No matter what size network an enterprise is running these days, large and small alike are faced with increasing technical and financial challenges. These include dealing with a myriad of networking components, never ending security issues, the unquenchable demand for new network services -- such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and IP television -- as well as balancing this demand with the ongoing pressure to reduce capital and operating expenses. Increasingly, enterprise CIO's are deciding to outsource the operation, support and maintenance of their enterprise network to a third-party. The driving force behind this shift is new market innovations, such as the convergence of voice and data, which makes network operations more complex.
The term "hosted VoIP" means a number of different things to different people. One key data point is that the "who" of hosting should be transparent to the end user. It can be a service provider or a third-party offering the hosted solution. The hosting can be offered in a completely separate facility sometimes called a global network operations center (GNOC) or can be offered directly on the carriers' or their customers premises. One key point is that whoever is providing the hosting actually owns the equipment and this in turn significantly reduces the amount of CAPEX for the enterprise. Enterprises will ultimately choose the optimized hosted solution based upon their own network needs, core technical competencies and capabilities as well as desired services.
While the hosting infrastructure architecture can be designed in a variety of ways technically, one of the parts of the decision process is who should perform the hosting. Obviously an enterprise needs to carefully select a trusted partner. Just as any outsourcing decision, handing over an important function of network operation needs to be a well-thought out process. Enterprises need to take into consideration the performance record of their partner, their partner's commitment to new services development and deployment, as well as their customer support and business continuity and disaster recovery plans.
For many enterprise CIO's – especially those involved with large enterprises – outsourcing on a scale this big might be considered a loss of control and a decision that could compromise overall quality. However, as technologies such as VoIP continue to evolve to new and even more challenging applications, it may be easier for enterprises to keep up by using a third-party provider.
New technology introduces complicated technical issues and VoIP specifically has two very relevant concerns that need to be addressed immediately -- security and quality of service (QoS). Both of them can be addressed in the network, however since both continue to evolve on a sometimes-weekly basis, they can become very cumbersome issues. This makes it quite difficult for an IT organization, that is already over tasked with regular network issues, to identify and resolve without significant investment.
The industry often chooses to focus on the positive features of VoIP — shared IT infrastructure, and plug-and-play adaptability. While these key elements take advantage of the flexibility of IP, they are also what make it more susceptible to possible outside attack. Unlike a traditional circuit based telephone network., a VoIP network is vulnerable to the typical IP infrastructure issues, including interference from denial of service (DOS) attacks, viruses and wo,prms. These attacks can lead to the major outages that sometimes occur with data networks – taking the network down for hours or even days.
There are also a variety of attacks that specifically target VoIP networks. A couple of recent examples include spam over IP telephony (SPIT) and malicious transmission of obscenities. All of these issues are things that would be a huge problem inside a corporate network – especially when they can lead to the disruption of phone service.
In today's fast-paced global business world many workers spend hours on conference calls and reaching out to customer and colleagues by phone. The ability to pick up a desk phone and have it work almost 100 percent of the time is taken for granted. However, with a VoIP network there are not the same guarantees. Because they are vulnerable to outside influence, these disruptions can magnify some of the other common deficiencies with VoIP – latency, dropped calls or distortion. Since voice communications is one of the most reliable and personal ways to conduct business most companies do not tolerate downtime on a voice network or unintelligible calls the same way they might with a data network or a mobile phone.
About the author
Andy Williams is President of Lucent Technologies, Europe. He joined Lucent in August 2005 after a 25-year career with IBM, where he held a number of senior leadership positions, most recently that of general manager public sector EMEA within IBM Global Services.
As President of Lucent Europe, Williams is the senior executive for the company based in Europe. He is directly responsible for sales activity in Europe and will be leading the company's growth plans for the region, powered by innovation from its research and development arm, Bell Labs. Lucent employs around 4,700 specialists in Europe, serving most of the major service providers and telecommunications companies.
Williams holds degrees in Mathematics from Cambridge University, U.K., and is married with two children. He is based in London, but travels extensively across the region, supporting Lucent's operations at 44 locations in 14 countries.