The transition of businesses to economical IP-based (Internet Protocol) telephony historically came with a prerequisite of substantial network engineering. Many on-premise IP-PBX (Internet Protocol-Private Branch Exchange) devices were available, but before they could work effectively, a business had to buy and configure routers, firewalls, switches and more to make sure the network could handle voice traffic.
Moreover, during the past 10 years, nearly every business has saved extensively on travel and marketing costs by using video-conferencing. Yet live video traffic further stresses network hardware and bandwidth.
Web applications like email and SaaS-based ERP, CRM and other business applications don’t require a lot of bandwidth. But running voice and video traffic on a single, IP-based network with multiple real time applications is now commonplace. Unfortunately, businesses too often expand their networks piecemeal, in reaction to new application and performance issues identified by employees and customers.
More Network Challenges are Coming
In addition to the current challenges of data, voice and video, other challenging network scenarios are here or on the horizon:
- Traffic over unmanaged networks, such as a telecommuter connecting over a virtual private network (VPN) and mobile 3G networks.
- The logical next step towards cloud computing, with virtualization either on a third party cloud or an enterprise data center.
- Storage, servers, switches and routers combined into a unified, multi-purpose footprint in the data center.
To accommodate these new bandwidth intensive architectures and services, many businesses have upgraded their network hardware ad hoc, spending extensive time and labor on network administration. It’s easy to overlook the cost of labor when measuring IT productivity. According to McKinsey, labor is now the largest cost component of IT operations, eclipsing the sum of software, hardware and maintenance costs.
Many businesses alternatively choose to outsource much of their information technology. But on-premise networking equipment is still required, even with application outsourcing. System administrators can handle many network issues, but with voice and video traffic, some network engineering expertise is helpful. For instance, there are great variations in network demand throughout the business day, as call volume or conferencing traffic rise and fall.
Network Quality of Service is Key
The major problems with most networks are well established. The big difficulties with voice and video quality are latency, jitter and packet loss. Poor audio quality is more annoying to users than poor video quality, since the human ear is more sensitive to noise and delays than the human eye.
To avoid the imperfections caused by latency, jitter and packet loss, a network must be properly designed and managed. There are three basic areas of focus. Capacity management refers to the amount of bandwidth available. Most local area networks have very high capacity, so bandwidth problems are usually only associated with the wide area network (WAN) or the interfaces to the WAN.
The key to making most efficient use of the WAN is to prioritize traffic in the routers and switches. In other words, voice and video quality can be maintained by giving them a higher priority than data traffic. Such prioritization has almost no noticeable effect on the data traffic.
Network monitoring helps identify potential issues related to peak usage and server capacity, so degraded performance can often be avoided, and less investment is made on bandwidth or equipment.
Enter the Multi-Service Business Gateway
Socrates once asked, “How many things are there which I do not want?” An excellent question, not just for philosophers, but for IT Managers, CIOs and CEOs as well. In the past there may have been three, four, even five or more pieces of equipment and associated software required to operate a business network. Today, there are single-source solutions containing both the hardware and the software needed to run a converged data, voice and video network. Known as a Unified Communications Gateway (UCG) or more commonly as a Multi-Service Business Gateway (MSBG), these solutions simplify and lower the equipment and administration needed to operate a high-capacity business network.
Businesses previously interested in IP-PBX solutions, are now combining a diverse range of voice and data functionality on a single appliance. Many businesses require LAN compatibility with multiple wireless IP handsets and access to multiple types of SaaS applications. “Application performance is a big concern,” says Jeff Dixon, Chief Strategy Officer of U4EA Technologies. “The impact of a non-optimal network includes loss of productivity among employees and potential loss of business.” MSBG solutions can identify network issues before they become a problem, eliminate software incompatibility and simplify network configuration.