New technologies help make IP telephony easier, cheaper, more secure

At VLS, officials wanted to move to a more modern communications infrastructure, but deploying unified communications over the school’s IP network would have required a significant network upgrade. Installing UniPhyer switches allowed VLS to realize the benefits of IP telephony over its existing copper infrastructure, while speeding up deployment considerably, said Technology Director Jeanne Eicks.

“We plugged in the new phones and unplugged the old ones. We started at 5 p.m., and by 10 p.m. the same evening, IP telephony was deployed,” Eicks said in a Phybridge-published case study.

Although IP telephony offers a number of possible benefits for schools, including the ability to integrate voice mail, eMail, and other communications within a single platform, voice-over-IP traffic is hard to secure using a traditional firewall or intrusion prevention system, because you have to open too wide a range of ports for voice traffic—which could expose your network to potential attacks.

As a result, many organizations that are moving to IP telephony have deployed a technology known as a session border controller (SBC), which controls the signaling and media streams involved in setting up and conducting telephone calls over an IP network. An SBC provides an added layer of security when making voice-over-IP calls.

One provider of SBC technology is Bedford, Mass.-based Acme Packet, which exhibited its Enterprise Session Border Controllers (E-SBCs) during the ACUTA conference.

“Acme Packet E-SBCs are … designed to address the full range of security, interoperability, and reliability challenges [that enterprises] often encounter when delivering IP telephony, interactive video, and unified communications across end-to-end IP networks,” the company said in a brochure.

Most schools use software from a company like Cisco or Nortel for running IP telephony over their networks, but to save money and allow for more customization, some schools and organizations are using an open-source alternative. One of the first and most popular of these open-source programs is Asterisk, created by Digium Inc. of Huntsville, Ala.

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