realize that IP Communications technology can more easily and effectively integrate with their business applications to provide productivity improvements.

GG: What is the importance of doing a network audit, to determine if an enterprise LAN is capable of supporting real-time applications such as VoIP?

BA: Performing an audit is essential because often times an older LAN does not have the QoS, security, or power capabilities required to support an enterprise grade telephony system. For instance, 3Com’s switches can automatically detect if a phone has been plugged into one of their ports and set up the appropriate VLAN and QoS attributes for that traffic.

GG: What is 3Com doing in this space these days? What products do you currently offer, and what markets do you address with your product line?

BA: 3Com has a wide range of Voice and Voice-Ready Networking products. Our voice products center on our VCX IP PBX system for enterprises and our NBX IP PBX system for small and medium businesses. Both of these award-winning systems come with a complete set of applications, phones, gateways, and other products, and offer their own unique set of

differentiated features.

The biggest benefit of buying 3Com is we have full Voice-Ready Solutions. This means we not only provide the voice components but we also provide voice-ready, Power-over-Ethernet switches and routers, VoIP security products, voice-ready WLAN switches and access points, and network management systems to support the entire solution - all pre-tested and pre-integrated by 3Com. So both the end customer and the channel partner can have confidence that the entire system works together as needed.

GG: Are current data security solutions enough to secure VoIP? I mean, voice is just another application on the LAN, isn’t it?

BA: It is always difficult to say that one has “enough” security. With VoIP, security has often been largely neglected by many customers - and it is a constantly-evolving landscape. This is why 3Com’s TippingPoint division founded the VoIP Security Alliance (VoIPSA) and holds a leadership position in the identification and prevention of VoIP-specific attacks. Our Digital Vaccine service offers best-in-class responsiveness and protection for newly identified vulnerabilities.

GG: How can organizations power IP phones and other devices on their networks, and will this create complex additional wiring and electrical issues?

BA: IP phones can be powered “in-line” using a network switch and twisted pair cabling that supports the 802.3af standard - commonly known as Power-over-Ethernet or PoE. Organizations should first ensure they have the cable infrastructure necessary to implement. Although the specification calls for Cat 3 and above, typically higher-end Cat 5, Cat 5e or Cat 6 is recommended.

A second issue is power management. The list of devices that utilize the PoE standard is long and growing (including IP phones, wireless access points and wireless cameras), and many network switches have a maximum draw that precludes using a PoE device on every port. Customers should ensure they use a network switch which delivers a full 15.4 watts of power on every port to support whatever device is plugged into that port.

To cope with situations where the maximum power is not available for all ports for example, in a 48-port PoE switch, 3Com’s unique “PoE Profile” technology ensures the available power can be carefully managed. PoE devices can have exactly the power they need reserved on the switch and relative priorities can be set to ensure overpower conflicts are resolved gracefully. This is known as power management and has typically been resigned to higher-end network switches. But it is now available even to the SMB on, for example, the 3Com Unified Gigabit Wireless Switch. Also of note, for the organization not yet ready to move to a PoE infrastructure, 3Com IP phones can be powered locally through a power brick, giving the customer maximum flexibility.

GG: What else can you tell our readers about the future of the enterprise IP Communications market?

BA: We believe the rate of innovation and change in the enterprise communications market is accelerating once again. Just as the initial introduction of VoIP systems caused a major transition, we are now seeing the introduction of Unified Communications causing another major transition. With the integration of telephony - really communications more generally - into business applications, we are seeing new vendors play a major role - as with 3Com’s strategic partnership with IBM that offers an IP telephony solution the on System i platform. We are also seeing purchasing influence grow from the telecom manager to also include the network manager and the applications manager. We will also see “Convergence” take on a deeper meaning, with voice, data, and security products melding into one. IT

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