The Network by Tim Titus, CTO, PathSolutions

Cloud Computing and VoIP

Cloud computing is a tantalizing prospect for CIOs and CFOs as infrastructure and operational costs can be greatly reduced, but that doesn’t mean you cede all IT responsibilities and work to the providers. Migration, from a network standpoint, can result in more work than ever before for network and telecom teams.

I heard a story recently about how a company simply picked up all their servers in their data center one weekend and moved them to a co-location facility.  All they had to do was change the IP addresses and DNS entries and then physically move the boxes.  They figure on saving a lot  of money by not having to replace the batteries in the UPSs every couple of years as well as sharing the costs of electricity, diesel generators and air conditioning with the other tenants in the center.

The only additional new cost with this change in architecture is the link from the co-location facility back to the office, but this charge can be eliminated because the office no longer needs Internet access – that can be provided more cheaply and with higher bandwidth via the facility.

The dangling carrot is that payback is immediate: next month’s electrical bill will be dramatically reduced, and the air conditioning and diesel generator support contracts for the data center can be immediately cancelled, as well as the budget for purchasing new UPS batteries.

Migration is tantalizing, just as upgrading from Ethernet hubs to switches was back in the early 1990s. It seems there’s only lots of benefits with no drawbacks, but this sounds a little too good to be true.  Don’t just buy into the cloud computing hype. Although there are benefits there are also potential drawbacks, especially for VoIP.  You need to understand the issues, and above all have a plan and the resources in place to carry it out.

The biggest issue revolves around the massive changes in traffic patterns. Links that previously did not require QoS could potentially bottleneck and cause poor call quality and dropped calls, routers that were adequate may strain under the new load, and switches may discard traffic due to a lack of available upstream bandwidth.  These problems may be compounded if the VoIP gateways were moved to the co-location facility during migration. Links from the facility to the office will need to be closely monitored to insure proper protection and prioritization of packets.

Many companies may end up being trapped in a situation where they don’t have the time, resources or budget to properly address these issues.  For example, adding QoS to a link may take a day or two to configure and validate if the expertise is on-site, but upgrading routers and switches on-the-fly will cause additional network and service disruption.

A plan is essential to avoid these kinds of issues. It should include a thorough evaluation of network capabilities and limitations to predict and prevent bottlenecks and faults from occurring, as well as monitoring and re-evaluation of network resources immediately after migration.

Migrating may save money in the short run, but your telecom and network teams may be stretched to the limit as they struggle to tackle the issues surrounding new network paths.  If these are not addressed quickly, poor VoIP quality and cloud services may result.

In the end, your business users will decide whether migration was a success or failure. If the newly-engineered services are perceived as poorly supported or unreliable, you may have saved a lot of money but severely damaged IT’s reputation, as well as impacted the productivity of your workforce. When it comes to cloud computing and VoIP, you need to be careful.

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