Can you separate convergence fact from fiction?

Can you separate convergence fact from fiction?

Application demand and expectations are driving technology forward at a fast pace, Lucent Technologies' Jim O'Neill says.

You need to get the lowdown on the costs, benefits and challenges of joining voice and data networks

By Jim O'Neill

Special to GCN

Burgeoning bandwidth demands have made convergence a hot topic in government. Converged voice and data networks can provide a sound and cost-effective way to manage growth while increasing reliability, availability and security.

Convergence does hold great potential, but to take advantage of the opportunities that unified networks present, it's important to understand what convergence is'and what it is not.

Here are some common myths about convergence:

Myth: Convergence means everything you have today soon will be obsolete.

Reality: Convergence is both an evolution and a revolution. The revolution in application demand and expectations is driving technology forward at a screaming pace. But few government agencies will want to abandon characteristics of today's systems, such as reliability, ubiquity and ease of use. Instead they will want to continue to evolve their capabilities to deliver enhanced services. Many parts of today's networks will continue delivering value for years, and a variety of technologies will coexist, from voice and data to wireless and optical.

Myth: Convergence is primarily about cutting costs.

Reality: That's only part of the benefit. The long-term value of convergence is in converged call center applications, integrated messaging and multimedia conferencing. Converged applications can improve productivity and let agencies move and manage information more efficiently. They would help civilian agencies provide better customer service and let the military make critical information more accessible when and where it's needed.

Myth: There ultimately will be just one big network.

Reality: Convergence means creating a network of networks. A single network, available today from a wide range of suppliers, might make sense for organizations starting from scratch. But government agencies typically have a variety of networks in place. It would be costly and disruptive to simply toss them out and start anew. A smarter convergence strategy is to integrate networks'including wired, wireless, copper, optical, time-division multiplexing and asynchronous transfer mode'to support applications for messaging, call centers, wireless communications, data communications and IP solutions and do it as reliably as voice communications are handled today.

The real story

Myth: It's all about hubs and routers.

Reality: It's all about intelligent switching and manageability. Adding hubs and routers to current government networks may increase bandwidth but it won't solve the real issues of scalability, reliability and manageability. Nor will it deliver long-term value through the quality and richness of features available to end-users. Hubs and routers are part of the old network paradigm that emphasizes hardware solutions; the new paradigm is a network of networks.

Myth: Bandwidth is pre-eminent.

Reality: Increasing bandwidth is only part of the battle. The real challenge is to use bandwidth effectively so that the right traffic is provided to the right users at the right time for the right applications. Once the bandwidth is there, it is important to remember that advanced software platforms, feature-rich services and scalability also are necessary to increase functionality and simplify operations.

Myth: You can do it all on the Internet.

Reality: The Internet is only one of many options. The Internet helped ignite the networking revolution, but it is users who are fanning the flames. The key is to meet user needs, whatever their access equipment is, whenever and wherever they want access. IP networks will coexist with other private and public networks for voice, data, wireless and optical. The future will require a common currency that links networks, protocols and applications to users anywhere, any time.

Myth: There is one only right path to convergence.

Reality: Creating a converged network is a matter of making choices. There is no single right way to address convergence. Federal agencies may have similar goals'increased reliability, better service quality, higher security and lower costs'but they have different priorities and will use a variety of methods to meet their goals.

A good systems provider will present the government market with a range of products, services and support options tailored to satisfy an agency's convergence needs.

Jim O'Neill is president of Lucent Technologies Government Solutions, a unit of Lucent Technologies Inc. of Murray Hill, N.J.

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