Data travels across the Internet governed by several sets of rules called protocols. Collectively, these protocols make up the Internet Protocol, or IP. This standardized set of rules is what allows devices to communicate across networks. It’s what makes the Internet possible. Recently, you may have come across a term called IP convergence. What does this terminology mean? If IP is the set of rules that governs how data travels across the Internet, then what is convergence?
IP convergence refers to the capability of the Internet to act as a single pathway for various applications that traditionally had their own dedicated networks. The telephone system is a prime example. The public switched telephone network (PSTN) supports the traditional telephone service. This is the network of copper wires, circuit boards and switches that transmit analog voice data from one phone to another. As technology progressed, engineers converted much of the PSTN to a digital system. Since the introduction of the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), it has become possible to make phone calls using the Internet as your phone network. It simply requires an adapter for a traditional phone, a special VoIP handset or a computer with VoIP interface software installed on it. Suddenly, it became feasible to consolidate two networks (voice and data) into one. That’s how IP convergence works.
In today’s world, IP convergence isn’t only limited to just voice and data. Video services can be incorporated into IP convergence, too. An example of this is Internet protocol television (IPTV). Another example is transmitting video feeds from security cameras through the Internet. Any IP-based protocol can be a part of IP convergence scheme.
There are many considerations to take into account when looking at an IP convergence strategy. Here are two major factors you should focus upon. The first is cost. By consolidating all of your services (phones, data, video, etc.) into one platform, you will have a single communications expense. The second consideration is that all of your traditionally diverse services will be combined into a single delivery system. This presents its own set of pros and cons. On the positive side, since you only have to maintain one network, you won’t need multiple technicians to keep the systems operational. The downside of a single network is that it creates a single point of failure. If the network goes down, you lose connectivity for all of your systems. The phones, along with any other network dependent systems will stop working. To mitigate this risk you need to engineer your converged network with redundancy. You will need to plan for backup power, access circuits and equipment.
A secondary benefit of IP convergence is allowing your workforce to be more mobile. Employees can access corporate functions through the company’s network by using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN helps maintain corporate security by separating business traffic from other Internet traffic. A VPN allows remote employees to use the Internet to access everything from corporate files to voicemail messages. It allows them to work remotely with the appearance of being in the office.
Converged networks are interoperable and modifiable, as well as flexible and adaptive. This allows new features and functions to be incorporated into your existing systems without the need for new infrastructure. This is arguably the best reason for converging your networks.
Consolidating networks and converging protocols can yield huge savings and drive more streamlined business processes but this doesn’t trade the responsibility to manage and secure the network. Consider this holistically and remain vigilant.