Voice Over IP Takes a Giant Step Forward

Voice Over IP Takes a Giant Step Forward<@VM>Taking the VoIP Plunge<@VM>Marine Reserve Dial Into VoIP<@VM>Coming Down To Earth<@VM>Strong Growth Projected For Voice Over IP

On Feb. 11, 2000, a phone call was placed from space shuttle Atlantis in orbit to NASA Flight Director Bob Castle at Mission Control in Houston.

Placing such a call using normal telecommunications lines ? assuming they were available ? probably would have cost a small fortune, even with 1-800-Collect. Instead, astronaut Marsha Ivins used a Cisco Systems IP SoftPhone and voice over IP technology and bypassed the toll charges. This one small step for Earth-to-space communications was one giant leap for voice over IP.

Voice over IP, or VoIP, is a term for a set of protocols that have been worked out by standards organizations, such as the International Telecommunications Union and the Internet Engineering Task Force. These standards facilitate delivery of high-quality, multimedia services, including voice telephony, across Internet protocol networks.

The ultimate objectives of companies such as Cisco Systems Inc., Clarent Corp., Lucent Technologies Inc. and Ericsson Inc. is to deliver voice telephony services across the Internet. Early implementations, however, have built upon the desire of organizations to consolidate voice and data network infrastructures within the enterprise and to reduce costs for adds, moves and other changes as workers change locations within offices.

Several government implementations of voice over IP have demonstrated the value of the technology within the enterprise context. One is the Naval Sea Systems Command (Navsea).Navsea's decision to try voice over IP technology can be traced to the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1988, according to John Bourdon, chief engineer for the Navsea chief information officer.

In 1997, Navsea was ordered to make plans to move its operations from Crystal City, Va., to the Washington Navy Yard by July 2001, a move that called for refitting several historical buildings at the yard to accommodate 4,300 personnel.

The move also mandated implementation of new voice and data communications networks at the Navy Yard, said Bourdon. "It simply would have cost more to rebuild the existing cable infrastructure than to replace it," he said.

Bourdon's team was developing plans for both a new state-of-the-art data network and a traditional telephony network, "when the Navsea chief information officer asked why we didn't just do our voice communications over the IP network as well," he said.

"At the time [in 1997], I didn't feel that VoIP technology was ready, or that it would be in our time frame," Bourdon said.

Nonetheless, the suggestion prompted him to consider several technology demonstrations by leading vendors with the assistance of Fairfax, Va.-based integrator Anteon Corp., which Navsea hired to help design its data network.

Navsea "met with vendors to discuss future product road maps and brought Anteon in to design a converged network with these products that weren't even products yet," said Don James, the Anteon senior network engineer leading the project.

Based on previous experience with Cisco Systems products and observing the results of a "bake off conducted in 1998 to compare several vendors' solutions, we found that Cisco provided the best solution end to end," he said.

Bourdon said when Navsea first evaluated voice over IP technologies, they confronted a field of solutions from "small companies with nice products that were feature poor and small scale. We didn't believe that any of them would scale to the sizes we needed in our time frame," he said.

One of these companies was Selsius Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif. In mid-1999, however, when Navsea decided to take one last hard look at voice over IP, Cisco Systems had acquired Selsius and was shifting its internal deploying VoIP internally within their own corporate focus to convergence and voice over IP.

Bourdon said he was impressed that Cisco already had more than 1,000 VoIP phones on its own internal system and had concrete plans to grow beyond that point. "Features were being added daily," he said.

The Navsea voice over IP solution ties together Cisco Systems telephones and network-attached workstations with redundant Cisco Call Managers via a switched gigabit Ethernet network. The call managers make the lights on the phones work and create the dial tone.

The Navsea voice over IP solution also features integrated voice mail, call center functionality and other state-of-the-art telephony capabilities. Eight media conversion servers, rebranded Compaq servers equipped with specialized gateway software, enable the voice over IP telephony infrastructure to interface with the traditional public telephone network to send and receive calls.

