Success with SIP (Part 2)

nec-sip-trunks-uc-project-plan1The benefits of SIP trunking go beyond cheaper connectivity in the form of simplified architecture, redundancy, scalability, and other benefits for your business. In our last post we focused on SIP devices, end points, and applications. In this post, we’ll continue the conversation with the advantages you can gain with a successful deployment of SIP trunks.

Architecture

The right design can amplify your savings and benefits, especially in highly distributed environments. With a well thought out design, you can centralize SIP trunks into a few key points of concentration in your network. By utilizing a combination of SIP trunks, you can maximize your on-net traffic to reduce or eliminate carrier toll charges between sites. A centralized design can also optimize your off-net traffic and, with the use of multiple SIP services providers, can increase your leverage in negotiations and overall flexibility. When you centralize SIP trunks, versus delivering dedicated lines to each site, you create a cost-effective form of redundancy that can benefit your disaster recovery and business continuity plans. An optimized architecture that standardizes and centralizes voice traffic over SIP trunks can save you as much as 50% compared to ISDN PRIs.

Scalability

SIP trunks offer a level of scalability and flexibility that was previously not available.  It enables organizations to easily and quickly adjust for traffic requirements. A seasonal business, for example, can easily increase capacity as demand grows and then can adjust downward as the business returns to normal. The white paper below walks you through the calculations to determine the right bandwidth for your organization. It is important to optimize your bandwidth because too much capacity is wasted money and too little capacity will result in blocked calls.

While voice over IP (VoIP) is not required to take advantage of SIP trunks, it can complement your VoIP deployment by increasing efficiency by sharing voice capacity on your network. SIP can play a key role in your Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C) strategy. One consideration in your planning is to take advantage of SIP trunking to migrate conferencing traffic on net as an additional cost savings measure. In some cases, the savings gained by eliminating hosted audio, video and web collaboration services provides the necessary justification and ROI of Unified Communications (UC). SIP trunks enable the benefits of UC to expand across the WAN. UC features such as voice, video, presence, IM, and web collaboration are enhanced by the on net flow of data. This adds to the network effect and accelerates UC adoption.

Selecting a SIP Service Provider

Not all SIP service providers offer the same trunk services. Ideally, you’d prefer a provider with an IP core that can offer MPLS throughout their core network. Some carriers have to convert traffic to legacy transport technology. You should try to avoid this scenario because the translation of your voice packets and SIP signaling can impact your Quality of Service (QoS). It’s also a bad idea to put voice or SIP traffic on the open internet. This will not only present QoS problems, but will also add security concerns. The right provider, or combination of providers, will be able to deliver the WAN coverage you need, but it’s also important to verify they offer the local coverage and features you’ll need.

Reluctance and concerns

I know, the last thing you need right now is another project, so reluctance and concerns are to be expected. In a recent Infonetics survey, only 38% of respondents stated they are currently using SIP trunks today. That number is expected to grow to 58% by 2015 as more organizations adopt the technology. It shows that, as of today, some folks are still reluctant to take the plunge. We briefly touched on QoS and security concerns and the Success with SIP white paper below discusses survey results that list the most common problems organizations experience after deploying SIP trunks. The largest number of reported issues related to the service provider, followed by edge devices, and then internal configurations. The paper highlights the specific issues and also how to avoid them.

Another concern that causes IT departments to hesitate relates to E911 and emergency services. This is obviously an area that requires serious planning and attention. The majority of service providers out there offer an E911 solution, but some smaller providers buy the service from other providers. So it’s critical to determine who is actually providing the service. The security of SIP trunks is an additional source of reluctance and concern. With any IP connection, there is a security risk that needs to be managed. The border between your network and the SIP trunk provider is an important security boundary and where your Session Boarder Controller (SBC) will guard against malicious attacks, toll fraud and encrypt signaling and media traffic.

Next steps

So what’s next? Planning and testing. As Gary Audin points out in his Success with SIP white paper, planning and testing are two of the most critical elements in your SIP project plan. Using the survey results in the report, you can better define objectives for your organization. It’s also important not to rush into production without serious testing first. Finally, allow some extra time for the installation and unanticipated issues.

For the full list of Gary’s best practices for a successful SIP trunking project, check out the white paper below.

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Photo credit: UNM_IT

Improving Unified Communications through Virtualization

nec-virtualization-voice-unified-communicationsMany organizations are improving communications through the virtualization of real time applications such as voice and unified communications (UC). All the financial and practical benefits of traditional server virtualization still apply as companies consolidate voice and UC into their data center. Namely: reduced capital expense, improved efficiencies, reduced risk, plus the savings on operational expenses since voice and UC can be managed with all other business applications on shared infrastructure. While the concept of virtualization has been around for a long time, it continues to be a leading trend in the transformation of data centers as organizations find new ways to reduce costs and improve efficiencies.

