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Successful IP Communications Starts With The Basics

By Kathryn Robinson


A growing number of organizations are deploying Internet Protocol (IP)-based communications solutions to reduce their long-term operational expenses, improve efficiency, increase employee productivity, and differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Their objective is to take advantage of new integrated communications capabilities that combine speech, video, and e-mail (or text messaging) over an IP infrastructure to support any mode of communication anytime, anywhere.

While IP communications offers tremendous business benefits, converging voice, video, and data on a single network requires a structured approach for implementation, just like any other effort to integrate applications and systems. Moreover, organizations must pay careful attention to the implications that an IP deployment could have on operational processes, organizational structures, telecommunications carriers, and outsource (or out-task) partners.

If youre planning an IP deployment, steps taken early on will put your team on a path to success. Careful consideration during the planning cycle simplifies deployment, increases customer satisfaction during and after the migration, and makes for a smoother transition between implementation and post-implementation operations.

Approach IP communications systematically
A lifecycle-services approach offers a systematic way to deploy IP communications and mitigate risk. Not only does such an approach allow you to build a platform for achieving your short-term objectives, but you can also use it as the communications application evolves to meet your business requirements and enhance enterprise productivity. Through adherence to best practices and methodologies, the lifecycle-services model provides a clear roadmap for each critical step in the technology lifecycle: prepare, plan, design, implement, operate, and optimize.

A lifecycle approach puts enterprises on track to achieving the greatest success in the shortest time. It also helps lower deployment costs and enables a quicker return on investment.

Within the lifecycle-services model, infrastructure and operational readiness require special emphasis, but they are often overlooked as enterprises begin their migration to IP communications. Determining readiness requires an assessment of and, in some cases, modifications to the existing IP infrastructure and operational processes, skills, and tools. Elements of the infrastructure and operational assessments occur during the preparing, planning, and designing phases.

Evaluate the readiness of your existing infrastructure
Early in the process, youll need to evaluate your existing network infrastructure to determine if it is ready to support IP communications. Its critical to understand the impact of voice call flows on your network and determine if the IP infrastructure requires greater levels of survivability, security, availability, or capacity to support that traffic. Moreover, voice and video traffic require the network to support quality of service (QoS) parameters to avoid jitter and excessive delay, which may occur when voice and video traffic converge with data traffic.

A critical first step is to evaluate availability across your enterprises network architecture. Youll need to determine if there are any points of failure in your network and assess redundancy and availability requirements of the new voice traffic on the IP network. Eliminating points of failure requires close scrutiny of the entire network infrastructure, a task that paid off for a major financial services company. A thorough examination of its infrastructure exposed serious weaknesses in availability, putting elements of critical data applications at risk. This evaluation not only aided in the success of the IP communications project, but also exposed existing risks that, if not discovered, could have been very costly.

Do you have backup power in the event of an outage or emergency? Backup power is much more important for networks carrying voice than those supporting only data.

Are there any incompatibilities among servers or devices? If so, youll need to configure your switches and routers to match the requirements of the IP communications solution.

What impact will the IP communications solution have on existing network applications and services? How will the new solution function on the network?

Does your infrastructure have sufficient bandwidth to support voice traffic during peak periods? If not, youll need to add the necessary resources. Whereas in traditional voice networks, users get a busy signal when circuits arent available, an IP communications network continues to accept all calls, but voice quality can be degraded. Taking advantage of infrastructure features such as call admission control techniques can help avoid these issues.

Does your infrastructure implement class of service (CoS) or QoS technologies on its switches and routers? If not, youll need to correct this in order to prevent large file transfers from degrading the quality of voice transmission. Its equally important to monitor and review QoS regularly. An East Coast utility company experienced problems when it failed to routinely monitor QoS queues for congestion. Within a period of six months, increased traffic across core wide area network (WAN) links changed queue size requirements, causing intermittent outages of voice control traffic due to the loss of keepalive packets.

As you evaluate your network infrastructure, take a holistic approach: Base your assessment on the readiness of the entire infrastructure, not just parts of it.

Assess operational readiness
Even when enterprises focus on planning and implementation, they often neglect to adequately assess their operational readiness. As a result, issues of operational effectiveness can arise after implementation, which will have a dramatic effect on the users experience with the new solution. Therefore, early in the planning phase, its important to evaluate your operational environment to determine if there are procedures that must be modified (or added) to meet telephony and business requirements.

Most operational environments are not inherently ready for an IP communications solution. A network must meet many requirements to be considered operationally ready to support voice services.

When converging voice onto an IP network, youll need to determine if your existing operational environment is able to:

Rapidly detect, isolate, troubleshoot, and resolve telephony problems.
Pinpoint performance problems such as excessive latency, abnormal jitter, packet loss, and lack of bandwidth.
Gather and store configurations from network devices.
Monitor network trends such as capacity and reliability metrics.
Gather usage statistics and bill for network services.
Protect the network against unauthorized users and physical and electronic sabotage.