The configuration was activated Aug. 1, 2000, Bourdon said, in time for the transition of Navsea personnel to their new digs at the Navy Yard.

Bourdon said the converged voice and data network was part of a $200 million allocation for construction and renovation of the Navy Yard facilities. The expected return on investment will come from reduced costs to facilitate "moves, adds and changes" of telephones and workstations, he said.

"The VoIP phone is so simple to move. You just plug it into a jack on the wall, and all of the information associated with the user automatically moves with the phone," he said. "It used to take a week to relocate phones and terminals, and we move people around all the time around here."

Based on this success, Bourdon said: "We are seeing a decline in the validity of classic telephony. [Our CIO] Ed Shelton has said that he would rather have VoIP than a standard PBX-based system, even if some of the features are still cooking."

The success of the solution has prompted discussions of adding videoconferencing and video over IP to the mix in the near future.

"The solution would allow us to create an IPTV system that could store and deliver 'all hands' meetings ? talks given by the admiral and aimed at the entire command ? on everyone's desktop," he said.Marine Corps Capt. Chris DiNofrio, internetworking systems officer with the assistant chief of staff G-6 office at Marine Forces Reserve Headquarters in New Orleans, is also sold on voice over IP.

"I think the technology plays well when a data network exists and you can use it instead of the public telephone network to cut long distance costs," DiNofrio said.

Ironically, the Marine Forces Reserve's interest in voice over IP technology began as a contingency plan, much as the mission of the reserve itself is essentially a contingency plan to augment active forces in the event of a call up.

With 189 reserve offices throughout the United States, the G-6 office was concerned in 1999 about the possibility of year 2000 failures in office-based phone switches. Since the offices were already interconnected via the reserve's own data network, RNET, an end-to-end Cisco Systems-based IP network, the idea of using voice over IP across the network as a backup had appeal.

The reserve bought 250 Cisco VoIP phones and deployed them to 60 of its offices that were battalion size or larger.

"What we discovered was that we could engineer a solution and eliminate key systems or PBX switches altogether," DiNofrio said.

DiNofrio said there was no formal name given to the project that is slowly under way to migrate reserve offices to voice over IP. "Basically, we spend about $300,000 per year in phone switch upgrade and maintenance. We are redirecting those funds, when it makes sense, to replace older equipment with VoIP solutions," he said.

While there is no stringent time line for completing the work in all reserve offices, DiNofrio said the reserve office in Johnstown, Pa., is now fully VoIP, and offices in Pasadena and San Bruno, Calif., were next in line for the solution.

The reserve purchases the equipment from Cisco at General Services Administration schedule prices. The equipment is deployed by technical personnel stationed at reserve headquarters who have taken Cisco voice over IP training.

The Johnstown office required one server for about $12,000, and 80 voice over IP phones, which cost about $280 each, down from the $480 they paid per phone in 1999.

"I expect prices to drop even more as more and more people begin to acquire the technology," he said.

He said the G-6 office was in the process of quantifying return on investment from the solution, which he was confident would justify future funding. Key benefits expected from the solution, in addition to toll bypass, include reduced costs to manage moves and other changes; and the extension of capabilities, such as access to the Defense Switched Network, to all branch offices.

Once the formal case for the technology is compiled, DiNofrio said he expects the reserve would consolidate call managers into clusters that would be centrally located and maintained at the New Orleans headquarters' data center and mirrored at another Defense Department data center. In the future, he also expects the solution to add integrated voice mail features.

DiNofrio said the reserve's solution is presently "a homogeneous one." The reserve was seeking to leverage the expertise and dependability that Cisco Systems has delivered in their data networks to support the voice over IP deployment.

He added that the solution avoided the interoperability issues that plague voice over IP and prevent equipment, including telephones from different vendors, to work within the same
network.The National Space Science and Technology Center, a partnership between NASA and the Space Science Technology Alliance of the state of Alabama, has fielded a converged voice, video and data network at the center's new facilities on the perimeter of the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

According to Tim Baldridge, group leader for data systems with the information services department at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, the network is serving 400 users, of which 75 percent are space center employees or associates and 25 percent are university faculty, staff and students.

