Inventory of Assets and Existing Capabilities

By: Michael Talbert

Inventory of Assets: Know what you have to work with by taking a full inventory of all your network hardware including switches, routers, servers, existing PBX's, cabling and end user equipment. Make sure to take note of their processing power and throughput capabilities, as well as any nodes that are not VoIP aware. Also be sure to document router OS versions and WAN connections to the Internet.

You may find that some equipment may need to be upgraded, refurbished, or retired. For hardware that is not suitable on one segment, look for other areas in your organization where you can reuse your existing equipment, perhaps a branch office with older assets that does not need to be deployed any time soon.

Also take a good look at all of your business applications, their versions, and any patches or upgrades that need to be rolled out. Now is the time to decide which applications you can do without and get rid of the clutter, and to bring in any new or upgraded versions of applications critical to you business needs. Get current with all the patches available for apps and operating systems as well.

Take the opportunity at this point to assess your current telephony environment, such as call center configurations, slow, normal, and busy calling patterns, connection times, inter/intra office call patterns. All the information you gather about your current calling environment will be used to set the bench marks and determine SLAs in the new converged environment. Inventory all of your current voice equipment to determine their usability and depreciation schedules. During deployment, you will more than likely want to keep an old PBX or two as a backup.

The Network Assessment: One of the most important steps in planning for voice is the Network Readiness Assessment. Most VoIP vendors will provide a network assessment for you in order to determine the parts of an existing network that require an upgrade to produce an acceptable level of call quality.

For companies that plan to manage their own ongoing operations, network assessment tools are available, and indeed should be part of your overall network analysis software solution. Whereas the first network assessment in the planning stage is to determine where you may need to upgrade, subsequent assessments should be made periodically on a monthly or quarterly basis to see how changes in the network are affecting performance.

Assessment tools are hardware or software based, with software being the preferable method as the entire network can be assessed from a centralized location. A software tool will send agents throughout the LAN and over WAN connections to remote locations, simulating voice traffic to determine how many VoIP calls a location can handle based on QoS and MOS indicators.

The initial assessment for VoIP readiness should be made throughout an entire business cycle. Simulate peak calling times for different locations, and assess other business applications that reside on the network as to how they will react with the additional voice traffic, as well as their affect on call quality and QoS.

It has been noted in the industry that fully 50% of IPT deployments that neglect to do a network assessment end up in failed deployments, many of them spending money on upgrading their networks were they thought they needed it, instead of where they knew they needed it.

For some smaller businesses, convergence could be as simple and cheap as installing an Asterix PBX system on a dedicated machine, or using a peer to peer network such as Skype to communicate between branch offices. For businesses that maintain their own infrastructure, failure to plan, test and assess for IPT will surely result in a failed deployment marred with dropped calls, unacceptable call quality and connection times, and potential disruptions of your companies other critical business applications.

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