For enterprises looking to do more with less, software defined networking (SDN) might be the solution du jour. However, we need to recognize that networks have already been streamlined to a high degree through the adoption of Voice over IP (VoIP) and Unified Communications (UC).
The simple act of uniting voice and data has done wonders for the enterprise bottom line. Benefits can be seen in capital expenditure through the elimination of redundant network infrastructure, and in operational expenditure through the lowering of service rates for long-haul data transmission.
Nevertheless, this progress has brought large enterprises to a crossroads of sorts. Is it better to continue to lease distributed SIP trunking and other services from major carriers and specialty providers? Or does it make more sense to centralize SIP topologies using private networks for backhaul?
Somewhat surprisingly in this age of distributed architectures, many organizations are adopting the latter solution. Acme Packet estimates that nearly 60 percent of organizations in North America and Europe are opting for centralization in a bid to reduce the number of trunks and implement more effective management and policy control across disparate business entities. While support for distributed topologies still exists (primarily due to service limitations or local PTSN requirements), Acme notes that companies that successfully centralize UC operations see a four-fold reduction in costs.
The benefits of basing all enterprise networking on the IP protocol is not lost on the likes of Oracle, which just forked over a cool $2 billion for Acme Packet. Acme has made a name for itself in the Session Border Controller (SBC) space, though it has recently faced a few rough quarters—competition from Cisco and other deep-pocketed networking firms has heated up. Still, by adding Acme's technology to its communications portfolio, Oracle put itself in a good position to leverage its ties to the enterprise and carrier markets in order to foster end-to-end UC platforms and services.
At the same time, however, the number of voice/data providers offering services like SIP trunking is increasing. MegaPath, for one, recently launched two new services: enterprise voice trunking for multi-location organizations and standalone SIP trunking for single-location ones. The goal is to draw in smaller firms that are increasingly turning to enterprise-class applications and services to handle higher voice and data loads.
Part of the appeal of SIP trunking services lies in the fact that they are generally more scalable than standard offerings. Broadvox, for example, provides as many lines as needed to support voice and data traffic. It can even transition customers to managed hosted voice solutions. A typical primary rate interface (PRI) solution usually requires the purchase of 23 channels, regardless of how many are actually needed.
Unified Communications is a prime example of a solution that spawns new challenges even as it removes old ones. Is one network better than two? Absolutely. But there are countless decision points on the road to full integration, each of which needs to be evaluated based on costs, use cases and expected growth and development patterns.
As even small enterprises break the once-solid boundaries of their own data centers, questions of how to deal with the wider network universe need to be answered sooner rather than later.