Voice, video poised for impact
Without a doubt, e-mail and phone calls will continue to be essential tools of the trade for federal employees for many years to come. But make no mistake: The ways in which feds communicate are beginning to change, and IT managers need to start planning now.
A survey of 251 federal, state and local IT professionals found a growing interest in alternative communications tools, including video, voice over IP (VOIP) and social media. Although their use remains relatively small, these tools could begin to put a lot of pressure on agency networks.
Video is likely to have the most noticeable impact. On the whole, nearly one-third of respondents said IP-based video streaming is one of the fastest-growing components of network traffic at their agencies.
A full 40 percent of respondents said their agencies were looking into enabling more robust video-based communications, including video streaming or videoconferencing. That is in addition to the 34 percent who said their agencies had already made the transition or were on the way (see figure 1).
It probably comes as no surprise that most agencies support the streaming of audio or video, and slightly more than half provide IP-based videoconferencing to the desktop. But even high-definition telepresence technology is developing a significant user base, with 37 percent of respondents saying their agencies support it.
And that base is expected to grow, eating up a larger and larger share of network bandwidth. As a percentage of overall daily high-definition network traffic, telepresence is expected to grow by 49 percent during the next two years, with IP-based videoconferencing growing by 24 percent and streaming audio/video by 7 percent (see figure 2).
“Video use is definitely growing and has the potential to greatly impact network performance,” said Jim Rapoza, senior research analyst for networking and application performance at the Aberdeen Group. “And while some of this is recreational, a growing amount of video is becoming vital for business use.”
VOIP is another factor. The survey found that 24 percent of respondents’ agencies have already migrated some voice traffic to VOIP telephony, with another 15 percent in progress and 30 percent looking into it. All told, within two years, IP-based voice traffic could make up nearly three-quarters of daily network traffic, the survey found.
In the long run, that switch will provide a big payoff, experts say. But in the short run, it requires agencies to bolster their IP networks. “In order to get there, there is a need to invest,” said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting.
Social media comes with its own demands. More than a third of survey respondents said their agencies had implemented social media tools for communicating with the public or were in the process of doing so, and 30 percent said their agencies were investigating the idea or developing plans.
For example, late last year the State Department issued a request for information on a social media engagement and promotion platform. Among other applications, this platform would be used to strengthen the department’s ability to reach U.S. citizens traveling abroad when emergencies arise, according to the RFI.
But social media also is likely to see more use within organizations. According to a report issued last year by IDC, the adoption of enterprise social media tools is accelerating across all sectors as the technology “continues to become a critical decision support and worker productivity tool.”
On the whole, social networking might not eat up network capacity the way video does. Nonetheless, as the technology becomes an increasingly important communications tool within agencies and with the public, IT managers must ensure that they can support it.
The good news, said Rapoza, is that it’s getting easier to manage this kind of content, thanks to a new generation of network tools that focus on application performance.
“In these kinds of environments, rather than just looking at protocols, admins can monitor the impact of specific applications and services like YouTube, Facebook and other social tools,” he said. “And they can apply network rules at an application level, so rather than blocking YouTube or Facebook, they can control how much bandwidth they can consume and prevent these services from impacting the performance of business-critical applications.”