|Topic:||Quality calling – VoIP comes of age|
|Title:||CEO and Member of the Board of Directors|
Gad Tobaly is the Chief Executive Officer and a Member of the Board of Directors of InfoVista. Previously, Mr Tobaly spent four years at Computer Associates (CA) in the United States as Senior Vice President and General Manager, holding regional and global management positions within Field Operations. Before joining CA, Mr Tobaly was Managing Director with Platinum Technology in Europe and was responsible for the company’s operations in France and Africa. Mr Tobaly, who is fluent in four languages, earned mathematics and physics degrees from the Paris Jussieu University and has a Masters in Management Information Systems from Paris-Dauphine University.
The growing use of VoIP – a voice technology that seems destined, one day, to replace traditional circuit-switched telephony – makes the reliability, performance and quality of service, QoS, of increasing concern to users and service providers alike. Widespread adoption of VoIP will depend upon overcoming performance and security issues, including access to emergency (911) services, deterring security threats and hackers, ensuring QoS and providing the sort of services with VoIP that phone users have come to expect.
Voice over Internet Protocol, VoIP, has emerged as an increasingly popular alternative to traditional phone connections because of its ability to transport voice communications over data networks such as the Internet. Enterprise and residential users are adopting VoIP services in record numbers, attracted to the savings provided by the low cost of VoIP calling. According to a new report by Juniper Research, the market for VoIP business services is set to reach US$18 billion by 2010. In a separate report by Integrated Research, based on a survey of 1,232 executives worldwide, 78 per cent of large companies say they are deploying IP telephony, largely to enhance communications with IP applications and services such as video conferencing. As telecommunications and cable service providers continue to launch an increasing array of VoIP offerings to enterprise and residential markets, and with business critical applications like voice and video now running on IP networks, guaranteeing uptime, performance and service levels is vital. Potential VoIP users need to educate themselves on the technology, its benefits and current limitations. In a traditional public switched telephone network, PSTN, a telephone number enables a circuit-switched network’s routing computers to establish a direct link between callers via wires. In contrast, with VoIP, a caller’s telephone number is linked to an IP address. VoIP services work by transforming voice signals into data packets that are able to travel over IP-based networks before they are converted back to voice signals when they reach their recipient. Voice signals are broken up into data packets and travel from one computer to another, across the Internet, until they reach the intended recipient’s IP address. At this point, voice packets are reassembled into a complete signal, enabling users to hear and speak to each other exactly as they would if they were using a traditional telephony service – at least, that is the goal. VoIP has already transformed the communications landscape, and many industry watchers believe that VoIP is likely to replace completely telephone services as we know them. However, while the excitement and promise of VoIP is real, the lack of end-to-end visibility into network performance, and the inability to manage the call quality and reliability that users have come to expect from traditional PSTN, have been a cause for concern. Mainstream, widespread, adoption will depend on how well the industry addresses performance and security issues, including enabling reliable connections to emergency services, deterring Internet hackers and ensuring quality of service, QoS. Significant strides have been made, but there is more work to be done. Robust performance management tools need to be deployed to allow enterprises and service providers to aggregate data and use it for base-lining, trending, capacity planning and QoS monitoring and, as well, enable reports which can correlate business metrics to IT performance; and provide faster problem resolution. Improving emergency response One of the current challenges associated with VoIP is both a physical and information technology (IT) security issue. During crisis situations, connecting to ‘911’ emergency services in a timely manner can be the difference between life and death. Imagine the impact a failed 911 connection could have for enterprises in terms of both employee safety and corporate liability. In the US, in an effort to improve the effectiveness and reliability of 911 emergency services, the Federal Communications Commission ruled in May 2005 that certain VoIP providers must supply 911 emergency services calling capabilities to their customers as a mandatory feature of the service they offer. Whether or not governments across Europe will follow suit is still yet to be seen but a number of leading service providers have already introduced 999 calling capabilities. It now seems assured that users will soon experience the same dependability from Internet-based voice communication that they have come to expect from conventional phone services. Securing the network Information security concerns have touched all areas of IT recently, and VoIP is no exception. The nature of VoIP, ruled as it is by the laws of data communications, opens the potential for security breaches on par with those that impact any IP-based service. In order to address effectively the need for secure, predictable and efficient VoIP services, security must be pervasive and proactively built into the network, not just an afterthought hastily developed in response to a security breach. Unless these measures are taken, there is the potential for hackers to break into VoIP servers, compromising data. In VoIP, server-based IP PBXs replace private branch exchanges, PBXs. These call-management boxes, which are used for both serving VoIP services and for logging call information, are susceptible to virus attacks and hackers. Server break-ins could result in the loss of sensitive data and have significant ramifications for users. Another example of a VoIP security threat is the question known as spam over Internet Telephony, SPIT. Much in the same way that SPAM afflicts email in-boxes, a VoIP spammer or ‘spitter’ can copy one phone call and send it to many other users, mirroring the process of copying an email to create spam. In this way, the potential exists for an individual to make unwanted calls to hundreds or thousands of users simultaneously and anonymously. Ensuring call quality Perhaps the most basic challenge that VoIP must overcome is also the most complicated. The data networks over which VoIP services must traverse were never designed to carry voice. The migration from circuit-switched networks to VoIP brings a new set of challenges that can ultimately result in poor call quality. Measurement and monitoring of performance and QoS parameters have assumed critical importance. Service providers must commit to delivering toll-call quality without affecting other critical data applications, and provide a highly reliable infrastructure that can survive partial outages. The correct tools to manage the performance of IP networks are required in order to undertake enterprise-wide VoIP deployments with confidence. The next generation of performance management solutions will measure operational benefits from the customer’s point of view, using such metrics as uptime increase, cost savings and time-to-value. A service-centric performance management strategy Due to its cross-silo nature and the fact that data and voice are converging onto one network, VoIP is complex to deploy. Often these factors work against an organisation’s ability to deliver high-quality VoIP services and a superior user experience. Call quality measurements, such as the ability to track delays, clarity and dropped calls are critical for measuring the actual end-user experience. Most performance hiccups happen intermittently and the challenge for IT is to spot those instances, obtain a clear quality assessment of the user experience, and address degradations before end-users feel the impact. By establishing a committed QoS strategy, IT organisations can differentiate between types of traffic, prioritise the traffic based on business goals and service level requirements and minimise congestion. This uses the quality of the end-user experience as the objective measurement of service quality, enabling IT managers to meet increasingly stringent service level agreements, SLAs, and deliver differentiated service offerings. VoIP has accelerated competition among service providers looking to increase time-to-market for new services and ultimately boost revenue. For residential and enterprise users alike, service reliability will have a dramatic impact on the adoption rates and service providers’ ultimate success. Enterprises in particular are demanding enhanced management of QoS levels and new ways they can measure, understand and negotiate service levels with their providers. VoIP is gaining a great deal of momentum, but service providers must meet the high standards both residential and enterprise customers have come to expect from traditional telephone services. Providing customers with tangible evidence of the health and performance of IT services will be the key to winning their confidence and loyalty. In the end, the goal is clear, consistent, good-quality conversation.