The Five Biggest VoIP 'Gotchas' - InformationWeek

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7/26/2005
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The Five Biggest VoIP 'Gotchas'

Deploying VoIP on your network can be a tricky business, but if you take into account the five big dangers we detail in this article it should be smoother sailing.

Deploying VoIP on your network can be a tricky business. Take into account these big five dangers, though, and it should be smooth sailing.

Murphy's Law holds that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, so it stands to reason that anything as complex as a voice over IP (VoIP) deployment is going to hit a few snags. "You're more likely to hit snags than not," says Forrester Research vice president Lisa Pierce. "A lot of companies say 'we're just adding another protocol to the network,' when they're actually re-architecting the network."

And if anything should set off alarm bells when it comes to networks, it is the whole idea of re-architecting.

The bottom line is that VoIP is a tricky business. It's not just data, and it's not just voice, and there are so many little, basic details that can jump up and bite your organization on the backside, that an enterprise VoIP migration can spiral into chaos if you're not careful. "There really are so many basics," Pierce says. "That's why it requires a significant commitment on the part of the company to plan and so it right."

Avaya IP telephony specialist Tracy Fleming says it's easier to work around the problems if you see them coming, than if they come as a big surprise on the eve of deployment. Planning, after all, is everything. "It's very easy for the details to get away from you if you buy into the hype and the expectations," Fleming says.

So what are the big "gotchas" in VoIP deployments?

Premature vendor choice: Because a lot of the hype and pressure to migrate to VoIP is vendor driven, the decision of which brand of phones and equipment to buy often precedes the more basic decisions about how the new system is going to be used and managed. Making the wrong vendor choice can leave you with a long-term investment in a phone system that doesn't work the way you do.

"Organizations have very strong preferences to use existing vendors," Pierce says. "That assumes that the vendor will be able to deliver functionality for the long term. But the vendor choice should always follow the decision on how you are going to care for the system."

There's no law that says you can't run another vendor's VoIP hardware on top of the single-vendor network that you already own. Moreover, your own capabilities will largely determine which vendor's capabilities, if any, offer the best fit, and a rush to chose a given brand of VoIP hardware can be an unfortunate leap into the dark, Piece says.

"The actual decision about your own capabilities and what exactly you want from VoIP has to happen first," she says. "Only then should you choose a vendor. What if you don't have the in-house expertise, and a hosted system makes more sense in the long run? Then the vendor isn't an issue at all."

Remember that it's still a phone: Everyone knows how to make a phone call. It requires very little, if any training to pick up a receiver and punch in a string of numbers. Unfortunately, the sheer number of features available on VoIP hard and soft phones can make them complicated enough to require extensive user training.

"The phone is the most ubiquitous user interface in the world," Fleming says. "You shouldn't have to train your staff how to use one."

If simple functions like hold are buried three menus down on a liquid crystal display, or if the phone plays a dial tone .wav file whether the network is up or not, you could have some serious problems with user satisfaction. Fleming says that one of the big mistakes companies make is that they forget that, at the end of the day, they are deploying a phone system that has to used like a phone system.

"One thing we now hear companies saying is 'what we really want is a phone system,'" he says.

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