Like the Navsea and Marine Reserve implementations, the solution features Cisco Systems technology end-to-end.

The project began when the space center was being formed in new offices at the University of Alabama campus, provided as part of its alliance with the state. Baldridge said NASA had identified voice over IP early on as having significant cost-savings potential.

The agency conducted a proof of concept from December 1999 through February 2000 with the assistance of Computer Sciences Corp., El Segundo, Calif., as part of a $1.08 billion mission services support contract awarded to the vendor in 1994. It then issued solicited competitive bids to implement the VoIP strategy.

Federal Data Corp., Bethesda, Md., won the contract in May 2000 based on technical acceptability and lowest price, said Mike Olsen, CSC's department manager for agency support.

Components of the solution included Cisco voice over IP telephones, Cisco Call Manager, several Cisco data switches, two Cisco 3660 Gateways to interface the voice over IP network to the phone switch equipment at Marshall Space Flight Center and the University of Alabama, and a voice-mail system from ActiveVoice which with Microsoft's Exchange server provides unified messaging for voice, fax and e-mail.

"We used our existing, medium-haul, one-gigabit network to connect the network to Marshall Space Flight Center's complex in Huntsville, where a few VoIP phones have also been installed," said Baldridge.

The space center was watching the National Space Science and Technology Center voice over IP experience closely to determine the potential value of voice and data convergence within Marshall's own networks.

"We wanted to enable users while reducing costs. We found that, with traditional telco, it cost about $200 to add, change or move a service," he said. "The VoIP switch automatically understands changes, so there is no need to reconfigure the system or the phone."

Significant cost savings also accrue to voice over IP in the form of equipment acquisition costs. Baldridge estimated using voice over IP technology to provide telecommunications capabilities to organizations was 25 percent to 30 percent cheaper than using traditional phone switches, despite the cost of the voice over IP phone.

Baldridge declined to say whether these cost savings had been realized by the National Space Science and Technology Center.

"We were working on a pilot in a new technology area and wanted to engineer a solution with 100 percent reliability," he said. "We overengineered this solution, but learned from the experience how to deploy an acceptable solution for a lot less money."

Baldridge said a time could come when all of NASA will be voice over the IP-enabled, but not across the public Internet because "the quality of service guarantees simply aren't there yet." Instead, voice over IP would run across NASA's own high-speed intranet, he said.

While voice over IP calls from outer space may grab the headlines, the deployment of the solutions at the space and technology center, the Marine Reserve and Navsea better represent the business fit for voice over IP as the technology presently stands.

The word from these early adopters is clear: Standardize on a homogeneous solution for now, and focus on meeting enterprise, rather than extra-enterprise, requirements. Within this context, voice over IP can be considered ready for business prime time.IP telephony is a tale of two markets, according to Jon Arnold, Toronto-based voice over IP equipment and management software analyst for Frost and Sullivan.

The enterprise market comprises internal voice over IP technology deployments aimed at replacing public branch exchange switches, and infrastructure with a solution that leverages the corporate data network.

The carrier market comprises the efforts of telephony service providers ? from voice over IP-centric voice service providers to major telecommunications carriers ? to deliver voice over IP services as a replacement or adjunct to traditional circuit-switched voice service.

The carrier segment comprises about 80 percent of the voice over IP market, both in number of ports and in revenue. Arnold placed the size of the voice over IP market at a little over $2 billion.

The market is expected to grow by 20 percent to 25 percent by the end of 2001, according to Arnold, "and we expect it to be 200 percent larger within three years."

"Both the carrier and enterprise segments are growing a lot," said Arnold, "but the enterprise market is much smaller in terms of the number of ports that are being shipped."

He said he anticipated significant growth in the enterprise segment, where Cisco Systems dominates by virtue of numerous acquisitions.

However, he is quick to point out that all voice over IP vendors, including Cisco, are targeting the carrier segment, "where the base is much larger in terms of numbers of ports."

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