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SIP: So Much More than Just Connecting Calls

What can SIP, or Session Initiation Protocol, do for your business?

SIP is no longer just about connecting VoIP phone calls across IP networks. For example, SIP is increasingly being used integrate multiple, disparate communications systems quickly, easily and reliably to arrive at unified communications, or UC, which is already proving its value to the business world.

A recent white paper from Nemertes Research, “SIP-O-Nomics Saving Money and Simplifying Architecture with the Session Initiation Protocol,” states that UC deployments “are rapidly growing, with 60 percent of IT practitioners saying they are implementing unified communications. Those deploying are seeing tangible, quantifiable benefits such as increased sales, reduced travel, more efficient use of field support personnel, and greater contact center optimization, in addition to gains in productivity.”

As the white paper points out, SIP provides the “glue” that is used to integrate these disparate communications systems (phone, email, Web chat, fax, conferencing, etc.) into a single unified architecture.

“Given opportunities to use UC applications such as video conferencing, web conferencing, audio conferencing, instant messaging, and contact center applications to realize tangible benefits in cost management and operational efficiencies, we expect growth of UC adoption to grow at a consistent annual rate of 10 percent for the next 2-3 years,” the white paper states.

Beyond the operational improvements and increased productivity afforded through UC, SIP is also opening up tremendous opportunities for organizations to reduce their telecommunications costs. SIP Trunking – which allows organizations to bypass the PSTN and harness the cost savings of VoIP to connect remote offices and for long distance communications – has become faster and simpler to deploy and provides new features and capabilities, such as the ability to share trunks, “burst” across trunks, and connect trunks to disaster recovery locations for fast failover.

“Many MPLS and Ethernet service providers are now bundling SIP trunking into their WAN offerings to enable greater simplification of infrastructure by bundling services across a single physical link,” the Nemertes white paper states.

In addition “SIP trunking service providers are rolling out the capability for wireless calls to go from their network directly to their SIP trunking customers, without the need to traverse the PSTN, offering potential for significant savings in roaming, per-minute, and long-distance cellular costs.”

SIP also opens the door to faster and simpler integration with cloud-based communications services. With SIP running on the local network, organizations can easily tap into cloud-based IVR offerings, contact center applications, unified messaging, and rich-media conferencing. “IT architects can integrate their on-premise systems with cloud-based applications to deliver new capabilities with minimal up-front investment,” the white paper states.

Although SIP does simplify integration with other systems, once it is in place, that’s not to say that implementing SIP itself is a simple task. It is certainly not without its challenges. During the “Leaders of SIP” event convened by Nemertes Research and Avaya in mid-2009, attendees emphasized the importance of adequate training: “IT executives are experiencing challenges in finding those well trained in SIP implementation and management. Concerns extend beyond hiring their own staff to finding qualified VARs, consultants, and even vendor engineers. Successful SIP implementations require cross training between telecom and network teams to understand the inner-workings of SIP.”

Hand-in-hand with the need for adequate training is the need for adequate network management tools: “IT architects cite the need to deploy tools that allow them to manage and troubleshoot performance of SIP for both SIP trunking as well as for internetworking of SIP-based systems. In many cases engineers still rely on packet capture and manual examination of flows to determine problems, a long and arduous task that requires technicians to possesses not only a solid understanding of SIP message flows, but also vendor proprietary extensions to SIP.”

Of course, SIP also opens up new security concerns that need to be addressed as well: “SIP trunking creates a new vector for attacking enterprise phone systems. In most VoIP architectures the PSTN serves as a firebreak between the enterprise phone system and the rest of the world. Risk of attack from the Internet is low as the VoIP system is physically and potentially logically isolated from the outside. Introducing SIP trunking changes this, as the enterprise phone system is now vulnerable to IP-based attacks via the SIP trunk. Session border controllers or SIPaware firewalls can mitigate security concerns.”

During the recent Webinar, “SIP-O-Nomics: Leveraging SIP for Strategic Value,” sponsored by Avaya, Irwin Lazar, vice president, communications research, Nemertes Research; Ajay Kapoor, director, Avaya Professional Services Consulting Practice; and Greg Weber, strategic architect, Avaya Aura, discussed the value and savings businesses can leverage from SIP; how to overcome the challenges of implementing SIP; and how to ensure the business value when migrating and designing a roadmap. They also shared insights gleaned from global companies who participated in the 2009 “Leaders of SIP” Forum.

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