Ensuring Your Network is UC-Ready

September 21, 2010

If you are intent on deploying Unified Communications (UC) applications, it’s critical to ensure your network is up to the task. Should your network architecture prove inadequate for the task, you’re in danger of losing the confidence and attention of potential adopters within your organization.

But that’s definitely a fate to be avoided. “You and your network will need to support a variety of real-time applications if you’re going to get the ROI and full business impact that UC offers,” writes Jeremy Littlejohn in InformationWeek. To prevent a failed UC deployment due to network failure, he offers a four point plan:

  • Think throughput, not bandwidth. If you’ve got 100 Mbps to the desktop and 1-Gbps uplinks, focus on maximizing throughput rather than worrying about bandwidth.
  • Don’t bust buffers. Overloaded buffers on a switch interface can lead to dropped packets, which can be deadly for real-time apps like voice and video. Ideally, your switch infrastructure should have a dedicated buffer per uplink or aggregation port on your switches.
  • Use the right switch. Organizations sometimes use access-layer switches to aggregate other access-layer switches. This topology can lead to dropped packets. Link access-layer switches to distribution layer switches instead.
  • Mark traffic for QoS. Ensure that real-time applications get priority treatment across your LAN and WAN by labeling traffic using the quality-of-service markings available with your networking gear.

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Liittlejohn believes organizations that follow these steps and then, thoroughly test their networks are in a strong position to roll out robust UC solutions to meet growing demands.”To move past voice over IP to real unified communications, your network must provide appropriate levels of service,” he concludes. “Remember to keep things simple, address the details of your equipment, and retain as much control as you can over the flow of your data. And most important, test your network. Follow these steps and your network not only will satisfy UC’s requirements, but it also will positively affect adoption in your organization.”

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Bringing Unified Communications to the Cloud

September 7, 2010

How can you simultaneously maximize your investments in Unified Communications while capitalizing on the new benefits associated with the cloud?

To be sure, cloud services promise an opportunity to reduce IT costs, enhance delivery of applications and improve business agility. But how do you fully realize these benefits? New research from InformationWeek offers three guidelines that can help companies achieve success:

  1. Build on existing investments. Recognizing that you may already have deployed an IP Private Branch Exchange (or may seriously be considering one), you want to rely on this functionality and not duplicate it in the cloud.  “Taking a hybrid approach is often the best way to reap the savings benefits of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model without throwing your existing investment out the window,” contends John Marchese, the report’s author.
  2. Understand the trade-offs and compromises you face. As you explore new functionality that may be available in the cloud (including SaaS-based offerings), you want to assess application integration options that are available. You’ll also need to recognize what functionality might need to be compromised as a result of limited customization. Consider your own business. What communication capabilities are critical? Can you gain new and valuable services by incorporating the hosted model?
  3. Make sure you have an escape clause.  Recognizing how essential Unified Communications is to your business, you need to ensure you are “future-proofing” your relationship with cloud service providers. Some vendors, the report notes, will inevitably be weeded out by competition. You need to know the implications of such possibilities on your data and your investments. You also want to ensure you won’t be locked in to a service provider’s offerings should they prove inadequate in terms of quality of service or adoption of important new features.

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The cloud is clearly going to be an increasingly important factor on Unified Communications in the coming years. In its recent Cloud ROI Survey, InformationWeek Analytics found that 71% of the of 393 business technology professionals who responded are either using or considering cloud technologies. “For 90% of those using or evaluating cloud, IT is in the thick of the decision-making process, putting to rest the idea that business is primarily driving this bandwagon,” according to InformationWeek.


Best Practices and Borderless Networks

September 1, 2010

We work, live, play, and learn in a world that has no boundaries and knows no borders. We expect to connect to anyone, anywhere, using any device, to any resource–securely, reliably, transparently. That is the promise of borderless networks.

In today’s connected world, business systems and processes are built to take advantage of the network. And just as business systems and processes are unique to individual customers, so too are their networks. Special network service requirements can be dictated by customer business model, or industry pressures, or geographic location, and on and on. The key to long-term savings is to design a network that ensures the effective and efficient delivery of premium service, no matter what the location or application.

Extensible systems and integrated services combine to multiply the value of the borderless network. Cisco’s wide-ranging portfolio allows freedom of choice for the customer. Designed-in hardware assists and a wide range of network and service modules help ensure that the network not only delivers rich services, but also provides consistent performance when services are turned on. Consistent services and common components also enable cost savings and operational efficiency.

Operating expenses typically account for 75 to 80 percent of the networking budget, so it makes sense that operational efficiency promotes the greatest network-related cost savings. Management expertise, policies, and best practices must all be applied across the network.

Beyond network-related capital expenditures (capex) and operating expenses (opex), you should also be mindful of costs that can be directly influenced by the network. For example, downtime results in lower productivity, customer dissatisfaction, and lost revenue. Underutilized resources result in overspending on systems and support.

Networking devices that support multiple services (for example, connectivity, security, voice, mobility, and so on) eliminate the need for specialized devices and reduce network complexity. Service intelligence and modular designs also extend the service life of equipment, protecting your investment over time. The result: capex and opex savings.


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