Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Next VoIP System: Pure IP or Hybrid?

Key Communications offers custom built Hybrid-IP/PBX, Converged-IP/PBX, or Pure-IP systems to fit your needs now and grow with you into the future.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone system solutions come in two distinct flavors: the Hybrid or Converged IP/PBX products, capable of supporting both TDM (Digital and Analog) and IP communications, and the next generation of IP solutions, often referred to as Pure-IP. Pure-IP solutions have all the advantages in a "starting from scratch" environment, including better economic value, ease of deployment, greater manageability and standards-based architectural designs that enable integration into IT applications and processes. However, in the real world, each organization must weigh more than mere technological advantages in making a "pure" versus "hybrid/converged" communications system buying decision.

Eventually, the Hybrid IP/PBX approach will be as passé as the plain old analog telephone systems of years past that have largely been relegated to the scrap heap. Likewise, IP/PBXs will someday be no match for the new generation of highly integrated, IT-based voice applications.  BUT, that day has not come quite yet.  Pure IP solutions, as they mature, will overtake legacy solutions for their abilities to directly integrate with essential business process applications such as corporate directories, CRM, ERP, and other critical back-office applications.

BUT, for now, Hybrid and Converged IP/PBXs continue to live on and, in fact, to thrive. This is due in large part to basic business economics. Most enterprises find that it makes financial sense to preserve investments in existing TDM equipment. The Hybrid and Converged approach lets them do just that.

For each business, the decision to go Hybrid/Converged versus Pure IP depends on several factors, including:
- the architecture of the existing voice infrastructure - Will your existing infrastructure support Pure IP?
- the readiness of the IP network to support VoIP traffic - Is your wiring capable of handling a Pure IP system or are you looking at a high cost wiring job on top of your system purchase to make the system work as expected?
- the IT department’s ability to take on such a large project 
and, finally
- how voice communications relates to overall strategic business goals. Whatever the deployment choice—Hybrid/Converged or Pure—all decision-makers should fully understand the overall advantages and disadvantages of the two main types of platforms.

Here are seven tips that provide some basic guidance for the decision-makers:
Tip 1: Know the Limitations of the Current Network Assets
Anyone who has run a small VoIP pilot knows that it is essential to understand the network's readiness, including the switching and routing infrastructure, to support VoIP traffic. Decision-makers should also carefully review:
  • Security policies and procedures, especially if mobile and remote users must be supported by the new system.
  • Upcoming IT projects that may add traffic or otherwise impact network performance.
  • VPN services and service level agreements (SLAs).
  • Wireless Ethernet infrastructures if plans are to use WiFi phones or voice-enabled PDAs.
There are many industry tools available, as well as a myriad of professional service offerings, that are designed to help decision-makers assess network readiness. 

Tip 2: Hybrid Solutions are Essential for Some Businesses
Businesses that plan to retain a significant percentage of analog or digital phones may have no other choice but to deploy a hybrid solution. Such companies may find it is simply not feasible, in the short term, to make the move to IP endpoints. For such companies, the best solution is to move to a hybrid approach. This will allow the organization to reap some of the benefits of VoIP while continuing to depreciate the value of current telephony assets.

Tip 3: Branch Offices or Home Offices are Important Pure IP Test Labs
VoIP deployments don’t have to begin at corporate headquarters, even when the ultimate goal is to move the entire enterprise to a Pure IP system. Unlike large IT projects such as ERP systems, CRM applications, and corporate databases, VoIP can start small. VoIP can be easily deployed at the edges of the enterprise and gradually expanded to replace legacy network environments.
However, decision-makers need to make sure that, in deploying VoIP at branch locations, long-term goals are clearly understood. If the eventual long-term goal is a single, enterprise-wide VoIP system, architectures must be selected that can scale to cover the entire organization.   The Hybrid and Converged IP/PBX systems fit this scenario perfectly and allow you to link remote offices via VOIP without having to go ALL IP.

Tip 4: When Making a New System Purchase, Choose the System that Suits Your Needs
Organizations that are starting the shopping process for a new telephone system have many options to choose from these days. The Pure IP solutions available in the marketplace today are mature enough to provide reliable, feature-rich voice services. In addition, Pure IP solutions have the added benefits of standards support, relative ease of deployment and administration and these solutions can be tightly integrated with IT applications and processes.  On the other hand, Hybrid and Converged IP/PBX systems offer you more flexibility in both system specifications and overall cost.  They also feature the option to go to a Pure IP solution in the future with a simple upgrade.  The features and capabilities of a Hybrid or Converged IP/PBX are nearly endless with the blending of the two technologies.

When shopping for a new communications platform, you really need to be sure to pinpoint the features you require of your system now, and in the future.  As you compare system options, confirm that the necessary capabilities are there in ALL systems before making the final decision.  All too often we find ourselves removing and replacing telephone systems at businesses and homes because they didn't realize when they bought the system that:
- the phones were SLT (single line telephones) and had no programmable keys for one-touch access
- the existing wiring in their building wouldn't support VOIP traffic or they couldn't get the correct service to the site to support the bandwidth required for VOIP or link a remote office by VOIP
- the system wasn't expandable for future growth or the cost for expansion was exorbitant
- it just doesn't work as they expected...
The list goes on and on.  The decision to purchase and install a new telephone system is a huge one, make sure to make the decision based on your true needs and not the latest technology buzzwords.
Tip 5: IT Must be Ready and Willing
Before tackling any VoIP project, decision-makers must ensure that the organization’s IT staff is ready to work closely with your telephone vendor and service provider—whether it’s a Hybrid/Converged or a Pure IP solution. Your telephone vendor and IT staff should meet and discuss options, concerns, potential issues, etc. before any VoIP migration plans are drawn.

While much emphasis is placed on making sure your telephone vendor is up to speed on IP switching and routing, it is equally important for the IT staff to understand telecom technologies.  This is especially significant if the project includes migration to a new voice messaging or unified messaging platform.

Tip 6: You Can Get Help
Critical IT projects are never-ending, causing many businesses to put VoIP projects on the back burner even when such solutions could mean strategic advantages. IT bandwidth, it seems, is always stretched thin. Decision-makers should investigate VoIP deployments via a telephone vendor like Key Communications rather than heaping more on an overloaded IT Department plate. 

Choose your telephone vendor as carefully as you choose your telephone system.  Again, make sure that the services you require will be met and exceeded by your vendor.  Things like emergency response, other services offered, end user support, labor rate and fees, and quality customer service should all be taken into account.

Tip 7: Create a Map to a Long-Term Strategy 

When beginning a plan for a VOIP migration, look at the long term goals and make sure the system you choose will scale to suit your needs as your company grows and changes. Do the system manufacturers you are considering have a proven track record of "keeping up with the technological times"?  This can go two ways, the system can be outdated before you even put it in, or the system is SO advanced that the technologies are not readily available in our area yet.  Your communications system investment should fit your needs today and be able to grow and adapt to tomorrow's.

Contact Key Communications today for a complimentary site visit and telephone system consultation to review your Hybrid or Pure IP options.