While hardware and energy expenses are the obvious savings, organizations sometimes overlook the reductions in operating costs. These savings can be drastic, especially in highly distributed organizations. The ability to easily manage your voice and UC in conjunction with other business application simplifies administration. It makes server testing, deployment and policy compliance easier as installations can be created from standard images. There are also IT benefits as it relates to the support of remote sites. When you have dedicated servers for individual applications managed by remote staff it can get really expensive. The common server infrastructure and application can reduce the remote site IT support staff requirements. Additionally, backup or clustered instances of your telephony, audio/video conferences and unified communications applications at your remote sites can play a critical role with load balancing and fail-over. This can add tremendous benefits to your business continuity and disaster recovery (DR) plans.

 

Reduced costs

With virtualization there are a number of benefits seen when it comes to reduced costs. First, there’s reduced hardware expenses. Virtualization vendors once touted claims as high as 50 to 100 virtual machines on a single physical server, but, even if you go with a conservative 10:1 consolidation ratio, there’s still significant savings on hardware costs and maintenance. Now that leading voice and UC applications are offered as purely software-based solutions, you can add telephony, audio/video conferencing, unified messaging, contact center, etc. to your data center on the standard off-the-shelf servers you are familiar with.

Reduced power consumption is a nice added cost savings. Organizations can become more energy efficient through server consolidation as a smaller number of fully utilized servers consume far less power than a large number of under-utilized ones. Additionally, there are real estate, cooling, and backup power savings that go along with the smaller footprint, not to mention the aesthetics of a clean data center.

Improved efficiencies

Virtualized server environments have a number of advantages when it comes to improved efficiencies and simplified administration that are often not available with physical servers. Advantages like live migration, storage migration, fault tolerance, high availability and distributed resource planning help you maximize uptime of your critical applications like voice and UC. These virtualization technologies keep your virtual machines up and running and give them the ability to quickly recover from unplanned outages. The ability to easily backup and move from one virtual machine to another is one of the best business continuity benefits out there. Additionally, combining these software advantages with fault tolerant servers can create a rock solid environment where it’s needed.

In addition to business continuity, disaster recovery for your communications is greatly improved in a virtualized environment. By reducing the number of physical servers required to run your operation, you have a complete backup solution at a remote site as we mentioned above, or in the cloud at a co-lo facility or offered as a service from your system integrator. In the past, this type of backup solution was cost prohibitive for most. The DR site had to have the exact, often proprietary, hardware configuration as the production site. This can be very costly and an administration nightmare to keep in sync. Now, through virtualization, this type of DR plan is more affordable and easier to maintain. One thing to consider as you plan to virtualize your communications is how your vendor prices user software licenses. Make sure you are not paying for the idle voice and UC licenses that are part of your disaster recovery plan.

For those of us that have suffered from server sprawl, we know all too well how this begins. The server room starts off clean, tidy and with plenty of physical space, but one-by-one we continued to add additional applications that required a dedicated server. Critical applications like voice, contact centers and unified messaging once required isolated processing power, memory and storage space to satisfy business requirements. Now that these applications no longer require proprietary dedicated servers, IT departments can escape the server vender lock that once limited options. Virtualization provides an ideal way for organizations to minimize the number of servers needed. By creating virtual machines that meet the exact requirements, you can overcome the hardware limitation and latency issues that prevented the virtualization of real time applications like voice communications in the past.

There is one common theme across all IT organizations in today’s economic environment – to do more with less. Virtualization is a great way to improve your organization’s communications and provide higher quality services with less hardware, lower costs, and reduced administration hassle. Click below to learn how NEC’s software-based unified communications applications have advanced the virtualization strategies of numerous organizations.

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Trends in Hospitality: HITEC 2013 Preview

nec-hospitality-unified-communications-hitecHITEC begins today, and our NEC hospitality team is looking forward to the trends that we will be seeing on the show floor. Here are some of our predictions:

Customer Compatibility
In my November blog post BYOD: Expanding to Hospitality, I referenced a Pew Research report that noted that more than half of all mobile phone users rely on their portable device to search for information on hotels. With mobility, you can get everything you want, where you want, plus gain positive benefits in revenue, guest experience and marketing. With the steadily increasing volume of mobile network users, what better time for a hospitality business to embrace the guest BYOD trend and get them more connected to your business than ever before.

