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Network readiness: The first step toward IP telephony

IP telephony could save your company thousands of dollars a year in telecommunications expenses, while dramatically improving the ability to share information.

Like thousands of other businesses, your organization may be considering a migration to IP telephony, a technology...

that allows voice, data and video to be transmitted in an integrated fashion across your company's data network. IP telephony could save your company thousands of dollars a year in telecommunications expenses, while dramatically improving the ability to share information across the enterprise.

Deploying IP telephony, though, means more than making a few simple changes to the average network. Most organizations find that their existing data networks require greater bandwidth, reliability and availability in order to support voice and video than is generally deployed for data. So where can a company start on the road to a robust IP telephony network? A network readiness assessment is the best place to begin.

The IP telephony challenge
Several years ago, organizations began to deploy IP telephony in substantial numbers. Many, however, hit snags along the way. They often lacked the in-house expertise to plan properly for the deployment. Some companies had tremendous experience in data networks, while others primarily had knowledge of voice networks. But few possessed the know-how and skill to build a converged network that would reliably transport both data and voice. Because of this knowledge gap, deployment plans often were insufficient and incomplete. Projects went ahead without a realistic understanding of the bandwidth, traffic prioritization and other requirements needed to support such an advanced network. Stressed IT staff often were asked to learn about, plan for and implement projects during their "downtime" or after work or during weekends. To further complicate matters, they lacked the full commitment of executive staff, who themselves had little understanding of the project's magnitude.

Unfortunately, many companies considering IP telephony face the same situation today. Without a comprehensive network communications plan, organizations run the real risk of trying to implement the technology on a network that cannot support it. They end up wasting untold time and money, a situation made even worse by the need to start all over again.

Based on our customers' experiences, Cisco Systems realizes that many companies have difficulty readily determine if their networks can support high-quality IP telephony. Furthermore, they cannot ascertain, in a systematic and quantifiable way, how to redesign and upgrade their networks to ensure the smooth flow of data and voice.

A network readiness assessment can remedy that problem. It should be part of the planning stage of your IP telephony deployment. It sets the stage for success during the subsequent design, implementation, operation and optimization phases.

Readying the network
The Cisco IP Telephony Network Readiness Assessment takes companies from initial assessment to analysis to recommendations. We've based our program on hundreds of successful IP telephony deployments over many years. So, our best practices, outlined below, should prove invaluable to any organization, whether or not they participate in the program.

Assembling the team
It's vital, right at the onset, to identify a primary business sponsor, such as a CIO, who will defend the project before top management, shepherd it to success and facilitate communication among all stakeholders. A principal IT contact also should be identified, and a team must be assembled. Team members should include representatives from both the data networking and the voice networking sides of the organization, since the expertise of both is required. The business sponsor, in fact, must impress upon these traditionally separate parts of the company that they now have to work together for a common goal. Afterward, it's important to set expectations appropriately. All participants should know exactly what this assessment will achieve and what it ultimately will deliver.

Understanding business requirements
Next, team members have to gain a solid understanding of the organization's business requirements. For instance, what are the purpose and goals of this project? What does the company wish to achieve through its converged network? What applications does the company plan to operate? The team must have a clear grasp of these requirements because they will play a major role in determining the eventual design and capacity of the network. Perhaps, during this exercise, the team will discover that the ultimate business rationale for the project is unclear or has been poorly articulated to them. In this case, team members must halt the assessment until the organization's business objectives are clarified.

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