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Two departments, one budget

Network traffic is converging; network equipment is converging. IT departments are converging. But what about their budgets? See what networking expert Carrie Higbie has to say.

Network traffic is converging; network equipment is converging. IT departments are converging.

But what about their budgets?

Historically, facilities budgets have been treated separately from IT budgets. But in today's world, this leads to sacrificing one budget for another, which is not the most prudent use of funding. Budgets should be treated like large implementation projects. Each department should be involved from day one. If you ask facilities managers how many times new equipment and requirements have been sprung on them, the majority will report that this happens often.

VoIP/IPT is one area where this is often the case. Is it less expensive overall to provide an extra cable (passive, no maintenance fee) or utilize a phone with a switch inside? The reason that there are switches in VoIP phones is to address older legacy applications where pairs were split in a single work area cable. This is also true for older installations where there was one data connection and one category 3 voice connection. Bear in mind that phones that contain switchgear are significantly more expensive, and therefore, the ensuing maintenance is also more expensive. In most studies, if the phone were to be swapped out any time in the 10 years that the cable would remain in place, the company would be upside down on their savings. On average, due to a variety of issues a network card has a life of around five years. Equipment failures can be caused by heat, environment, etc.

In the example above, it is important to look at the entire solution. For instance, if the facilities department is trying to save money on infrastructure, the IT budget now suffers through more expensive equipment and maintenance. The infrastructure should last 10-15 years, whereas active gear has a typical lifecycle of 3-5 years, so two iterations of electronics would be affected by this decision. Further, IT must now figure out how to provide back up power at each desktop. Will this require Power over Ethernet or a separate UPS at each work area? Typically the UPS would come out of the facility budget, where the PoE equipment may be networking's budget. Recabling would likely fall under facility's.

In contrast to having a switch in the phone, other factors in the decision include whether it is more cost effective to provide that port in a switch and whether or not to provide power to the phone through the switch. The per port cost is in the switch compared to at the desktop, and if a single point of failure over a shared media cable is acceptable. There are gigabit phones on the market, which will not run over a split pair configuration. This also means split pair configurations are limited to 10/100 only application speeds. If Power over Ethernet is provided then the power must be supplied at the switch (end-span) as mid-span requires all 4 pair even at 10/100 speeds (although this author is a fan of end-span as a much better solution than mid-span).

The next consideration is management. Does the network manager really want to administer network functions at the desktop rather than at the switch? Who is responsible for the maintenance budget? Who is responsible for the technicians that will administer the system? If the company has a security department outside of normal IT functions, this will require some planning with the security folks. They are unlikely to open up a secure network to just anyone, so in this case, purchasing decisions will have an effect on their budgets as well. It may require an update to the VPN structure, new firewall rules, etc.

As you can see, there are many factors to any implementation. Fiefdoms and decisions made in a vacuum can hurt any company not only in performance and timelines, but also at the most basic level – money. Today's networks are converging many technologies, not just VoIP/IPT. We are adding video applications, building automations systems and a variety of other options, and it is critical that each department's budget is considered part of an overall budget for day one costs as well as day two and administrative costs. While it is pretty normal to consider this in large implementation projects surrounding a particular software application, day-to-day budgets need the same consideration. At minimum a quarterly review with all parties will help.

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