Guest Experience
The bottom line of any investment decision is guest experience. Does it improve guest experience? Will this be guests’ expectations moving forward? Will this keep my guest satisfied? And will this help their decision to return? The right services, staff training and communications systems are essential in order to maximize guest satisfaction and return stays. When you see new and existing technologies on the show floor, think about what the trickle-down effect is. If, in the end, it does not improve the guest experience, you may want to reconsider your investments.

Unified Communications
Small to mid-sized properties make up the majority of all hotels in North America. NEC recognizes that hotel operators have increased pressure, in today’s tough economic times, to maintain superior guest services while improving staff efficiency and lowering overall operating costs. At HITEC, NEC will be demonstrating UNIVERGE 3C for Hospitality – an innovative, affordable unified communications solution specifically tailored for the burgeoning mid-sized hotel market and built on the proven, award winning UNIVERGE 3C software platform – a flexible, scalable, reliable and cost effective IP PBX.

During HITEC 2013, NEC will also demonstrate how its solutions help organizations provide the best guest experience possible by being and staying connected. It will showcase its latest UNIVERGE® UC&C and Cloud technologies, which are designed to help organizations be more mobile, connected, collaborative and productive. Additionally, NEC will be introducing biometrics solutions to help hospitality organizations improve customer engagement.

Stop by booth #907 to experience all of these solutions. Not going to HITEC 2013? Follow us on the floor at @NEC and use the official hashtag #HITEC. Check out the video below to see how NEC has helped hotels around the world recover missed revenue opportunities, increase customer service, and enhance the overall guest experience.

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4 Ways to Integrate Unified Communications Into Your Disaster Recovery Plan

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Now that Unified Communications (UC) has been around a while, you are likely well-versed on the benefits of UC platforms, or may have even already deployed one yourself. There are the security aspects, end user satisfaction, and perhaps at the forefront of your mind – savings. Then there are the suggested policies and best practice methods. But if your business is heavily dependent on communications, have you considered how you can leverage Unified Communications to benefit your business in the event of an emergency?

Disaster recovery planning optimized with Unified Communications should be an essential component of your IT strategy and emergency preparedness. One great benefit of the flexibility and mobility of unified communications is that it enables seamless implementation of disaster recovery strategies. UC technologies provide a whole new degree of integration and collaboration among employees, enabling secure data traffic through a single application regardless of location. In any emergency, it is important that uninterrupted communications capabilities are maintained at all times. We narrowed down the top four ways to optimize Unified Communications in case of a disaster:

  • Evaluate Possible Scenarios— How would different scenarios affect your business? For example, would you take different measures during an earthquake as opposed to a flood? How about a systems attack, virus, or other type of infrastructure failure? After identifying some specific scenarios, you may want to identify the various general types of disaster you want to be prepared for. It is helpful to determine what aspects of your business will be most affected in these situations, and determine how UC will perform and assist in your preparation and response.

 

  • Geographic Diversity–If your company is geographically dispersed, you have an inherent capacity for redundancy that you can take advantage of. Routing communications and other processes to your various locations – whether they are in the same state or different countries – could be an ideal solution during disaster situations. Unified Communications helps make this possible. Alerting all divisions or departments within your organization of a major event as well as taking note of theirs can help smooth the recovery process. Reaching out to disaster recovery services, such as remote workstations, offsite data storage, and collocated branches is also a good idea. The effectiveness of this was demonstrated during the September 11, 2001 attacks when disaster recovery services provided office space and restored operations for many displaced businesses.

 

  • Remote Productivity and Remote Workers –UC is commonly associated with desktop productivity, but with the use of mobile devices consistently increasing, it is beneficial to become familiar with methods to increase your company’s remote productivity. This can become particularly critical during a disaster, so it is essential to be prepared rather than waiting for disaster to strike. A good starting point is to fully understand the tools and resources necessary to enable remote productivity. You may also want to consider requiring users to work from home a few days every year, or rotating workers through home-office test runs to ensure they are comfortable with the Unified Communications platform you utilize and can effectively use UC if they are unable to make it to the office in the event of an emergency.

 

  • Consumer Technologies— Unified Communications has the ability to interface with consumer technologies, such as instant messaging and social media, and can display the presence and availability of mobile workers. This capability can be crucial in times of disaster. By employing the same technology across the board, UC allows employees to access the same tools and communicate remotely even in a disaster situation.

Planning ahead and evaluating your disaster recovery plan can be very beneficial to your business. With a solid plan in place you can avoid preventable mistakes when the time comes to take action. This list provides a starting point, but if you really want to leverage your investment, particularly in times of emergency, makes it a priority to not only devise a plan, but continually test and update your recovery plan with current trends.

For more on current trends in disaster recovery and business continuity planning, check out what our friends at CSO have to say. Click here to download the CSO guide to basics of disaster recovery planning.