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Are IP-based services a network manager's worst nightmare?

Richard Ptak

The looming presence and inevitable proliferation of IP-based services is one of a number of causes for night-sweats interrupting the rest of enterprise network operations center (NOC) administrators and their staffs.

Churning through their restless minds are questions about what, when and how these services will be introduced and used. What will be the effect of IP-based services on the network infrastructure? Can the infrastructure handle the load? How will the network have to change to support all these services? What will happen to the budget? What about personnel? What new responsibilities will fall on managers, network administrators, forecasters and operations staff? New skills will be needed for sure, but what are they and how do people acquire them? What tools are needed? What tools are available?

Underlying all of these questions, how can we prepare for the onslaught? Will IP-based services be a blessing that leads to boom times with better budgets and greater influence for the network staff? Or will it prove to be a curse on enterprise IT and networks -- changing their role from creative innovators in the application of technology to overseers of outsourced, automated service providers?

The answer to that question lies in large part in the hands of today's network management and staff. It is up to network managers to identify, define and implement the exact role they will play in the introduction and application of IP-based services.

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A significant part of the challenge is the ambiguity inherent in the identification and definition of what these services are and will be. The first step, then, is to get smarter about what is meant by IP-services. Next, network pros must understand the needs inside their own organizations and how those needs might be met through the innovative application of IP-based services. This means understanding not just the underlying technology but how it can be manipulated, integrated and applied to address business needs. Let's first examine the scope of IP-based services.

Beyond VoIP and video: The scope of IP-based services

Because of the flexibility and adaptability inherent in the technology, the potential areas of application for IP-based services are incredibly diverse. There is not even a comprehensive classification of IP-based services. VoIP, video-on-demand and text-over-IP represent only the thinnest edge of the range of potential IP-based services. Already, this technology has found its way into a multiplicity of applications across services that include email, gaming, online (cooperative) publishing, enterprise (social) networking, and multi- and mixed-media video programming. Driven by business competitiveness, personal as well as professional interests, and raw energy, this explosion in innovative applications of the technology will continue to address business (and personal) needs. The first applications will be in the consumer world, as seen with the evolution of instant messaging from consumer to enterprise communication tool.

A considerable amount of the power of these services results from an application -- initially perceived as simply an evolutionary improvement -- becoming recognized as transformational. As an example, VoIP represents much more than an alternative to land-line or mobile telephony services. It provides for true integration of not only voice and data communication but also video, text, and multi-format communication and presentation. VoIP represents a radical change in what can be transmitted and exchanged, as well as how it is presented, correlated and analyzed. The limitations of binary-based, circuit-switched communication drop away and are replaced by multi-site Web conferencing that allows real-time communication using voice, data and video.

Network staff with technical and operational knowledge in the creation and use of IP-based services can educate and lead their business counterparts in using this technology to solve business problems. It isn't simply VoIP, video-on-demand, text-over-IP, and so on. It's the creative integration and application of these technologies to deliver services across functional and organizational boundaries to create business and competitive advantage. That's what makes IP-based services a blessing in the NOC. The NOC has the technical knowledge to understand the potential for application; business management has the problems that need to be solved.

This story first appeared at searchnetworking.com.