Converging all communications over IP

With the changing rules of business and the competitive environment, businesses need a high performance network today – and for tomorrow. Many, though, are still operating separate voice and data networks that limit flexibility and inhibit agility.

Carriers such as AT&T have long digitized voice traffic over their long-haul networks. On the AT&T network, the volume of data traffic exceeded voice traffic in 2000 as the Internet transformation took hold and businesses increasingly looked to data networks to handle voice, video, telepresence and other sophisticated applications such as virtual white boards.

Integrating voice services and data into a single network expands the possibilities for communication while opening the way for advanced applications that enable a more agile and productive organization.

As easy as a web click

By converging voice and data onto a single network, enterprises can manage voice services just like any other service on the network. Through a web portal, administrators can forward a line, place orders for service upgrades or submit a trouble ticket. They can also use a web portal to gain visibility into network activity to prioritize traffic or run usage reports showing where and when bandwidth needs to be increased to keep service quality high.

The benefits of converting voice to IP – known as Voice over IP (VoIP) or Internet telephony – are many. With VoIP an enterprise can, for example:

  • Add new technologies as they emerge
  • Adopt new communication strategies quickly
  • Implement unified communications features such as presence, messaging and video calling
  • Rapidly provision new users and branch locations
  • Reduce voice communication costs

By moving voice to IP, enterprises are better able to develop an integrated wide area networking strategy. “Today's MPLS [multiprotocol label switching] network-based IP VPNs are the foundation of many enterprises' distributed data communication,” wrote IDC analyst Nav Chander. “IP VPNs are often the communication platform of choice to enable additional value-added enterprise applications on top of their VPN, such as VoIP, security, videoconferencing, and unified communications.”

Expand and contract at will

With IP, service can expand and contract on the fly. For example, virtual IP-based voice trunks can be easily added or removed using the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). Additionally, local, long-distance and toll-free services can be combined on the same access link rather than requiring separate trunk groups for each.

From a practical perspective, the days of POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) are numbered as far as the enterprise is concerned. In a recent survey by IDG Research Services, 59% of executives involved in network connectivity investment decision-making said their network strategies need to support latency-sensitive applications such as VoIP, collaboration and video.

Furthermore, the IDG survey found that one third of those decision-makers think it’s highly likely their organization will modernize its network connectivity strategy over the next year and another 46% say they believe that is somewhat likely.

Demands outstripping legacy services

Older, legacy networking services simply cannot keep up with enterprise demands for more and more bandwidth, greater flexibility and services that meet business needs for agility and increased productivity. Growing bandwidth needs is the leading trigger for evaluating new network connectivity solutions, according to the IDG Research Survey. Businesses are seeking to support a growing array of critical applications, ranging from backup and continuity, cloud computing, and distributed workers, to name just a few.

Any business that has been around for a while is likely to find elements of analog, circuit-switched and frame relay services in their current inventory. These include dial-up PSTN services, ISDN, older DSL broadband services, and time-division multiplexing (TDM) services such as Fractional T1’s, T1’s and T3 services.

Some enterprises may have adopted frame relay networking, a Layer 2 packet-switched service that became popular in the 1990s for combining voice and data over WANs. But frame relay relies on TDM in the access network, so it can’t take advantage of all the intelligence, automation and software-defined capabilities that become possible with an IP service.

Even some organizations running MPLS VPNs utilize TDM links in that last mile. Also, in some places, private lines have been built on TDM technology between two specific sites with high traffic loads or with high security needs.

Redefining delivery of network services

Services available over older network elements are going to be different than what users are coming to expect from IP-enabled services. IP is fundamental to software-defined networking, or SDN, which completely redefines the delivery of network services to business customers. AT&T has already begun to roll out SDN, beginning with trials in 2014, commercial availability in 2015, and a plan to virtualize 75% of our network by 2020.

SDN is a key foundational element of AT&T’s Network on Demand solution. It works in conjunction with network functions virtualization (NFV) to provide service on-demand capabilities so that businesses can easily add or change services on their own, in near-real time. Ultimately, adding and changing network services will be accomplished by going online, clicking on a few buttons to:

  • Contract and order network services
  • Dial up or down broadband speeds in near real time instead of hours or days
  • Provision new communications ports in days compared to weeks

Taking stock and planning ahead

It’s important for enterprises to fully examine their services portfolio to identify non-IP elements and develop a replacement plan.

Ethernet is ideally suited to transporting today’s IP-based applications including voice, video and collaboration tools that require real time performance. Ethernet speeds continue to be enhanced in the IEEE standards body and a “carrier class” version is increasingly used in enterprise WANs.

Using VPN client software, business can extend their reach to provide remote access to core business applications. Mobile and remote workers can access the corporate network via a highly secure connection to the Internet, LTE or public/private Wi-Fi hotspots from any device (laptops, tablets and smart phones) for businesses on the move.

All-IP networking is the key to maximizing existing networks and ensuring enterprises are able to take advantage of the ongoing evolution of applications and services. With the flexibility and security of Ethernet, VPN and VoIP, you can connect your geographically disparate offices into one cohesive virtual network. For more information, please click here.

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