It's been a year since my last tip on VoIP training, and quite a lot has happened in the training and certification scene since then, so I've decided to update my favorite recommendations for learning the ins and outs of IP Telephony.
As I mentioned in a few tips long ago, if you really want to be proficient in VoIP, you should take a dual-pronged approach. First, pick a certification program and diligently devour its suggested reading list, and take the exams if you want to verify you've mastered the material. This should leave you with a firm grasp of the theory behind the technology. Second, beg, borrow or steal some hardware and software and get some hands-on experience. You'll be surprised how a little hands-on practice will make the difficult concepts much easier to understand. It will also give you the confidence to start tackling real-world scenarios.
In the past year, certification programs for VoIP have matured considerably. Avaya's program looks quite good, and last autumn, Nortel rolled out its "Enterprise VoIP Certification" program, which includes 18 VoIP certifications! If you haven't looked at either of these in the past few months, then you really owe it to yourself to take a fresh look. There's a lot that's new and worthy of consideration.
Also in the past year, many universities' computer science programs have begun to offer VoIP-related classes. While you may not be able to take these classes (they're usually upper-level and require some pre-requisites, and many can't travel and work during the day...) the professors often put their class notes and power-point slideshows on the web for anyone to view. A Google search will turn up plenty of reading material, but one word of warning: while these professors are usually extremely good at explaining difficult concepts, these materials don't have the benefit of paid technical editors and reviewers and are often full of mistakes.
As for hands-on material, proprietary VoIP hardware, such as gateways and IP phones are still as expensive as they were last year, far out of reach of most educational budgets. But fortunately, the VoIP software scene is going strong. The latest, greatest in free VoIP software is VOCAL 1.5, which was released in April of this year. You can check it out at vovida.org. While you probably wouldn't use this in a production, enterprise environment, you can't beat it for learning how the technology works.
Thomas Alexander Lancaster IV is a consultant and author with over ten years experience in the networking industry, focused on Internet infrastructure.