It seems a very long time ago but ever since the first commercial VoIP calls were made in the 1990's the industry has predicted packetised-voice would replace traditional voice technology in enterprise networks. Today most organisations are looking at moving to a Unified Communications (UC) platform that supports all their communications needs voice, email, instant messaging, audio and video conferencing. The reality is that quite a few of us are still hanging on to our 'trusty' handsets.
Microsoft Lync, the successor to Microsoft Office Communication Server, is the latest in a line of solutions promising to deliver on the UC vision. Combining instant messaging, VoIP-calling, live meetings and videoconferencing, Lync is more than the sum of its parts.
It was at this year's Enterprise Connect, Orlando, where Microsoft Lync became one of the most talked about solutions. Here UC customers were paraded that could substantiate some of the massive savings to be made when consolidating telecoms infrastructure. LA Fitness claimed it reduced the organisation's telecom costs by over $650,000 a year.
The advantages and savings sound compelling but why have we yet to see widespread VoIP penetration. Until today a variety of obstacles have been preventing a large-scale move to VoIP, but all that may be about to change.
As shown above, VoIP-based solutions offer us tremendous savings, significantly reducing OPEX costs. VoIP-based solutions also provide organisations with richer feature sets, enhanced endpoints, enormous flexibility and options when migrating. Combined with a PSTN (in hybrid mode) a VoIP-based system gives you a reliable survivability option which also lets you handle any migration gradually to fit in with budget planning.
VoIP's versatility cannot be understated giving organisations the flexibility to add features with ease. Take a company that chooses to add an additional call server (typically a SIP Proxy). Subscriber features such as call forwarding, call diversion, and call pickup can be seamlessly supported between office branches. An example of this can be seen with "hot desking" where travelling employees are able to work in a different branch yet the physical endpoints behave identically to the ones in the original branch.
Productivity and the associated lower costs are also areas where VoIP-based solutions score highly. In a VoIP-based solution an employee at home or on the road can call from a residential gateway or mobile phone SIP client with the call routed over the Internet. In this set-up an E-SBC [Enterprise Session Border Controller] is required to act as a security device during a remote access session to the UC platform, blocking any potential threats that could compromise the enterprise.
Much has been made of VoIP's interoperability issues and the risks it posed to previous telecom investments. In the past these problems have forced some to defer their interest. Today these issues are slowly disappearing with new solutions from third-party vendors that make the transition painless. In the case of Microsoft Lync's, if an organisation had an existing installed base of hundreds or thousands of SIP phones from a different vendor then replacing all those phones with Microsoft Lync-compatible IP phones would be a 'show-stopper'. Vendors like AudioCodes provide solutions that enable generic SIP phones to be connected seamlessly into the Lync environment. Furthermore, uncertified IP-PBXs present significant technical and support challenges in a Lync environment, so E-SBCs can be used to perform SIP (IP to IP) normalisation, vocoder transcoding and RTP encryption/decryption (SRTP<>RTP).
If it was decided that you needed to replace your entire infrastructure then Lync runs an official certification programme which ensures complete 'plug and play' compatibility. Today the programme supports over 70 devices from 12 different vendors ranging from IP phones, USB phones, conferencing, gateways, E-SBC and video devices.
VoIP-based solutions will help reduce your infrastructure complexity. In some cases an organisation could implement a full PBX solution using as little as one server, saving costly rack space and reducing power and air-conditioning demands. The set-up would include a front-end server with a collocated mediation server, and a SIP trunk to connect to an ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider). Again, an E-SBC fitted between the server and SIP trunking facilitates this more smoothly and securely.
With VoIP-solutions expected to replace traditional telephone platforms we need to start thinking about how this is going to be done. The key is to migrate gradually and protect your capex investments during the process. Media gateways and E-SBCs are critical to the success of such a move, providing reliable and secured connectivity between legacy systems and new unified communications platforms.