Local market investigates convergence

The convergence of voice and data networks has been the ‘next big thing’ for some time and infrastructure vendors from around the world continue to promise reduced costs and effortless management to those who deploy VoIP.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  April 24, 2003

I|~||~||~|The convergence of voice and data networks has been the ‘next big thing’ for some time and infrastructure vendors from around the world continue to promise reduced costs and effortless management to those who deploy voice over IP (VoIP). Furthermore, these same vendors suggest that the technology now has such momentum that its appearance and acceptance within the Middle East is simply a matter of time.

“Even when you take into consideration the challenges we have here with local rules and regulations, it is still only a matter of time before convergence arrives in the Middle East… You can’t fight convergence and it is a matter of embracing it,” says Jon Saunders, regional sales manager for Cisco Systems in the Middle East.

“Network convergence has emerged as a powerful trend in the Middle East, with a high percentage of Middle East businesses expected to move from traditional PBX telephone technology to IP or network-based telephony communications within the next three years,” adds Syed Muneeruddin, regional manager, SMC Networks Middle East.

Local companies that deploy a converged network can expect numerous benefits, say the vendors. Foremost among these is the cost savings generated by having to manage just one network rather than two.

“We are seeing that companies are keen to deploy [converged] networks and replace their existing networks because the infrastructure that they have at the moment is expensive to run,” says Saunders.

“VoIP brings a whole new level of cost-cutting efficiency to communications by providing optimal real time voice processing and call routing between and within an organisation’s facility,” adds Muneeruddin.

Other potential benefits of VoIP include increased network capabilities for new applications and the ability to build other infrastructure technologies, such as wireless, directly onto the platform.

“Customers want to upgrade their infrastructures to support data and voice… On top of that, we are also seeing organisations deploy wireless. It then acts as a back up network [and] also as an overlay network that enhances productivity,” explains Saunders.

Despite the vendors’ enthusiasm for converged networks, others are more circumspect. Meta Group, for instance, suggests that while users of converged networks can theoretically reduce administration and management costs by reducing staffing numbers, the practice is somewhat different.

“Although many clients see some gains in network management efficiency with converged systems, we almost never see a client actually cut personnel and save money,” says Jerald Murphy, senior vice president for adaptive infrastructure strategies at Meta Group.

“Instead, they may reduce the time that network management personnel need to work — from 80 hours to 60 hours per week, for instance — or reassign some staff members to projects that have been on hold for lack of personnel,” he adds.

Furthermore, the analyst house suggests the additional skills required to effectively manage a converged network are harder to find than many vendors are willing to admit.

“Convergence requires data networking personnel to develop a more nuanced viewpoint on service levels,” says David Willis, programme director for Meta Group’s global networking strategies service. “Operating a converged network requires much better service discipline… and the question is, can an organisation do all this… and still save money? So far, the answer is mixed,” he explains.

In addition to these global obstacles, Muneeruddin suggests there are some Middle East specific hurdles to the wide spread deployment of converged networks. For example, he says getting IT and telecom departments to work together effectively can be difficult and that changing the mindset of some users is problematic.

“Most businesses are not in the early adopter category and prefer to delay deployment of new technologies until all the bugs have been worked out. A general lack of awareness about convergence and its tangible benefits has also its slowed adoption,” Muneeruddin adds. ||**||

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