This past October, the General Services Administration issued its final request for proposals for the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) telecommunications contract vehicle. EIS, which is due to replace the Networx contract vehicle, renews attention on network transformation efforts that evolve agencies from legacy circuit-switched Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) networks to next generation IP telephony and unified communications services.
There are several drivers for agencies to evolve telecom networks from TDM to next gen IP services.
In a TDM/circuit switched network, dedicated call circuits are permanently established for calls (via copper wires or lines) that may be made from one specific endpoint to another. In IP telephony an endpoint, or IP address, sits on a broad IP network (regional, national, global), and the network can provide a peak load of capacity to serve traffic from all endpoints to others on a much more cost effective basis. This is due to the fact that the traffic — voice communications, or video, or images, or files — is all treated as data.
Second, IP devices can be physically relocated anywhere on the network and connected to a call via that IP address associated with that physical device.
Finally, an IP network by design has physical and route diversity and is inherently more robust and reliable than traditional TDM networks — delivering improved reliability, survivability and robustness.
For many years, federal government agencies have “sweated” their telecom assets — well beyond their feasible life — often unable to even find spare parts and maintain systems in a consistent fashion. And even when agencies are able to identify products and solutions, tight budgets challenge implementation. This leads federal agencies to an admittedly logical conclusion: if we can’t budget for ongoing network maintenance, how can we possibly budget for a more ambitious network transformation?
The good news for agencies is that an emerging set of technology approaches makes telecom network transformation cost-feasible, while delivering the next generation services agencies and their constituents crave. To determine whether a network transformation is feasible, agencies must fully grasp the telecom environment in which they are expected or projected to serve. For example, do they need to provide just voice communications, or do they need to deliver multimedia information sharing and collaboration — along with voice? What other networks or communities of users need to be connected? What are the peak capacity needs, and how does security factor into the equation? Understanding the answers to these questions not only signals whether a network transformation is feasible, but whether it is the correct path at all.
Leverage cloud and UC services
At the federal level, we are seeing an accelerated move toward cloud services because it allows agencies to leap over a capital expenditure (capex) refresh from TDM to IP telephony, and reduce the overall total cost of ownership (TCO). Indeed, many of the largest agencies within the federal government are moving to a cloud environment, whether it’s public, private or hybrid.
A cloud or shared services infrastructure provides a network configuration in which a call control or switching management network is used over a very broad base of users in a very low-cost scenario. By delivering higher performance with lower associated costs, agencies can leverage the cloud to more realistically pursue network transformation efforts.
Another benefit to a cloud environment is that an agency can seamlessly and cost-effectively layer next generation services — such as unified communications — onto its existing infrastructure, precluding the need to replace or significantly upend current systems in a way that is not financially feasible. Sitting a layer above IP telephony, cloud-enabled UC services allow, for example, a closed user group on an IP telephony network — a virtual private network (VPN) to collaborate and share voice and data in a real time collaborative manner to enhance work force effectiveness and productivity.
Agencies increasingly see value in shifting from a siloed approach to network infrastructure to convergence.
Case in point: The recent Veterans Affairs Department (VA) request for information for a vendor to manage its cloud migration. One of the objectives listed in the RFI calls for the “convergence of electronic communications onto a single, IP-based enterprise network that seamlessly accommodates all voice, video, data and collaboration traffic establishing a unified communications capability for all the VA end-users and extending to the veterans.”
Agencies that are able to converge communications services onto an IP-based network can ease the cost impact of a network transformation initiative, while providing the scalability and flexibility necessary to meet user requirements.
Virtualization enables scalability and capacity growth
Call switching or call management is a computer program that has traditionally been associated with physical computing devices or CPUs and physical devices. These physical devices were then managed or monitored from other physical devices, and as capacity was increased to handle a higher volume of calls — more devices and a step function increase in overall cost occurred.
With virtualization, the call switching application sits in a virtual operating environment, along with other applications, and while it requires certain computing power it can be scaled in a much more linear fashion so that costs can be reduced to grow capacity.
Network transformation, by its very name, implies that it will be a budget challenge for many agencies. But today this is less likely to be the case: cloud, UC and virtualization services are driving costs down to a point where most agencies can realistically budget for a telecom network transformation that can significantly improve agency communications and collaboration.
Chuck Sackley is senior vice president, North America industry sales verticals at Unify, a provider of unified communications software and services to public sector and commercial organizations.