Jan 15 2014

How Agencies Are Planning for Converged Infrastructure

Heed these pointers to ease the flow of Voice over IP and multimedia traffic.

Multimedia and Voice over IP traffic have a tendency to complicate network plumbing — and a converged infrastructure can exacerbate the problem. The most practical approach to successful migration, implementation and lifecycle management requires astute planning and understanding of the hybrid nature of isochronous data.

While websites and line-of-business applications can tolerate occasional latency and network congestion, phone calls, training videos and voicemail can’t hiccup without lighting up the help desk like fireworks.

For these reasons, planning is paramount. What’s more, network managers should occasionally test infrastructure for continued resiliency. Try these tips for ensuring that VoIP and multimedia traffic flow smoothly.

1. Focus on the fabric.

Isochronous media — the kind of communications that have problems with any amount of latency — need to have clear and uncongested routing, and can suffer from peak loads. VoIP, audio/video and especially video asset warehousing need clear paths with a lot of space and defined routes.

Inside the usual truckload of racks delivered with new converged infrastructure components, bandwidth can be astoundingly vast. But maintaining clear paths to interconnections is mandatory; otherwise, latency and congested paths can wreak havoc. Make sure the internal fabric of the network flows matches the interconnect so that media can be distributed or connected without objectionable latency. Administrators controlling virtual machine movements and other bits must take into account the protocols and their need for throttling to avoid injecting congestion.

2. Establish a clear path.

Where VoIP has Public Switched Telephone Network gateways, converged infrastructure circuits must connect via clear paths with bandwidth allocated for the maximum number of channels served. PSTN gateways with converged networks often use bandwidth throttling or directed ports for service use, meaning those ports must be protected in some way from congestion and have redundant paths for high availability and emergency communications.

Interactive Voice Response servers are generally deployed following the same advice, as they're often critical, including PBX functionality, intersite voice circuit trunking systems, voicemail and other systems with rock-solid bandwidth needs.

3. Virtualize IP addresses.

Video/media asset distribution networks can be as touchy as voice because streams demand a larger share of networking wires. There may be two different streams to consider in noninteractive media networks: the storage fetch stream and the presentation circuit.

The storage farm may be sensitive to virtual machine movement and will need unfettered access through logical virtual LANs and storage area network protocols such as Fibre Channel over Ethernet and iSCSI. Virtualizing IP addresses becomes important, and IT managers will need hypervisors that support VM moves and that can virtualize IP addressing and associated protocols on the fly.

4. Forge an audit trail.

The dynamic nature of converged infrastructure lends itself to rapid movement of resources and assets. However, every component still needs authentication, and assets must be tracked with reliability.

Keep communications paths to authentication services clear and be sure to strongly document services, remote procedure calls and firewall ports. Organizations will call on documentation and audit logs to reconstruct services in the event of an outage.

5. Perform clean changeovers.

Design converged fabrics to withstand service relocations and simulate cutovers to ensure a clean implementation. Rush jobs can cause long-invested products to go to pieces instantly, and outages may continue while fixes and forensics drive up costs.

Test the product makers’ claims regarding resiliency, high availability and customer references. What’s more, successful deployments are the result of converged teams as well as production and data assets. Ensure the IT team has proper training and practices project management. Watchful eyes and ears can prevent disasters in VoIP/virtual PBX and media distribution control, and ultimately ensure customer satisfaction.

These are but a few of many concerns that are specific to each organization's converged infrastructure planning steps. Converging applications and managing a highly virtualized environment shifts assets and resources, and requires astute and experienced IT support to achieve desired goals.

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