In the networking space in 2007, voice over IP will be less about reducing communications cost on a converged IP network and more about improving productivity and creating new business applications that incorporate voice to generate new streams or enhance customer service.
The steady vendor drumbeat in 2006 around unified communications helped lay the groundwork for new Web 2.0-style applications that use voice as one of several components.
"The year 2007 will be the year of VOIP apps," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with The Yankee Group. "Every major vendor in [the space] now has some sort of [development] community around them, like Avayas DevConnect. Cisco has one, 3Com is starting one and Microsoft pushes that further along as well."
Microsofts joint partnership this year with Nortel Networks, which will allow the Redmond, Wash., software giant to develop IP PBX functions that can run on any Windows server, will in 2007 hasten the demise of the hardware-based IP PBX, said Dave Passmore, an analyst at the Burton Group.
"Nortel is throwing in the towel. Their new identity is to work with Microsoft to turn Office Communication Server into a next-generation unified communications server for text messaging, voice, and so on. That turns Microsoft into a direct competitor with Cisco and Avaya," said Passmore.
At the same time, Kerravala said service providers will begin offering voice as a hosted service, creating a "business version of Vonage."
Meanwhile, video conferencing, which has languished due to high costs and poor video quality, will start to take off, but not because of the kinds of quality advances achieved by Ciscos new Telepresence room-based system or Hewlett-Packards studio-based Halo. Instead, it will be because of the growth of cheap cameras and instant messaging, Passmore said.
"IP PBXes and enterprise instant messaging systems now have video. I think youll see it become a more routine part of how people communicate sitting at their desktops," he said. "The beauty of that is desktop PCs have sufficient horsepower and nice displays; cameras are dirt cheap and [users] can leverage [Session Initiation Protocol] signaling for VOIP."
At the edge of the network, two trends will change the way enterprises bring remote offices into the corporate network. The continued consolidation of IT data center resources—especially servers—will move WAN optimization and application acceleration into the mainstream of enterprise networks.
"You will see large-scale deployment of WAN optimization and a lot more WAN optimization in big networks," said Joe Skorupa, an analyst with Gartner.
As that market takes off, more of those deployments will be client-based versions rather than appliances installed in remote offices. "They will be deployed for very small offices or home offices, and even on handhelds for the mobile work force," said Skorupa.
Service providers will also begin offering WAN optimization services in earnest next year. While only smaller service providers such as Akamai and Netli to date have launched such services, "toward the second half of next year you will see more of larger service providers get serious about WAN optimization and application delivery controllers as a service," he said.
More enterprises will also look to link sites at the edge of the network directly to the Internet, rather than leasing more costly T-1 lines that are nailed up, said Passmore. "In the past people would use Frame Relay, private lines and so on, but now theyre discovering you can buy 10 times as much Internet access bandwidth [for the same price]. Business DSL is still very cheap compared to a T-1 line and you can add on encrypted tunnels to connect sites using the public Internet," he said.
Other trends will affect the way data center networks are architected. The completion this year of a new IEEE standard for 10 Gigabit Ethernet running twisted pair wiring will fuel adoption of that technology in the data center. While it has seen limited success as a network aggregation technology, it has also been gated by costly optics required for connectivity. "This ought to get prices down to hundreds of dollars per port, rather than thousands of dollars per port," said Passmore.
With the rollout next year of cheaper products based on the new standard, it is likely to be used to connect high-performance servers directly to the core network or to each other in grid configurations.
"Ten Gigabit Ethernet could displace Infiniband for grid links," said Rob Whiteley, an analyst with Forrester Research.