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VoIP answers the call

Qovia offers what it says is the only suite of software tools designed to monitor and manage voice traffic in the converged voice and data network.

While 2004 saw many enterprises conduct pilot VoIP programs, many observers feel 2005 will be the year of mass adoption, with 10,000-phone implementations becoming the norm. However, like data networks, VoIP networks don’t run themselves. Administrators running these increasingly complex networks need a fast, easy and cost-effective way to efficiently monitor the overall health of the network and easily manage the various elements that make up the voice infrastructure. This management is needed not just to ensure reliability, emergency, quality, operations and security, but also to save on long-term ownership and operational costs. In the same way that IBM’s Tivoli and HP Openview provided critical data network monitoring and management capabilities in the early 1990s, Frederick, Md.-based Qovia Inc. >< says it has met a similar need for voice technology. The three-year-old company offers what it says is the only suite of software tools designed to monitor and manage voice traffic in the converged voice and data network. Qovia Vice President of Marketing R. Pierce Reid has plenty so say not only about Qovia, but about the past, present, and future of Internet telephony.

What was it about VoIP that made Qovia’s founders think it would catch on during the technology’s early days?

The founders looked at a lot of areas within the high-tech industry during the “IT Nuclear Winter” of 2001-2002. And Qovia was founded on the basis of a market need rather than our creating a technology and then going in search of a market. So when VoIP was identified as an area that was likely to take off, the whole field was “sliced and diced” to look for potential opportunities. The realization that no one was making management tools for VoIP came in April/May 2002, and Qovia was founded at that time. Only after the market was identified was the technology created. So, as for the question of why VoIP and not wireless or security or something else: VoIP looked like the technology that was likely to come out of the tech downturn as a really booming area. There were several reasons for this, but the most compelling was that there was purchase and adoption of VoIP phone systems going on at that time and industry observers and analysts were already predicting that by 2003-2004, VoIP systems would be outselling traditional phones. That proved true. There were some other good indicators as well: Traditional phone systems had largely been upgraded and purchased during the dot-com bubble of 1996-2001. Those systems had a typical life span of five to eight years before it made sense to replace or upgrade them. Many of those replacement systems would be VoIP phone systems. Also, the power and speed of networking equipment from companies like Cisco, NEC, and others had caught up with the vision for fully converged networks. VoIP was likely to be the first application. Once VoIP was identified, monitoring and management was identified as a niche you can drive a truck through, and Qovia got off the ground.

What’s the state of VoIP adoption among enterprises today?

Today, there is tremendous growth in VoIP adoption among enterprises. And Enterprise VoIP (which is where Qovia is focused) is dramatically outpacing consumer adoption of VoIP. I don’t have the exact figures, but Cisco alone is shipping tens of thousands of VoIP handsets each month, and their sales for VoIP equipment in 2004 exceeded expectations by some 40 percent. NEC has shipped more than 30,000 of their IPK Electra Elite VoIP systems; Avaya sales are booming in VoIP; and other vendors include Nortel, 3Com, Siemens, and Alcatel. That said, most VoIP implementations today are still in a pilot stage, especially at large enterprises. It is not easy to simply bring VoIP up on a network and expect it to be as reliable and clear as traditional phone systems. External factors ranging from equipment health to bandwidth can affect the way the phones perform–thus the need for monitoring and management tools such as Qovia’s. While VoIP networks are easily capable of providing the quality and reliability of traditional copper-wire phones, these systems do have to be managed for call quality, reliability and operations to achieve the same 99.999 percent reliability and user experience of the old phone system. The enterprises that are having the greatest success are the ones that are scaling phones from pilots and moving from thousands of handsets to tens of thousands of handsets as they gain knowledge and learn to manage their networks. It is, however, safe to say that VoIP is here to stay, and that the vast majority of new telephony systems that are being installed are VoIP.

In terms of size and business focus, what types of companies are the Qovia system aimed at?

Qovia is aimed at enterprises that have, in general, 500 phones or more. Most of our customer implementations are in the thousand-plus range, and are planning on scaling into the tens of thousands of phones. Qovia VMMS is architected to scale into the hundreds of thousands of phones. Our customers include the city of Jacksonville, N.C., FBR Financial, the county of Nevada, Calif., Penn State University and many others. And we are involved in many, many pilot implementations that will scale into the tens or hundreds of thousands of phones.

What kind of TCO figures does Qovia have? Are there ongoing expenses?

VoIP does have an ongoing expense in the same way that a data network has monitoring and management needs. That doesn’t mean the old phone system simply ran itself either, but VoIP networks require “care and feeding” to run their best. Qovia has demonstrated an ROI on management savings in excess of 50 percent, and that savings is generally derived from reduced truck rolls and fewer dispatches of IT technicians. Our system pays for itself in about a year. These figures, by the way, were from our original 3Com NBX product. Our Cisco product has slightly lower numbers because Cisco has very good built-in remote management tools and products so we don’t have as much of an impact on a CallManager system in terms of remote management. But Qovia VMMS, when used for CallManager, does provide very solid ROI in terms of live network monitoring to ensure call quality and reliability.

Is Qovia netware, or can it be bought boxed?

Qovia is sold as Qovia VMMS, which is made up of software modules to perform “discreet” monitoring and management functions; Qovia Central, which aggregates the data; and Qovia 3000 and Qovia 5000 network appliances, which reside around the network and are used to run our software. The Qovia software monitors the voice traffic live–which is something no other vendor can do–to provide immediate input to an enterprise’s IT team on network performance, reliability and call quality. Generally, Qovia VMMS is bought as a system, and there are some professional services involved in getting it up and running. But that can happen in an enterprise within days. The price, by the way, typically runs between 10 and 20 percent of the cost of the complete VoIP implementation–which is right in the traditional range for things like data network management tools, and SAN management tools.

What are your thoughts on the future of Internet telephony? Is there strong potential in the consumer sector, or will most of the adoption come on the business side?

Several thoughts. For the enterprise, VoIP is pretty inevitable. VoIP allows enterprises to do more with their phones, converge networks and lower costs by running multiple applications–voice, data, video–on the same network. For consumers, VoIP adoption remains among technical early adopters, but usage of technologies such as Vonage and Skype is increasing. Ultimately, however, VoIP needs to be looked at as a transport protocol, not as an end in an of itself. So, in the same way that phone companies revolutionized their networks in the 1980s with digital “pin drop” technology that moved phone systems from analog to digital. Next they will move from digital to VoIP. Within a few years, VoIP Class 5 network switches will be the norm and consumers, will be using VoIP even though they don’t know it. VoIP will truly have arrived when it’s no longer called anything but a phone call! This shift, by the way, will be a part of convergence. If networks can handle VoIP, they can handle data and even video transactions. The ultimate goal will be the delivery of any content on any device at any time in any place via any network. VoIP is not the end state, it’s an enabler of this long-time goal.

What future products does Qovia have in the works?

One of the things we have done successfully is maintain the discipline to bring our core products to market–that is, tools for the monitoring and management of VoIP phone systems. However, we are architected to be scalable and to manage networks with the critical timing required to carry voice traffic. So while we are not yet building products for managing video networks and fully-converged networks, we have the talent and are accumulating the intellectual property to continue to grow as VoIP brings about even more advanced communications technologies.

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