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VoIP security, unified communications need questioned

VoIP security issues and questions about the business need for unified communications have stalled adoption of both technologies, according to CompTIA's recent survey.

VoIP security issues and lack of a business need for unified communications (UC) are slowing the adoption rate of these technologies, especially among small and midsized businesses (SMBs), results from CompTIA's recently commissioned IDC study show.

Conducted during July 2006, the survey involved more than 350 respondents from companies across North America and included input from industries such as manufacturing, financial services, healthcare and government offices.

Migration to VoIP continues to show growth, though at a slower pace than in recent years, as security issues continue to plague the technology. A number of respondents said their current communications solutions are easy to use and offer enough cost savings, meaning that VoIP migration is not necessary. Brian McCarthy, CompTIA's COO, said that the technology, although it has been prevalent for three years or more, is still new and still up for consideration. Notwithstanding cost savings and ease of use, only 13% of respondents felt that their solutions gave their companies a competitive edge.

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Convergence of voice and data traffic onto one network was documented among only 17% of respondents -- a slight increase from 2005. SMBs in particular said they recognize the value of having converged communications on one network, with two-thirds of the respondents indicating that they have already migrated to a converged network. Another two-thirds, whose systems are currently operating on separate networks, indicated that a converged network offers a better business value. In total, 30% of the respondents felt their networks were ready to support converged communications, while a slightly larger number said they needed to perform only a small upgrade to allow converged communications. Less than one-third of respondents have performed a formal assessment of their networks' ability to support a converged communications system.

Central to discouraging network administrators from switching to a purely IP or converged network is a perceived lack of security in IP telephony. Data collected supports this perception, as more than one-third of the survey's respondents admitted to suffering an attack on their computer networks and/or phone systems in the last 12 months. Among larger companies, the incidence of attack was higher. Still, many respondents did express confidence in the security of their data networks. By converging their data networks and voice networks, McCarthy said, SMBs and large enterprises could optimize their voice security.

SMB and large enterprise respondents also indicated that they are traditionally more trusting of their incumbent and land-based phone systems, causing many companies to wait for further information before migrating to VoIP, especially in light of increasing security concerns. Also, most respondents were significantly more trusting of Ethernet data networks or wireless LANs than of IP telephony systems. Even with the large number of companies that are still skeptical, 25% of respondents said they had already deployed IP telephony without significant incident. However, 29% reported that they had underestimated the total cost of network upgrades necessary to deploy, and another 21% had not anticipated the difficulty of integrating new applications.

Leading the top considerations for deployment of IP telephony, convergence of existing voice and data networks, or implementation of UC, most respondents said they wanted to streamline business communications and processes. Cost saving was a close second. McCarthy said the indication for streamlining business functions suggests that most businesses are truly interested in new methods of creating more efficient processes.

Rounding out the top three considerations when deciding to deploy VoIP or UC, many enterprises indicated an initiative to utilize new services and capabilities associated with these technologies. Particular consideration was given to the advantages of email, email with voicemail, and incorporation of mobile devices. SMBs were also particularly interested in the competitive edge these technologies will give their businesses. McCarthy said SMBs are especially noted for their ability to lead new tech trends and not just follow big business.

Most businesses indicated that their plans for the next 12 months included upgrades to their phone systems to allow support for a converged network, with 42% of respondents stating that their networks would require only one or two additional devices or upgrades.

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