Sunday, March 9, 2008

VoIP - more than you bargained for?

Thanks for the inspiration Carl - your objective viewpoint often sheds light on absurdities that I might otherwise fail to notice. In this case I'm referring to Cisco flavored VoIP. It's an amazing concept that truly delivers next generation communication capabilities. Who wouldn't want: virtually unlimited directory numbers, multi-line capability, much more wide open conference call ability, a centralized web based interface to administer/log the system, the ability to tie into POTS lines at the gateway or use a truly cheap international carrier, and much more?

I had always thought that the key selling point to VoIP is that it works on your existing infrastructure. You already have Ethernet. You're connected to the Internet on a relatively wide pipe. Why not plug phones into your system?

What if I told you that my Cisco rep pointed out that they made half of their income - yes, literally half one recent year on VoIP related sales? Holy Cow! You know how much Cisco equipment costs! How much could a phone possibly run!?!? This surprised me even after hearing that they wanted nearly $20k for call manager software for one switch that we already owned. How could that be?

Lets jump to my recent VoIP experience. We rapidly deployed about 20 VoIP phones on a network that was also to become busier than usual. Without getting into the specifics too much, the system was very sensitive to being properly configured. If the separate VLAN wasn't set up just so phones would randomly reboot and exhibit strange behavior. Some of the switches with a slightly older version of IOS had to be configured differently than the newer ones. Phones plugged into switches without PoE needed power cubes. Gateways, call managers, and phones needed to be configured and coordinated between sites. Bottom line - I love what VoIP brings to the table and am eager to learn more, but it's not a simple matter of plugging a phone into your network.

OK, back to Cisco sales dollars. In light of what I just presented my earlier statements should make more sense. How would you like to save money by purchasing some new VoIP equipment that will work with your existing infrastructure? Yes, great. Well, you may need to replace all your switches. Update your routers, (maybe?), buy some call managers and gateways while you're at it. Hey - at least you'll have a modern network. Your cabling should still be good.

Given all that, I still can't say that I'm opposed to VoIP. In fact, I'll call it progress. But you sure as heck better figure out what you're getting yourself into prior to making the big plunge! You don't want to make yourself that guy at your organization!

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