Answer

What network changes support a unified communications infrastructure?

What are three major enhancements network engineers and architects need to make to their network before adding a complete unified communications infrastructure -- i.e., instant messaging, presence, voice and video conferencing?

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First and foremost, you should start at the physical layer to make sure that your cabling will handle your unified communications infrastructure. For Power over Ethernet, you can technically run it over CAT 5E cabling, but CAT 6 and CAT 6A shielded twisted pairs will generate less heat and support the higher power ratings that are on the horizon. Also, just because a cable says "5E," it doesn't mean it performs to that specification. Older cable plants may not. One estimate given at an IEEE meeting stated that over 50% of all the CAT 5E cabling installed and in use today will not pass 5E testing. Scary!

From a networking standpoint, open systems are the way to go. Some vendors are adding encryption to cabling, and if you change vendors, you have to throw the baby out with the bath water (i.e., rip and replace). Moving up the IP stack, make sure your network is segmented, as you need to support the additional traffic. For instance, make sure that your subnet mask accurately depicts the number of addresses you need.

Security is next. Any data breach is bigger in a unified communications world. Many users like to layer security from various vendors to lessen the chances of a breach.

Lastly, I would say education is key to deploying your unified communications infrastructure. If you are going to implement and support a solution, you should clearly understand it. If there is a problem that arises that you can't understand, you need to know where to go for the answers.

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This was first published in July 2013

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