Establish organizational alignment with key stakeholders
Most companies delivering traditional circuit-based voice on private branch exchange (PBX) devices have two networks: one for voice, the other for data. As these networks converge, realigned organizations must work together to deliver high-quality IP-based voice services. Meeting this objective is easier if you establish a clear vision, enabling everyone to work toward a shared goal.

Establishing organizational alignment is absolutely crucial; it can make or break a deployment project. Therefore, you will need to form cross-functional teams consisting of key stakeholders that include executives and end users as well as specialists from support, engineering, and finance. Early buy-in from the cross-functional team strengthens organization-wide support for the goal and makes for more effective individual leadership.

A multinational financial services firm discovered the advantages of establishing organizational alignment and assessing its operational capabilities for supporting voice services. First, the firm identified key areas in which its voice support organization was particularly adept at interacting with business end users. After evaluating the technical skills, processes, and tools of its voice, data network, and information technology (IT) operations teams, the firm identified key areas that would require the teams to work closely on operational issues. Based on the assessments, the firm consolidated its voice, data, and IT operations staffs into two groups: one for network infrastructure services, and the other for IP communications applications. Working together, these teams deliver and support voice services more efficiently and effectively than before.

Integrating voice and data on an IP infrastructure will create new tasks and responsibilities. To avoid confusion and finger pointing, teams must clearly understand their roles. In the world of IP, thats not always obvious. For example, a PBX device can be considered a computer or an IP voice appliance. As a result, it may not be clear who is responsible for managing it. In an actual case, a small company that failed to clarify responsibilities for managing voice servers couldnt restore its database after an outage because it hadnt assigned a team to back it up.

Develop staff expertise
Dont underestimate the effort required to get your staff ready to effectively manage an IP communications deployment. Although your staff may insist that it has the expertise, it probably doesnt.

Therefore, its prudent to build a solid technical foundation for the entire team, establishing repeatable processes, a knowledge repository, and best practices to avoid reliance on one or two individuals. This approach will help neutralize the effects of employee turnover, especially of highly experienced IP specialists, who are in great demand.

As you build your team, make sure it includes project management expertise. Since IP communications solutions are often deployed in phases, these specialists play a vital role in ensuring that each phase, as well as the entire project, meets both business and technical requirements.

Migrating to IP communications will be particularly challenging for personnel from the traditional voice network environment. Theyll need to understand the basics of networking, learn to troubleshoot problems in the IP network, and manage IP communication components. In addition to training, pilot testing offers an excellent opportunity to gain IP technology experience and develop comfort with the new solution.

Acquire the right tools
To maintain the highest level of performance and availability of your IP communications solution, its crucial to invest in the right set of tools. Base your choice on tools with proven stability, robustness, and scalability.

Fault and performance management must be the primary drivers for tool selection. The tool set must provide a service level view of the entire IP communications infrastructure, including gateways, IP PBX server clusters, unified messaging services, and contact center solutions. It also should be able to correlate multiple and seemingly disparate events to a root cause and point out the overall impact to the service. For performance management, your tool set must be able to perform trend analysis on key IP communications performance indicators such as latency, jitter, and packet loss. In addition, it must be equipped with reporting capabilities to report on IT service-level agreements.

Finally, make sure that the tool set can be integrated with current centralized fault console and ticketing systems. This will not only facilitate standardization, but also help your voice operations group embrace operational procedures.

IP popularity driven by tactical and strategic advantages
IP communications is growing in popularity because of the tactical and strategic advantages it brings to the enterprise. This enabling technology fosters better customer relations and more productive employees through applications such as unified messaging, advanced call center solutions, and voice and video conferencing.

If youre planning to deploy an IP communications solution, remember that success starts with the basics. Adopt a systematic approach, involve key stakeholders early on, build an in-house team of IP experts not dependent on one or two individuals, and determine if your operational environment and existing network infrastructure are ready for IP communications. The time you invest upfront will pay dividends down the road. IT

Three Steps For Success

Establish a technology vision and business case
Create a high-level conceptual architecture


Create a project plan
Verify customer requirements
Develop solution requirements
Assess network readiness
Assess operational readiness
Assess site readiness

Develop a detailed design
Create a staff training plan
Develop a network implementation plan
Develop a certification test plan
Develop a site-specific network implementation plan

Kathryn Robinson is senior director of Cisco Systems IP Communications Services Practice. For more information, please visit (news - alerts).

If you are interested in purchasing reprints of this article (in either print or PDF format), please visit Reprint Management Services online at or contact a representative via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 800-290-5460.


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