Does your team have the resources and skills necessary to make your VoIP deployment a success? If not, which resources and skills should be outsourced, and to whom? Each of the project phases outlined in previous chapters will be examined in this section as the second question is considered. Because the planning phase may be somewhat lengthy and may require various different skill sets, it is a logical place to start when considering outsourcing part or all of a VoIP deployment.
Planning, Assessment, and Pilots
You may not be fully sold on the idea that VoIP can work successfully in your enterprise. Perhaps you would like to collect more information and do some additional planning, but don't have the time or skills needed. There are companies that you can call on to outsource the services that you need for a VoIP deployment. They are known as system integrators because they integrate a variety of products and services to create the solution that you need. System integrators offer a great wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to planning for VoIP. Consider outsourcing VoIP-readiness assessments, network improvements, and pilot deployments to a system integrator. Outsourcing each topic is discussed in detail in the following sections.
The first planning step that a system integrator can complete for you is a VoIP-readiness assessment. This assessment analyzes your current telephony and data networks and determines whether the data network is ready for VoIP. Such an assessment is cost-effective, kind of like a pop quizwith little preparation, you get a good idea of where you stand and what you must do to be successful.
A good readiness assessment provides an executive summary report with a "go, no-go" indication, as well as detailed reports to help you deal with problem areas. The assessment reports should provide you with the following information:
By using the reports, you can determine what your network needs before you continue with a VoIP deployment. One advantage of outsourcing a VoIP-readiness assessment is that you get all of this information before you have to make an investment in costly VoIP equipment or training. The assessment reports pinpoint likely network problems that could lead to failures or poor call quality. Network improvements may be necessary before going to the next phase. Therefore, you should consider engaging a system integrator who can provide both assessment services and help with network improvements.
After you have had a readiness assessment performed, you should have reports showing what needs to be upgraded in the data network to support toll-quality calls. You may choose to outsource some or all of the following:
Upgrades of equipment and links The routers may need a higher level of operating system to support VoIP, and they may need more memory to support the new operating system and increased network traffic. Switches and routers may need to have VLANs configured. Certain links may need upgrades for capacity purposes. (These are just a few of the improvements that can be outsourced.)
Implementing QoS Some level of quality of service is required for a successful VoIP deployment. Trying out and tuning different mechanisms enables you to find what works before you roll it out widely. There are many different QoS mechanisms, with a bewildering array of trade-offs, so choosing an outside expert to come in may be cost-effective. Don't underestimate the impact that VoIP can have on your current network traffic, and vice versa.
New network service contracts and SLAs From the readiness assessment, you may have learned that some of your existing network links need more capacity to better support the additional VoIP traffic. As an alternative, you may have sufficient capacity, but the current tuning may be biased toward high throughput for file transfers rather than low delay and jitter. You may have to create new SLAs for VoIP and also update existing SLAs to take into account the real-time performance requirements of VoIP.
After you have finished the network upgrades and improvements, it is time to start a pilot deployment.
VoIP Pilot Deployments
A system integrator can provide the know-how to get the pilot deployment up and running quickly. The pilot is the time to learn about VoIP's technical intricaciesand there is a lot to learn! You may want to outsource this step as a training exercise for your staff. Experts can walk you through a small deployment, modeling the necessary steps and working through the initial problems while training your staff to do it the next time. During the pilot, you have to install, configure, and test new equipment. This is also a good time to gain experience managing the ongoing operation of a deployed VoIP system, and an expert can walk you through it as you learn.
Begin the pilot in a test lab, then roll it out to a small group of users. A pilot deployment can also serve as a decision point for saying "Yes," "No," or "Not now" to a larger VoIP deployment. When outsourcing a VoIP pilot, look for an integrator who can provide services such as the following:
Install, configure, and test VoIP equipment You may need call servers, IP PBXs, and VoIP phonessoftphones and IP phones have their own unique setup issues. You probably need a VoIP gateway to provide for calls coming from and going to the PSTN. However, it can be difficult to configure a VoIP gateway that provides seamless integration between the IP network and the PSTN.
Train and educate One goal of the pilot deployment is to learn as much as you can about VoIP. If you plan to take over the operation of the VoIP implementation after the pilot, you need a skills transfer from the integrator.
Verify How do you know the pilot is working? What kind of call quality can you expect from the full-scale deployment? The integrator needs to verify that the pilot is up and running successfully.
After you have finished an initial VoIP pilot deployment, you have a wealth of information to consider. Did the pilot go smoothly? Are you ready for the next step? If so, you may want to begin a larger deployment.
