Is Convergence On The Verge? These Customers Say Yes

But there's one thing upon which they'll agree, getting the underlying network architecture right is paramount for any converged communications solution and they're relying on solution providers to have this knowledge at their fingertips.

"It's only going to be as good as the infrastructure it sits upon," said Glenn Clark, director of network services for Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I Clark's remarks came during a customer panel discussion at last week's 1NService Interchange conference, held in Dallas. His audience included leaders of regional and network integrators, who were looking for pointers for better customer relations.

Salve Regina, which was beginning a converged network pilot project even as this panel took place, is starting its planned infrastructure overhaul with the IT department so that it can better understand the support and troubleshooting issues associated with this profound shift in network philosophy, Clark said.

One big thing he'll be watching closely throughout the rollout, based on his past experience, is security. "None of this will work well unless there is a really strong drive around security policy and procedure," he said. Moreover, a poorly implement security solution can negatively impact the performance of any network, and this problem will be amplified on a converged one.

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Rich Ridolfo, CIO for Simat, Helliesen and Eichner (SH&E), an aviation consulting company with its U.S. base in Cambridge, Mass., said solution providers can't limit their knowledge just to sexy applications such as IP telephony. They need to be able to assess their prospects' networks thoroughly from core to edge, evaluating issues such as failover strategies, security and redundancy. By the way, this means having knowledge of traditional telecommunications technologies you may have written off as outdated.

"We spent a lot of time planning this upfront. [Integrators] need to facilitate that," Ridolfo said.

For example, he said, his company's 150-station converged network implementation, which spans nine offices and three countries, actually produced fewer savings in telecommunications costs companywide than anticipated when it adopted its converged architectures. However, it helped SH&E slash the costs associated with communications between its London and New York offices by a whopping 70 percent, or around $1,000 per month.

In addition, the new infrastructure has reduced network administration costs and it has helped the company surmount past information flow obstacles, Ridolfo said. Case in point, consultants can now more easily share customer voicemails detailing problems with multiple individuals to help solve the problem, when appropriate. Finally, the infrastructure helped SH&E skirt a recent power outage that affected other businesses near its headquarters, Ridolfo said.

Barry Silver, chief technology officer for Boston-based Security Lock Distributors, said convergence has unified his company like never before, providing employees with base level communications capabilities they can use from virtually everywhere. One unanticipated benefit has come in the area of recruiting. Because Security Lock Distributors is so specialized, it's hard to recruit certain talent locally, but now it can locate personnel virtually anywhere in the world. The next converged application his company plans to embrace is videoconferencing, Silver said.

Likewise, a converged infrastructure provides Education Development Center, an international nonprofit organization, with communications flexibility it did not previously have, said Vito DeLuca, director of IT for the Newton, Mass.-based center. Based on the advice of his integrator, EDC has opted to collocate its infrastructure.

A word of caution. While PC users may have been trained to wait for support, the level of support expectations will be much higher for converged applications, the panelists said. Even the smallest amount of downtime will not be tolerated.

"Once you start down that road, you can't take it away," Silver said.