Prepping your corporate network for voice and video

To meet changing business needs, companies are starting to add voice and video to their networks.

When doing so, however, thoroughly assessing the network’s capacity to handle the new media is an excellent practice, as a leading Canadian law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP. (FMC) discovered.

With offices in six Canadian cities – as well as in New York, FMC experienced the huge benefits of capacity planning when it started to build out its wide area network (WAN) as a prelude to rolling out desk-to-desk videoconferencing.

Many firms don’t understand the significance of capacity planning when rolling out capabilities such as videoconferencing, notes an executive with the firm.

“Businesses today are spoiled with the luxury of large wide area network circuits,” said David Komaromi, manager of technical services at FMC.

And yet, he said, a dispersed infrastructure is often unsuited to handling voice and video.

Komaromi urged organizations to review their information repositories and identify where their data resides.

In his view, it helps to keep local processing as close to the local area network (LAN) edge as possible, and not to channel all voice and video traffic over the WAN if it isn’t strictly necessary.

The law firm is itself in the process of reviewing its overall architecture, as it will be relocating two of its largest offices over the next two years.

FMC is looking at telepresence and other collaboration technologies, so it needs to properly forecast bandwidth required.

“Our architecture will change from a data flow perspective,” Komaromi said, adding that San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems has been helping the company implement “good design principles.”About 150 to 200 people at FMC are equipped with video technology.

Industry experts note that as video and voice on corporate networks becomes more pervasive, older networks may be overhauled to handle these new media.

To this end, companies are definitely looking into areas such as wide area network (WAN) optimization, said Jay Angl, research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

In some cases, he said, larger enterprises are deploying multi-protocol label switching or MPLS (a data-carrying mechanism from the family of packet-switched networks) to ensure quality of service.

Organizations should ensure they understand the long-term plan for such applications, he said.

They need to plan and identify the WAN capacity, especially if IP telephony, IP-based surveillance, or a streaming application is in the works, he said.

“The challenge is to move away from being isolated, to really get on the same page with other areas [of the organization].”

“You have to do an assessment of current infrastructure capabilities.”Capacity is one thing, but in many cases – say, for IP voice – bandwidth isn’t necessarily, as much as other factors such as jitter.

This applies to any type of large-scale enterprise application, including enterprise resource planning or customer relationship management systems.

It could also involve streaming Web casts of company meetings or delivering training, which all have similar traffic requirements.

“There would be some very obvious performance issues that could prevent the applications from even working, but there are other issues as well,” said Angl.

“If it works but performance is not really up to par, the organization itself could face challenges with acceptance of some of these tools.”

While a company may use a VoIP solution for convenience, if it’s not really performing – which may not be reflective of the solution itself, but of the infrastructure that’s supporting it – it would definitely take away from the opportunity.

To get ready for these new applications, businesses should take into consideration both the local area network – to handle the bandwidth – as well as quality of service parameters in the network, according to Alejandro Pares, network equipment research analyst for IDC Canada.

If you’re linking up all your branch office locations with VoIP, for example, your service provider will probably create a virtual private network (VPN) to interconnect the sites and make arrangements to handle the priority of your packets to guarantee quality of service.

“You need to work together with your service provider to guarantee sensitive traffic is getting there first,” he said. “In your internal network you need to make sure that you have the capability to handle quality of service parameters.”

It’s important to partner with providers willing and able to grow with the needs of your business, said Komaromi.

He said telcos are starting to understand they need to be much more flexible. “Because technology solutions are coming out much quicker – it’s important to make sure your contracts are not fixed contracts.”

And while the telcos realize this, they face the same challenges any organization has – making sure there’s enough capacity.

It’s easy for companies to deliver end-to-end video traffic through their own private infrastructure. What’s missing, he said, is the connection to the outside world.

“Imagine the day when provider-to-provider or corporate-to-the-outside-world you’re sitting in a coffee shop with your cell phone and video camera completely enabled.”

We’re seeing movement in this direction, he added, but realistically it’s three to five years away.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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