A VoIP deployment is really just a pilot on a larger scale. Whereas a pilot may take place in a lab under controlled conditions, the VoIP deployment takes place in the real world, with real users. You have several options for outsourcing a VoIP deployment:
Toll bypass using VoIP gateways Your current phone-service carrier may be able to provide one of the least disruptive toll-bypass services. Some carriers can provide VoIP gateways that connect to your traditional PBXs. PSTN traffic can pass through the PBX, to the VoIP gateway, and over an IP network backbone, also provided by the carrier. This option can mean reduced costs for calls between corporate sites, and it offers a first step in the migration to a larger VoIP deployment. Figure 4-1 shows a toll-bypass scenario using VoIP gateways.
Figure 4-1. Toll Bypass Using VoIP Gateways
VoIP deployment with IP PBXs Post-pilot, you may be ready to invest in more VoIP equipment and take a further step toward a converged network. Integrators offer services to install, configure, and test a VoIP deployment using IP PBXs in conjunction with, or as a replacement for, traditional PBXs. The service may be bundled with tuning, management, and training.
A VoIP deployment can and probably should be staged. Don't try to do more than you are capable of doing. After you have a VoIP system deployed, it still takes a good bit of tuning to make it all work well together.
You are moving to VoIP because of the new features it offers. You are integrating these features into new voice-enabled applications. However, you probably need some assistance with making the whole system work together. System integrators can help make your unified messaging system work with your e-mail servers to provide the new features that you are expecting from VoIP.
Application integration is a relatively new area for VoIP. It is an area that requires knowledge of a range of different applications, including complex web-based applications and ERP applications that may need to work together. In addition, new VoIP application servers may need to be installed, configured, and tested. Integrating a new technology with new or existing applications is an area that you may want to leave to experts.
Tuning a VoIP network for optimal performance requires skills that are hard to come by. When you are dealing with a system that has a virtually unlimited number of configuration choices, getting the right combinations can be a daunting task. Consider letting someone else master the various permutations of QoS and tuning. The many possible combinations make this phase of a VoIP deployment a step that you may not want to tackle. After you have read Chapter 5, "Quality of Service and Tuning," you will have a better sense for how to tackle itand whether to outsource it.
Good network tuning involves analyzing the network design and traffic flow. Many of the criteria for a good network design were touched upon in Chapter 3, "Planning for VoIP." System integrators can analyze both your network design and network traffic flow and suggest ways to make the network run more efficiently. Because many network equipment vendors offer certification programs for network design and deployment, you should look for system integrators who have vendor certifications.
Management and Monitoring
After the VoIP deployment is up and running, you need to manage and monitor it to ensure that it continues to perform well. A new type of service has emerged to provide network management and monitoring solutions. If you are interested in outsourcing at this stage, managed service providers (MSPs) are companies that offer network management services for a monthly fee. An MSP can manage your VoIP deployment for you. Generally, MSPs offer two types of services:
Self service The MSP leases to you a management application and handles the installation, configuration, and maintenance of the application, but you manage your network by using the application. Your staff handles the day-to-day management and monitoring with the tools provided by the MSP.
Full service The MSP provides all the resources that are needed to fully manage and monitor your network. You don't have to provide any staff for management purposes, and you pay a predictable cost for the service.
Enterprise Management Associates (http://www.enterprisemanagement.com/) provides lots of information about management software and services.
If you choose an MSP for either type of VoIP management service, you need to consider what kinds of thresholds and SLAs will be used. Management is not an option for a successful VoIP deployment, it is a requirement. The question is: Who provides the service?
Problem Isolation and Diagnosis
This used to be easy in the PSTNif something broke, you called in the POTS specialist to fix it as soon as possible, and had an expensive agreement to do so. It is still a good idea to outsource if your team does not have the skills to isolate and fix problems quickly.
On the other hand, outsourcing maintenance and problem diagnosis can leave some companies feeling out of control. If you do choose to outsource troubleshooting, you have to depend on the service provider to react to and resolve the problem in a timely manner.
Proper training is a necessary requirement for a VoIP deployment. In addition to IT staff, your end users will need to be trained how to use new IP phones. The IP phones may have different options and function keys. Access to voice mail may be different in a unified messaging system. You don't want to have frustrated end users on day one of your VoIP deployment.
High-tech training companies with excellent teachers continually refine their material, making it more pertinent and useful in real-world situations. And to remain competitive, they keep it up-to-date. Rely on them to train your IT staff for VoIP deployment and management, and to train your end users for phone and messaging features.
Consider having your team members get technical certifications. Technical certifications are gained through focused programs that train your staff to be experts in various technical areas. New VoIP certifications are available from a number of companies.