Plan carefully... and see huge savingsThe benefits of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) far outweigh the risks involved in putting all voice and data traffic over one network, according to the latest in silicon.com's CIO Jury series.
The UK's IT chiefs voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposition that the cost benefits and flexibility associated with VoIP outweigh the risks of the 'eggs in one basket' scenario associated with single point of failure, and so here we explore their experiences of deploying the technology.
Steve Anderson, IT partner at construction and property consultancy Davis Langdon, said the technological convergence of voice and data is a logical step that has been held back by commercial barriers. Anderson argues that if anything, VoIP offers better resiliency than traditional networks.
"Most voice networks in organisations are under-utilised, under-supported and have very little resilience compared with the backup links and redundancy built into most data networks, even if its ISDN backups to leased circuits," he said. "If anything, convergence means that voice traffic will benefit from the de facto resilience of data networks, and the unification of technologies significantly reduces business risk by breaking down the proprietary barriers that have existed in the voice domain for so long."
Many of our IT chiefs who responded to the VoIP question indicated they have deployed or are in the process of deploying the technology, one of them being Crispin O'Connell, chief information and communication technology officer at Cardiff City Council.
He said: "You can mitigate the single point of failure by investing in high availability resilient network switches and telecom techniques. This in my opinion gives you an opportunity to increase overall reliability, and is a strategy that we are already deploying."
Dharmesh Mistry, CTO at edgeIPK, said that having a single point of failure actually results in instant cost savings.
"Combining voice and data means there is requirement for one failover/recovery mechanism and immediate saving. Couple this with the advantages of applications that could utilise data/voice such as a call centre makes for a compelling proposition," he said.
The general consensus among CIOs and IT directors was that the risks of VoIP can be minimised by having a resilient and robust infrastructure. Graham Benson, information services director and CIO at Screwfix Direct, offered this advice: "Avoid the single point of failure by diverse routing and multiple carriers - Screwfix Direct does this already as a business continuity measure."
In short, there are inherent risks associated with using VoIP but no more than other technologies provided the proper due diligence, planning and business continuity is carried out.
But clearly VoIP is not appropriate in every case. Ted Woodhouse, IT director at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said a single point of failure in the health service could cost lives.
"Converged network is far too risky to rely on for telephony, especially in life-critical areas like hospitals. Hospitals can just about work without IT for a day or so, provided phones are OK, or without phones, if all IT is up and running. Loss of both would certainly lead to loss of life," he warned.
One of the concerns industry watchers have about VoIP is the potential impact of regulation, with the industry is exempt from the restrictions imposed on traditional telephony service providers, but this may yet change.
Despite these concerns, analysts predict the VoIP market is growing rapidly – although estimates vary widely. Juniper research predicts the business VoIP market alone will reach $20bn in 2009, up from $4.54bn in 2004. But consultancy Analysys predicts the European VoIP market will be worth just €1.3bn in Europe by 2007.
Telecoms carriers are also investing heavily in VoIP, according to a study by Infonetics Research. The market researcher predicts carriers will spend $4.8bn on next-generation voice equipment by 2007, up from $1.2bn in 2003.