Voice over IP: Security, stability, success

Summary:If you're thinking about voice over IP -- and sooner or later you'll have to -- we take a look at the steps involved in getting it set up and what's on offer from four major vendors.

Getting started with VoIP

  Voice over IP

 VoIP at a glance
 Getting started with VoIP
 Bandwidth issues

Cisco systems

 Final words
 Glossary of terms
 About RMIT
It would be wise for most businesses to audit their current network infrastructure, paying particular attention to the quality and condition of the cabling and switching as well as the provision of the extra network points to each location a phone is required. Most vendors offer phones with at least a two-port integrated network switch so most desks that already have networked PCs on them are covered.

However, consider the areas where a phone may be needed but there are no PCs. Keep security in mind here too; while it may be good to offer clients a phone to use in waiting areas or hallways, remember that you are also offering potential attackers a port into your network should a VoIP phone be placed there. The VoIP handsets in some cases are powerful tools which can themselves be used for mischief on the network in the wrong hands so think and plan carefully.

While you are auditing your network, don't forget to factor in the added overhead of the planned VoIP deployment to the network system. If the existing infrastructure is running at 85 percent of capacity now, adding VoIP to this network may not be advisable without overhauling the whole network. And while the network is being overhauled, you may also want to consider adding the ability to run power over Ethernet (PoE) on most if not all network ports -- this enables provision for devices to come in the future as well as to power the VoIP handsets.

As well as considering the network and its quality and capabilities, it may be a better idea to allow for a new network cabling/switching rollout dedicated solely to the VoIP system or to boost the data network infrastructure. While this would definitely be costly in the short term, there would be significant benefits if the system is managed effectively as well as reducing potential stress on the existing data network and enabling the VoIP system to "stand alone" and just interconnect with the rest of the data network at strategic points. This not only provides added redundancy, but also allows for future scalability of each network independent of each other as well as the many obvious security benefits.

If there is no possibility of physically running new cable to a location or you have a lot of employees mobile around the office/factory, consider wireless phones running 802.11x. This is a whole new can of worms that I will stay away from in this particular review.

Managing your network
Managing a VoIP network is very similar to a normal data network system. You manage

  • a group of systems (IP handsets),
  • on a network system (standard IP based),
  • with gateways (between the IP network and the digital/anaglogue communications network)
  • and switches with management tools, which facilitate the use of system servers/appliances (for management, logs and voice mail system/messages etc) as well as having
  • directory service capabilities and call routing in their basic form, being able to provide names or numbers for addresses that are assigned to systems on the network segment they are managing/controlling.
The beauty of these systems is their ease of management. Being IP based, adding handsets and controlling their individual properties can be as simple as a click of the mouse. Same with the ability to manage numbers and calls, even simple name selection and routing calls between offices. This is particularly applicable if the workforce changes locations regularly or hot desks.

Another benefit -- providing people use it -- is the ability to show who is in/out of the office and even simply who is on/off the phone, including any number of in-betweens such as in meetings, busy, at lunch, etc. Simply by clicking their status on their IP console, the user can flag to anyone who checks on the entire system their current availability status. This enables people wishing to contact them to leave messages, schedule a call as soon as that person become available, or to seek alternate assistance from someone else if the matter is urgent.

Topics: Networking, Reviews

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