These days, it's hard to find a customer that will buy new equipment just to have the latest technology. So what reasons can you give customers to invest in a switch upgrade or a router upgrade? The most concrete reason right now is that equipment upgrades can contribute to overall savings and improvements in staff efficiency.
Upgrading analog phone lines with VoIP saves money
Switch and router upgrades are needed to support the move to VoIP. That move will mean savings over traditional phone service, resulting in a strong return on investment that, for many users, will compensate for the spending. A switch to VoIP means voice traffic travels over the Internet, which cuts out cost for lines to the local carrier and reduces long-distance charges. Investing in VoIP is especially attractive to customers with locations across the country or the world; they will no longer have to pay for long distance or leased lines.
For VoIP, you should urge customers to invest in switches that support Virtual LANs (VLANs) and prioritization. Voice traffic does not consume a great deal of bandwidth, but there are quality of service (QoS) requirements. Voice packets require low latency and must not be delayed by other traffic on the local network. Security is also critical. Other users on the LAN must not be able to tap into private phone calls.
You should also urge users to power phones from the Ethernet via Power over Ethernet (PoE). To do that, select switches that supply PoE when upgrading for VoIP. Also examine switch management facilities. Because reliable voice communication is vital, select switches that provide troubleshooting facilities to trace and correct problems quickly.
A router upgrade may also be needed to support multi-protocol label switching (MPLS). Voice traffic must also receive priority service across the Internet. MPLS, which provides guaranteed latency and throughput, is offered by the major carriers and has proven to be a popular solution for voice traffic. Routers that interface the LAN to the Internet must be able to support MPLS.
Gigabit Ethernet in greater demand
Another development that will help convince customers of the need for a switch upgrade is the increasing demand for Gigabit Ethernet.
Servers and most desktop PCs now include gigabit Ethernet interfaces as a standard feature. Gigabit to the desktop may not be completely necessary yet, but it is necessary for server performance, which can be throttled by 100 Mbit Ethernet.
What's more, laptops supporting the IEEE 802.11n Wi-Fi specification are becoming more common. IEEE 802.11n provides data rates in excess of 100 Mbit/s, so access points supporting this standard must be connected to the wired network via gigabit links. The 100 Mbit links currently in place are no longer adequate.
Select managed gigabit switches that enhance the efficiency of your customer's support staff. Recent switches offer features such as diagnostics that can pinpoint the location of problems on the Ethernet cable, support for IEEE 802.1x user authentication, and the ability to quickly see which ports are in use and active.
Reduce travel with video conferencing
In a tough macroeconomic environment, telepresence and video conferences are increasingly taking the place of face-to-face meetings that require costly travel. But effective video and audio place QoS demands on both the LAN and the Internet connection. Like VoIP, video packets must be delivered reliably and with minimal and consistent delay, but video requires higher data rates than VoIP. These requirements provide another impetus for gigabit on the LAN and for upgraded Internet connections and routers capable of supporting them.
Upgrades are also required to ensure security. Video facility monitoring has become increasingly popular as a way to deter trespassing and theft. In the past, it was necessary to link video cameras to a central station via dedicated co-ax. The data rates now available over standard network cabling make dedicated co-ax unnecessary, but switches must meet the QoS requirements of video conferencing and VoIP.
Energy efficiency was not a major concern in the past, but network equipment manufacturers are now paying more attention to the issue and installing more efficient power supplies and fans. The improvements are usually not sufficient to justify replacing a switch or router, but they are a bonus when upgrading for other reasons.
The decision to replace equipment should be made carefully even in the best of times. Current conditions dictate extra diligence, but new technology and applications can yield overall savings that make upgrades worthwhile.
Control costs by outsourcing network support for new equipment
Equipment upgrades sometimes result in outsourced network support, and that can be more cost effective for users.
Dedicating one or more employees to network support is expensive for a small or medium-sized business. When these companies outsource network support to a carrier or VAR, there will be a monthly bill, but the result will be an overall cost reduction. Outsource providers control their costs by limiting the number of vendors and equipment models supported. Any equipment that does not match the supported models will be replaced.
David B. Jacobs of The Jacobs Group has more than 20 years of networking industry experience. He has managed leading-edge software development projects and consulted to Fortune 500 companies as well as software startups.