VOIP Adds Flexibility Along
With Functionality"> "Its given us a lot of flexibility with things like expanding sales offices. Lets say we want to open a new sales office in Peoria. I dont need to put a PBX in small locations," he said. "Even some with 25 people, I need no switch of any kind and I can support it centrally. It gives me the ability to scale out without the step function cost of a phone system." It also can more easily tie phone functionality into the existing data network, allowing someone in one location to immediately click on a database entry and be connected to that persons line as if it was an extension in that building.Managing voice traffic on the network is tricky and the current Internet tunnel—using an IP virtual private network (VPN)—can cause periodic voice quality problems, he said."VOIP quality is generally good. For the most part, the quality has been fine," he said, adding that "a couple of our nodes have experienced garbled signals, meaning their voice may be choppy" but its because of the challenge of managing voice traffic. "Those packets are competing with other packets." Brown attributes many of those difficulties to trying to ride the public Internet and says he is preparing to move voice traffic to a private MPLS network. "On the Internet, you dont have true end-to-end quality of service control. Its just not possible," he said. "With MPLS, you can set (quality requirements) end to end. You can vary the capacity as needed." Another crucial advantage to a private voice network is that bandwidth-hogging encryption is not essential, as it would be in an IP VPN tunnel. "MPLS has other security so you dont necessarily need to encrypt. Theres a lot of overhead that is needed for encryption and it adds a big workload," Brown said. "Encrypting and decrypting requires a lot of overhead and it does create bottlenecks." The initial lure of VOIP—free long-distance courtesy of the Internet—has yet to prove itself to Del Monte, but Brown said that it still might. "I dont know that were seeing any dollar savings as of yet, but thats because there is a trade-off with doing more internal communications work, upgrades to our network," he said. "We saw some savings initially when we were no longer traveling over toll-based lines." Del Montes VOIP payback experience was certainly typical, at least based on what Forrester Research VP Lisa Pierce sees. "Typically, a company has be fairly unique to save on long distance in the U.S. with voice over IP. Long distance calls have just become so inexpensive," Pierce said. "Its very unusual to be able to derive a short term business case. Its much more of a longer term situation." "The real icing on the cake is the integration between our voice communications and our data communications," Brown said. "Video conferencing, for example, is also starting to take hold." Forresters Pierce said the long-term value in VOIP is indeed multimedia integration. It not only has the potential to reduce those multimedia costs, but the integration can make it easier for employees to deliver networked multimedia. That, in turn, will make it more likely employees will do it which makes it more likely the company will benefit for those multimedia communications. What happens—of course it depends on the system you use—is if youre able to use the same administrative function to set up a variety of conferencing—be it audio or video—it makes it easier for people. Its much more intuitive. Certainly, that can help," Pierce said.More efficient operations and voice communications that are truly strategic. Now theres some food for thought.Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.