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Converged networks: No longer if, but when

Julie Sartain | July 17, 2008
Networks today must evolve into a robust, services-oriented platform that enriches emerging, innovative, composite applications and yet still manage to balance technology and business processes.

"It's not a disadvantage," says Mike Babin, assistant director of communications/IT department at Concordia University, "But two areas that still need improvement are teleconferencing and video conferencing. We use the former for teaching and meetings and the latter for classroom training. Both are extremely difficult to support and require an expert staff on hand to manage and troubleshoot the process. Otherwise, we are quite happy with our converged network."

Concordia University has a standard Cisco architecture core/distribution access layer network on two campuses with 30 buildings per campus. The two cores on each campus are each 6500-class switches, and 4,000 telephone lines (with only 150 leased from the phone company; the rest are VoIP). They have a wireless network with about 360 access points (indoors) and 40 or so for outdoors (60 are 802.11, draft-2 compliant). "In terms of the network," says Babin, "We currently have the capacity to support any of the converged apps."

Boiling It Down

According to Dennis Drogseth, vice president and analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, the volume of traffic over the networks today is predominantly application traffic-largely Web-based applications, followed by client/server. VoIP is still a relatively small percentage, whereas, for instance, service-oriented architectures (SOA) are rising. And while voice, streaming media and other technologies appropriately get the concerns of the network community, Web-based applications and Web 2.0, in particular, are increasingly posing a challenge, as the network is becoming virtually a "backplane" for applications.

"Virtualized environments, as the network needs to route between VMs (virtual machines) geographically dispersed in support of a single application, are also going to create challenges to network managers," says Drogseth. "So my point is that the 'converged network' discussion is a bit parochial, focusing on voice, media, and data with voice and media getting the limelight when, in reality, the converged network will still be primarily about managing application traffic effectively in an increasingly virtualized universe."


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