Agencies get serious about VOIP
For many years, voice over IP was seen as a niche solution, but that’s beginning to change. As federal IT managers prepare to deploy the technology enterprisewide, they are taking a closer look at the robustness of the security of the underlying network infrastructure.
With voice-over-IP technology poised to play an integral part in the communications portfolio at many agencies, federal IT managers are now looking to ensure that their network infrastructures are up to the task.
In the past, the network might not have been such a concern because VOIP often has been deployed on a limited basis. But in recent years, technology advances have made VOIP more viable as an enterprise solution, while tight budgets have made the cost savings even more appealing. As VOIP traffic builds, agencies need to take another look at their networks.
The FBI, which is moving to a unified communications (UC) infrastructure, was already thinking along those lines in 2010.
“For the FBI to commit to a VOIP transformation, infrastructure upgrades will need to be in place along with expanded bandwidth accommodating VOIP and any associated and/or emerging VOIP technologies," states the bureau’s fiscal 2010-2015 IT Strategic Plan.
The concern is not so much the volume of data — federal agencies are not likely to come up short in terms of bandwidth — but instead the need for real-time communications. With traditional network data, dropped or delayed packets are not noticeable. With IP-based telephone calls, it’s a different story.
Network optimization and performance management are essential for organizations adopting VOIP, according to Jim Rapoza, senior research analyst for networking and application performance at the Aberdeen Group, a market research and consulting firm.
"If a business is deploying real-time VOIP and UC systems that rely on high-bandwidth network connectivity and they haven’t put in the work to optimize network performance and ensure a high-quality experience for end users, then that business is heading for some communication problems that didn’t exist in old-school POTS systems," Rapoza wrote on the Aberdeen Blog.
Aberdeen recently released a report titled “Crossing the VOIP Gap: Real-time Interactions Demand Optimized Networks.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs hopes to get a better grasp of these potential pitfalls as part of an enterprise voice proof-of-concept initiative involving three medical centers. The contractor selected to oversee these projects will be asked to recommend a performance management approach, according to VA’s request for information.
The other big concern is security. It is not that VOIP itself is inherently unsecure. It is just that federal IT managers must recognize that VOIP introduces another layer of complexity to their infrastructure. The Federal Aviation Administration made that point in a VOIP security policy issued in September 2009.
“The same security considerations and controls applied to an IP data network must be applied to a VOIP network,” the policy states. “The ease of access to and prolific nature of VOIP connections, along with the ability to easily intercept and analyze network data, will lead to unnecessary risk and compromise of FAA information.”