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VoIP, unified communications study reveals challenges

VoIP and unified communications deployments can affect other applications. A recent study by Network General highlighted some of the challenges introduced by convergence.

VoIP and unified communications applications have caused performance issues with other applications as companies continue to converge communications applications onto their IP networks, according to a recent study conducted by network management vendor Network General.

The study, which polled nearly 600 IT professionals about their converged communications environments, found that nearly 40% of responding companies have suffered application performance problems because of the convergence of communications applications onto the IP network. Almost 20% of respondents said they weren't sure whether the performance problems were directly related to the convergence of communications.

"The overall result here is, 'Yes, we're having performance problems,' " said James Messer, Network General's director of technical marketing. "And if you don't have a way to solve those issues, you're perhaps setting yourself up for bigger problems down the line."

The goal of the study, Messer said, was to show that companies of all sizes are adding communications to their networks, and that is resulting in a massive increase of network traffic. That increase could have a huge impact on existing traffic.

The study found that 75% of companies estimate that a quarter of their network traffic over the past three months was unified communications-related, meaning – among other applications -- VoIP, unified messaging and instant messaging. Forty percent of companies queried said they use integrated voice, video and Web conferencing. Nearly 70% have deployed VoIP, though a mere 12% say voice communication is solely responsible for additional network traffic.

Nevertheless, almost 80% of respondents said they expect the network traffic from all of their communications applications to increase over the next year.

"The old way of looking at and understanding applications isn't working," Messer said. "There's got to be a more logical way, a more comprehensive way. Look at all of these applications as a single IT service and come out of the silos."

The study also found that 60% consider VoIP a critical service in their communications network, while 30% said the Internet is the communications medium that has caused the most additional network traffic.

Additional findings include:

  • Nearly half of respondents use email on a mobile device.
  • Internet, video, email and Web conferencing account for 78% of IT managers' additional network traffic.
  • 79% of employees spend (if any time) 15 minutes or less per day secretly watching Web-based videos at work.
  • 45% said that, on a normal day, they use the Internet most often for communications.
  • More than half of the respondents said their company supports instant messaging for business purposes.

"The network is getting faster and applications are growing and becoming more complex," Messer said. And though traffic is growing, most companies don't have the means to hire additional staff or the money to boost support and maintenance.

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Overall, he said, the findings show that as communications traffic increases, IT managers are going to face more and more challenges.

"With the growth of unified communications and additional new applications, IT departments are finding their environments are becoming increasingly complex, as each new service often comes with unique management tools," Messer said.

But the increase in network complexity hasn't slowed or stopped the communications boom. The study states that only 9% of respondents said they don't yet use some unified communications-related applications in their businesses.

The trend toward unified communications will only grow, according to Messer, as companies want to communicate seamlessly with colleagues and customers while on the road and as more companies devise mobility strategies.

"The increasing mobility of the workplace is driving unified communications to a new usage level," he said. "Additionally, it is through implementing unified communications -- and streamlining business processes to support those communications -- that IT managers will be able to help their companies communicate more effectively."

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