How to Simplify the Transition to IP-Based Unified Communications

By Ed Basart  |  Posted 2010-08-29

How to Simplify the Transition to IP-Based Unified Communications

Legacy phone systems are no longer offering the modern capabilities that drive business value, especially as more people are working remotely and requiring mobile features to collaborate and be productive. On top of that, IT teams are short on staff and budget. Add increasing layers of IT complexity and network needs to the problem and it's easy to see why IT managers are encountering major headaches such as decreasing productivity and rising costs.

Consequently, we're seeing a steady transition toward IP-based unified communications (UC) systems that offer advanced UC features designed for a rich, collaborative experience. But while UC can enhance business processes, it also can overwhelm networks, affect application performance, and require new policies and planning if the network migration isn't managed properly.

So, what can organizations do to untangle the complexities of transitioning to IP-based unified communications systems without overtaxing their IT departments or their budgets? The following are five tips for eliminating communication complexity. These tips cover the critical criteria that businesses must consider when changing their communications systems to IP-based unified communications systems.

Tip No. 1: Adopt a "metaphorical aspic" strategy

Legacy time-division multiplexing (TDM) systems are costly and difficult to maintain. It may appear safer to migrate by gradually upgrading the legacy system, but many have discovered that it is usually more costly (and certainly more complicated) than deploying new systems. The best approach is to seal off the old systems in "metaphorical aspic" and no longer invest in them.

Legacy systems can be connected using trunks to the new UC system, and off-system extensions unify the dialing plan. Another step is to decommission the legacy voice mail system and connect to the UC system. The successful manager then proceeds to pour "metaphorical aspic" on his legacy collection of TDM systems, preserving them in their natural state and then bridging them to the IP-based UC system. They can then be retired at will, either individually or in groups.

Accept Your Network as a Known Unknown

Tip No. 2: Accept your network as a known unknown

Many IT managers are rightfully proud of their network, but sometimes let their smugness interfere with ensuring network bandwidth and priority for UC traffic. UC brings a new set of real-time demands on a network and UC adoption places the network in a mission-critical role. Even with a new and expensive network, voice is especially sensitive to jitter and packet loss, so understanding network requirements for voice is critical-and learning its subtleties an absolute must. Inspecting, updating and configuring a network can help eliminate typical problems such as one-way audio, poor voice quality or disconnecting applications. Most networking and UC vendors offer services, tools and training to bring the network and the staff up to snuff.

Tip No. 3: Count your nines

Legacy TDM systems did an excellent job of delivering high availability (that is, "five nines" or 99.999 percent). As vendors developed UC systems, IT tools and servers were used as the platform. However, these systems typically deliver 99.9 percent or 99.99 percent-in other words, only three nines or four nines. A UC system built and delivered with these tools is 10 to 100 times less reliable than its legacy-based predecessor. Most UC vendors have addressed this issue and can provide enough redundancy to meet reliability requirements, albeit at additional cost and complexity. When evaluating a UC system, the IT manager must ask the vendor to take him through the system component by component and ensure that the UC system meets enterprise-level reliability requirements.

Toss Your Users a Bone

Tip No. 4: Toss your users a bone

User adoption of a UC system is driven by ease of use, improved efficiency and "fun factor." Enterprise cost savings are simply not enough. Removal of a legacy TDM system inevitably causes user disruption. An IT manager who thoughtlessly adopts a strategy of a simple "rip and replace" takes away the familiar but offers nothing in return. Providing some popular, modern UC functionality such as Office integration, visual voice mail, presence, chat, and mobile integration makes the move to UC a welcome step forward.

Tip No. 5: Have room to grow

Back when I was a child, no trip to the Buster Brown shoe store was complete without stepping up on the X-ray machine and looking down at my wriggling toes to ensure that my feet had room to grow, thus increasing the longevity of the shoes on my growing feet. An important evaluation criterion for the IT manager is a sensible growth path. Well-engineered UC systems are modular and designed for growth. A system that requires forklift upgrades every time the organization experiences a growth spurt is certain to entangle the IT manager in complexity that is costly, difficult to upgrade and hard to justify.


In short, understanding the requirements for delivering toll-quality voice and UC capabilities over your company's network infrastructure and then appropriately planning for, choosing and deploying the right UC solution is key to a successful deployment. UC continues to deliver on the promises of reduced cost, improved efficiency and productivity gains. As the economy slowly begins to recover, the time to make the right investment for the future is now.

Ed Basart is Chief Technology Officer at ShoreTel. Ed cofounded ShoreTel in 1996. Ed is responsible for the long-range direction of ShoreTel's product R&D. In addition to ShoreTel, Ed also cofounded two other prominent companies, Network Computing Devices and Ridge Computers. At Network Computing Devices, Ed was vice president of engineering. At Ridge Computers, Ed served as vice president of software. Ed began his career as a software engineer at Hewlett-Packard. Ed holds a Bachelor's degree from Iowa State University and a Master's degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. He can be reached at

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