Adoption of Unified Communications technology is reaching critical mass, corroborated by a report from In-Stat earlier this year that predicted small office spending on IP telephony would grow by 83 per cent in 2011. The trend is moving away from premises-based Unified Communications towards technology hosted in the Cloud, as consumers become aware of the benefits and the technology becomes more accessible, affordable and scalable. According to research conducted by Frost & Sullivan last year, the Unified Communications (UC) market in the Middle East is expected to reach US$235 million by 2014.
Unified Communications brings benefits to businesses that only a few years ago were in the realm of science fiction, enabling uninterrupted, high-definition video conferencing and real-time collaboration for remote workers in disparate cities, countries or continents – a revolution in working comparable to or even exceeding email. Workforce productivity, better customer / staff interaction and lower costs through reduced travel are just three areas where Unified Communications is beginning to bring enormous value to organisations, from small businesses to global enterprises.
These benefits are only realised, however, if communications are delivered with uninterrupted service quality, reliability, security and compatibility for IP-based devices, video and converged multimedia desktop applications. High latency, dropped packets or service interruptions are simply not tolerated by users as they are for more traditional methods of communication. Since voice, video and audio are very “data rich” traffic, the pressure being placed on networks to support these services is growing at an exponential rate.
These findings are not surprising. Organisations seeking to deploy Unified Communications services face several infrastructure-related challenges. To begin with, the network must meet the rigorous latency requirements for voice and video conferencing; meanwhile, the infrastructure must support power delivery to IP phones and other Unified Communications devices. Communications are absolutely critical for business continuity and as a result, downtime is intolerable. Networks must therefore be able to guarantee the utmost levels of availability. Similarly, security is a key concern for users, and IP video and audio communications must be protected against threats – while still being able to work across firewalls. If left unchecked, these factors can have a significant impact on Unified Communications success and the end-user experience.
Delivering voice and Unified Communications solutions requires more than just basic network connectivity, but a complete set of switching and routing solutions that help organisations implement these services while leveraging their existing network infrastructures.
These infrastructure requirements are all necessary for a reliable Unified Communications -enabled network, and over the next few months we will see more data centres upgrading their facilities so that they can reap the rewards from the burgeoning market for Unified Communications and IP-based voice services. It is, however, important to stress that these technologies are not germane only to Unified Communications and VoIP services; rather, they form the building blocks of next-generation data centres.
Technologies such as Ethernet Fabric are fundamental not only for Unified Communications and VoIP, but also for the day-to-day demands of the fully virtualised data centres of the future. Broadly speaking, Ethernet fabrics represent a move away from a hierarchical, and thus unwieldy, architecture, toward a flatter, more flexible design. For example:
Key features like logical chassis, distributed intelligence and automated port profile migration make Ethernet fabrics more attuned to operate in a highly virtualized data centers to support techniques such as VM mobility within a fabric and across data centers, and provide the resilience to run applications like Unified Communications
Ethernet fabrics simplify network design and management to address the growing complexity in IT and data centres today
They deliver the enabling technology for convergence of storage and data networks if customers choose to migrate to this architecture
For the company, the benefits of this technology are two-fold: technical and commercial. By enabling the virtual data center, Ethernet fabrics ensure ‘always-on’ availability and simplify network management, which in turn increases end-user productivity while reducing operational costs – the perfect solution for Unified Communications.
So as far as the data centre is concerned, if virtualization revolutionized computing, Ethernet fabrics are revolutionising networking. In time, like the evolution of the Walkman to the iPod and VCR to Blu-Ray, Ethernet designs will evolve into Ethernet fabrics. Ethernet fabrics represent the next step in the evolution of Ethernet solutions, are purpose-built to support high-bandwidth services such as Unified Communications, and the data centre of the future.
Manu Bonnassie is Regional Sales Director, Central Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEMA) at Brocade Communications