Gartner: Time is now for VoIP

Bringing voice over IP into corporate networks is inevitable, so businesses should be well on their way to at least testing the technology, according to Gartner.

Bringing voice over IP into corporate networks is inevitable, so businesses should be well on their way to at least testing the technology, according to Gartner.

This year, for the first time, sales of communications servers that support IP are expected to exceed sales of traditional PBXs that don't, Gartner analysts said last week at the company's annual Symposium/ITxpo, And by 2006 sales of traditional PBXs will be relatively insignificant, they said.

With that shift, IT departments should have IP voice gear running in pockets in their networks, even if their companies have no firm plans to adopt it, users say.

"I think it would be foolish not to have that option," says James Lieupo, network administrator for Florida's Department of Veterans Affairs. Lieupo has installed Avaya 's IP-capable voice gear in the department's six nursing homes.

Even though they are performing as traditional TDM key systems, IP voice is coming, he says.

He is looking to run IP voice on the state data network as a cost-cutting measure. Also, the state is seeking bids for its voice backbone, and he predicts that some of the proposals will include IP services.

Similarly, Watkins Motor Lines in Lakeland, Florida, started experimenting with Cisco Systems IP phones two years ago to become familiar with the technology, says Dave Lichtel, the company's telecom director. Now it has bought Cisco Call Centre gear to replace aging PBX equipment. The company plans to use the gear to expand its help desk and call centre functionality by integrating phone calls with on-screen data displays about callers. The cost of going with IP vs. TDM was about a wash.

The IP gear also can streamline the company's interactive voice response (IVR) and web-based shipment-tracking systems. Callers with the old IVR can find the whereabouts of their shipments over the phone, and they can get the same information on a Web page. But with IP voice, the data can be stored on one server, Lichtel says.

The company is a Cisco shop, and its routers include IP voice features imbedded in IOS that will pave the way to an eventual company-wide IP telephony rollout. "It's something we will exploit in the future," he says.

The IS director for a major hardware chain, who asked not to be identified, says the company is looking into IP telephony via trials, and is attracted by potential cost savings. But, he says, with more than 1000 stores, he has to be convinced the technology can handle such a large deployment reliably.

Gartner told attendees that IP telephony is ready for deployment technologically, but business concerns might override making the shift in some companies. The cost of the phones is a major issue.

"The cost of replacement telephones alone is reason enough to delay conversion of all desktops," said Jeff Snyder, a Gartner research vice president. "Network readiness, voice security and policy/(quality of service) rule management add further costs to conversion, and require additional planning as well."

Snyder said most corporate IP data networks that are more than 3 years old will need to be upgraded if the company wants to run high-quality voice over it. That is the key issue Lieupo wants to come to an agreement with Florida's state SunCom data network before he tries passing voice traffic over it. If he gets the OK, he says he can save money. "I'm already paying for (the data network). I'll have to see what the state will allow," he said.

Snyder cited three key reasons why businesses should shift to IP voice now:

* Old PBXs are being replaced anyway.

* The company is moving to a new building and budget is available for the change.

* IP voice offers business advantages that warrant the investment.

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