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Completing the Virtual Revolution

We are in the midst of the virtualization era

We are in the midst of the virtualization era. In fact, VMWare reports that all Fortune 100 companies are using their virtualized data network products, as well as more than 90 percent of Fortune 1000 companies, and Yankee Group's 2008-2009 Global Virtualization Deployment and Usage Survey found that approximately 72 percent of businesses surveyed said they have already deployed or plan to deploy virtualization solutions.

Meanwhile, on the business communications front, PBXs have been undergoing their own evolution, from stalwart black boxes to software-based solutions that bring a whole new array of capabilities in the form of business applications, rather then just basic dial tone. It is only a matter of time until voice becomes just another IT application on these virtual data networks. Or is it already there?

This article will discuss the impact of virtualizing voice applications and how organizations can begin to develop strategies for unifying voice communications in a virtualized environment.

So Why Virtualize?
In a non-virtualized environment, many applications run on separate servers. However, most applications only use 15-20 percent of the available space, leaving under utilized resources in a data center. The cost associated with this type of approach is staggering-not only because data center managers need to rack and stack servers for all applications, but must also manage the required maintenance and support to keep these servers up to specifications. This is a significant drain on IT resources and certainly not the best use of talented resources.

Outside of virtualization, the process to deploy a new application may take hours, days or even weeks depending on physical server availability. In a virtualized environment, servers and the subsequent applications can be set up and collapsed in minutes. So when customer service is key, being able to turn on and manage applications in a fraction of the time and cost is critical.

The consolidation of servers not only minimizes the physical space required for storage, but also reduces power consumption, decreases both infrastructure and administrative data center management and enhances business continuity. In addition, by moving to a virtualized environment from traditional hardware, organizations stand to see significant cost savings, as illustrated in the sidebar data.

Companies that operate in a virtualized environment have adopted the first rule of virtualization: if an application comes into the data center, it automatically goes into a virtualized environment for testing. If the application experiences issues in this environment, then it moves back into its native environment. With this philosophy in mind, Mitel now runs its data center with the help of more than 250 virtual servers.

Where Does Unified Communications Fit?
Virtualization as a concept is not new. However, it is becoming a hot topic in data centers globally. Leading information technology research and advisory company Gartner named virtualization the top strategic technology to watch in 2009, for its increasing capability to virtualize almost everything in a data center (http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=777212).

Enter unified communications. Unified communications is a direct result of the convergence of communication networks, collaborative and business applications and devices. It combines the capabilities of voice, messaging, mobility, conferencing and collaboration applications to enable new approaches to communications. For example, with the right unified communications solution, a multinational corporation can hold a combination collaboration and teleconference call with technology that makes it seem like all participants are in the same room. Unified communications solves real-world business challenges with solutions that drive productivity, improve performance and reduce costs while enabling an efficient approach to communicating, changing how individuals, groups and organizations conduct business.

Unified communications provides key business benefits including: lower communications costs, improved employee efficiency and productivity, enhanced responsiveness to customers, suppliers and partners, streamlined IT management and lower total cost of ownership. Moving unified communications to a virtualized environment is the next step to maximizing this technology.

Why Haven't Enterprises Virtualized Unified Communications?
When IT managers assess a data center, they divide applications into two categories: those that are good candidates for a virtualized environment and those that are poor candidates.

Today, real-time applications like voice fall into the poor category. The value of virtualizing voice is undeniable; however, the process of virtualizing voice is so complex that enterprises have not been able to tackle it yet, and there's not currently a product on the market that packages virtualization capabilities with IP voice applications.

The challenge is latency; while latency is accepted, even expected, for certain applications, it is not acceptable for mission critical applications such as voice.

Today, IT managers have two processes for managing voice applications and the data center, which consists of two teams of employees and two sets of technologies for disaster recovery back up. With operational integration, common practices between voice and data applications are so similar that backup, restore, storage, DR, and resource management among other things, can all be done together, saving valuable resource time. Installation and provisioning through the virtual appliance model offers the same benefits.

But in an environment where voice is just another application, both communications and business applications are managed and administered in the same place. Redundant processes are eliminated, cutting unnecessary costs and freeing up IT staff to focus on innovation projects that add value to the enterprise. Virtualization also offers more efficient security, by leveraging security practices of the data center for the voice application.

The benefits of bringing unified communications into the data center are clear-by breaking down the barriers between the "telecom closet" and the data center, IT managers can minimize voice management, consolidate voice and non-voice applications on a single server and ensure that the server can still be accessed in case of a disaster.

The flexibility provided by virtualization means deployment and management of mobility, conferencing, collaboration and other voice applications simply and effectively in the data center and at the desktop.

Where Do We Go from Here?
As it maintains its mission-critical role in the enterprise, voice is moving toward a data center application, and virtualizing it is the logical next step.

What Now?
Enterprises must build strategies based on current needs, and more importantly, ensure that they have the technology to build upon for the future applications the organization will require to ensure that voice is counted as a mission-critical application that fits into the disaster recovery plan.

With a solid plan in place, companies worldwide will be primed to take advantage of the benefits of virtualizing voice applications, ensuring that employees are always reachable no matter what happens to the corporate network.

More Stories By Stephen Beamish

Stephen Beamish is vice president of business development and marketing for Mitel. Stephen is responsible for communicating and evolving Mitel's solution positioning, in addition to expanding Mitel's corporate business development initiatives and key strategic alliances.

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