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VoIP for the SMB: small business needs easier, less complex, lower-cost systems.

Larger IT organizations have the expertise to evaluate VoIP technologies and integrate multiple complex products into a VoIP network solution, and the resources to oversee the migration and operation of a converged network. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) do not.

Widespread VoIP deployment for SMB customers requires solutions that are easy to use, more integrated and have a lower total cost of ownership. The main objections for SMB VoIP deployment are:

1. The total cost of ownership remains too expensive.

2. SMB owners do not usually have IT staff to deal with day-to-day network activities.

3. Converged data/voice networks are often too complex to install and operate.

4. Often, solutions require too many disparate boxes, each requiring good quality of service (QoS).

These reasons stem from the networking equipment needed for the converged solution--the combination of voice, data, security and QoS. Installation of popular access routers, for example, requires highly trained and expensive technicians, as well as keeping a certified technician available at all times. Currently, about four hours of trained technicians' time is needed to install these routers. Ideally, the SMB owner or an employee should be able to install virtually the same functionality within 15 to 20 minutes.

Plus, the SMB is dealing with several system boxes offered as costly options, including security or virtual private networks (VPN). For example, use of separate security and routing devices can double the cost of the networking gear and increase the complexity. The increased complexity impacts not only configuration, but also diagnostics and support issues.

Even when the converged voice and data network is set up, the network can be overly complex, and difficult to operate and maintain. Most equipment is based on older-generation command entry. Troubleshooting VoIP network problems becomes worrisome and tedious as a result.

Good QoS is critical in all equipment in the VoIP converged network. Whether a new installation or "QoS enabling" an existing network, QoS needs to work right out of the box, and provide SMBs with easy graphical diagnostic information to manage their networks when needed. QoS should work by default and not require certified technicians to configure and manage; prioritization and monitoring should be point-and-click easy.

Rather than hassling with several different systems, SMBs are more prone to accept integrated networking solutions. In addition to a VoIP system, they need a single converged all-in-one networking solution that integrates all key elements--QoS priority/reports, VPN, firewall, IP router, WAN access and Ethernet switch.

This also means QoS is built in and enabled. The user does not need an outside consultant or technician to configure it. Nor does the user need to understand the technical minutia involved in configuring QoS, because it is already done. The QoS engine, in these instances, is easy to understand via the router's intuitive graphical user interface--no external management system is required.

As for security, SMBs are generally comfortable with VoIP calls within the office, but many want their outside calls to be highly secure. To meet those needs, the converged access equipment should have an integrated business-class firewall and VPN encryption that is easy to configure. Plus, the system should be able to detect and prevent intrusion attacks.

Potential VoIP users should make sure their network is ready for VoIP, and that switches and devices can support QoS. Often, VoIP solutions may require good virtual LAN capabilities.

Converged access equipment with integrated QoS ensures VoIP call quality by giving office traffic priority over less delay-sensitive data applications. Also, routers with built-in default settings automatically prioritize IP office VoIP traffic, thus protecting the quality of voice calls.

For more information from Kentrox:

Dan Murray is vice president of marketing at Kentrox, Hillsboro, Ore. He has more than 19 years of telecom industry experience. Send comments for publication to
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Title Annotation:Guest Column
Author:Murray, Dan
Publication:Communications News
Date:May 1, 2005
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