Converged networks: No longer if, but when

Companies can't pass up compelling benefits such as increased utilization of resources and reduced costs

Networks today must evolve into a robust, services-oriented platform that enriches emerging, innovative, composite applications and yet still manage to balance technology and business processes. In addition to its primary function -- that is, data -- converged networks incorporate instant messaging, multimedia e-mail, voice and streaming media, Web and videoconferencing, unified collaboration and more. Enterprises can finally consolidate resources in a shared environment for higher levels of utilization, lower costs and more efficient management.

Enterprises are no longer saying if, but when. According to Leslie Davis at Brocade Communications Systems Inc., the converged network offers compelling benefits that involve increased levels of utilization for the resources in the data center while also reducing the equipment and management costs of the network itself (compared to an architecture that is not converged). Consolidation also provides an advantage in power and cooling efficiency in the data center, where reducing the number of systems in an environment lowers the consumption of electricity and reduces the need for HVAC, both of which provide cost and environmental benefits.

Benefits

"The clear advantages of converged networks are improved costs and IT resource productivity," says Ben Gibson, senior director of mobility solutions at Cisco Systems Inc. Convergence shifts the focus from reactive case management to proactive innovation delivery, he notes. By managing one network and converging data, voice and video applications over that network, the stress and frustration of managing disparate networks, applications and protocols subside.

"With video, voice and network technologies starting to blend, it became clear that we could gain efficiencies by merging together our professional resources that were designing and operating those networks and then merging the physical networks together," says Erik Parker, senior infrastructure analyst of wireless and LAN infrastructure design at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Toyota deployed a Cisco-based network application to more than 1,200 different sites that provides a standards-based network, allowing it to easily supply video, data and voice over the same physical network. Using this configuration, the converged network allowed Toyota to deploy any Internet protocol-based application without having to add any physical hardware and still ensure the reliability and redundancy of the network.

According to Parker, this strategy has allowed Toyota's individual resources to share their expertise in what used to be silos of technology, with other like-minded resources, resulting in a more resilient team of engineers. Once the merging of the physical networks is complete, Toyota's engineers can more easily deploy the plethora of voice, video, media-rich applications and collaboration tools. "Having the proper backbone in place makes it exponentially easier and considerably quicker to start rolling out the more demanding applications that an enterprise requires," says Parker.

The advantages are undeniable and acutely evident in numerous areas, including savings in capital and operational expenditures, notes Gregory Heath, director of solutions marketing at Extreme Networks Inc. Among other advantages, the converged network allows voice calls to take advantage of toll bypass; it saves on the costs of building a separate, circuit-based network alongside the data network from PBX to cable plant (wiring); supports multiple advanced features (far beyond circuit phone systems); and reduces the staff needed for IT and telecom.

Bob Mays, director of network and communications at Villanova University, says, "Last year, the university partnered with Avaya and Extreme Networks to install an IP-enabled PBX with VoIP capabilities. Now, we can manage both the voice and data networks using one platform, which is a better utilization of staff because both the voice and data network teams can troubleshoot the same network. In addition, it positions the university to begin saving on long-distance expenses when outbound calls are going over the Internet."

Villanova is on a second-generation converged network built with a network foundation from Extreme and IP telephony solutions from Avaya. The network connects more than 3,000 IP and digital phones, providing flexibility for staff. Staff members use feature-rich IP or SIP phones as buildings are updated on a rolling technology upgrade.

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