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Extending the Reach of Enterprise Voice and Data to the Field

June 29, 2015

Internet Protocol is the lingua franca of contemporary communications. Sending voice, data and rich media over IP supports greater efficiencies and better user experiences than traditional telephony.

Internet Protocol is the lingua franca of contemporary communications. Sending voice, data and rich media over IP supports greater efficiencies and better user experiences than traditional telephony.

In the process, broadband pipes have enabled a whole raft of enterprise collaboration tools that can be shared with remote and mobile workers. Unified communications — which leverage Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking for privacy and audiovisual communications protocols like H.323 — send voice, video, text messaging and other information across the same IP channels.

In short, although companies can’t teleport physical employees over the Internet connections for instant in-person meetings, almost every other form of professional interaction can flow through a single channel, portioned out to individual users.

That’s a sea change from the old days of networking. While old-school telephone lines could not handle intelligent services at their end points and required network-side services to function, IP-based digital communications distribute intelligence to the edge of the network, allowing much more sophisticated types of communications that leverage Internet services, both in-house and remote.

The efficiencies are manifest: Organizations that leverage UC save time on employee interactions because they can reach each other immediately and collaborate via a range of media. Moreover, the savings of money and time required for business travel can mean tremendous savings for companies with geographically dispersed teams.

But along with opportunities, these networks open up new vulnerabilities. What does an organization have to do to make them reliable and secure, short of becoming their own telecom provider?

According to Larry Seltzer, a security consultant who has written for ZDNet and major corporate clients, many of the features needed to secure unified communications are well-established in both enterprise and consumer settings. “A lot of mature software does this,” Seltzer said. “You need to put everything through encrypted connections. There have been VoIP [voice over IP] phones with VPN built in for a long time, and even software protocols [for videoconferencing] are encrypted.”

But beyond VPN, network managers will need to consider whether to allow external networks to access the UC infrastructure.

“As far as people listening in on your conversations, I haven’t heard of this being a problem. On POTS lines [for old-fashioned telephony], you could just clip on a wire to get into a system.”

Moreover, Seltzer said, “it wouldn’t be the kind of breach that would scale very well — if you’ve captured hours and hours of voice communications, it’s going to be hard to find anything to exploit.”

One caveat: Remote attackers could use your UC system to place their own phone calls, hacking into your voice system so they can make robocalls on your network, Seltzer said. Network administrators usually find this sort of activity by auditing logs, although other software products look for suspicious activity.

The bottom line for security, Seltzer said, is encryption and authentication. “Make sure calls coming in from this person is really from him.”

The real issues in unified communications, he said, are likely to be bandwidth and performance problems.

Mobile UC calls for an enterprise infrastructure that can handle users communicating via an in-house wireless LAN from a wide range of locations.

Most unified communications traveling over wires are routed through a dedicated virtual LAN. When that traffic goes wireless, users will expect the same performance and quality, which means VLAN tagging to move packets as they traverse wireless and wired environments.

And like so many other network solutions, UC has gained a major boost in processing power by plugging into cloud computing. While traditional Private Branch Exchange (PBX) hosting environments must be built to accommodate a maximum volume of communications traffic, a cloud-based approach to UC allows an enterprise to scale its capacities up or down to match the demands placed on it by users. Major software vendors now offer UC cloud support for enterprises, allowing their clients to take advantage of their infrastructures instead of rolling their own.

Finally, to make things even easier, enterprises may choose to work with a vendor that offers Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS). Like other Software as a Service varieties, the provider offers single- or multi-tenant systems; while single-tenant architectures are dedicated to one company, multi-tenant versions store communications data from multiple companies on the same partitioned server. UCaaS providers offer a menu of choices when it comes to IP-based communications — including videoconferencing, messaging, voice and text — and let clients scale up or down as their needs change.

Mobility and geographical reach are essential to contemporary enterprises, especially when it comes to communications. By choosing options that offer security and flexibility, UC architectures can speed collaboration among colleagues and give companies of every size the reach of traditional multinationals.

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