As an engineering manager, one of my responsibilities is to help my employees choose the appropriate training they need to do their jobs and enhance their career growth. To do this, I regularly monitor the direction network technology is taking to identify needed training.

Interest in converged networks, especially VoIP, is increasing. VoIP has the potential to offer more opportunities for network engineers; however, it also will offer more challenges.

The key terms in VoIP are voice and IP. They go hand in hand, and to take advantage of the new opportunities VoIP will bring, network engineers will need to be proficient in both. Here is where the challenge lies and where the focus of training should be.

Most data network engineers are proficient in IP-based networks. Any network engineer who has even a modicum of experience is able to understand IP subnets, IP routing protocols and basic IP network design. These items have become so commonplace that some industry analysts believe IP network engineering is on the verge of being commoditised.

Voice is the stranger
But few data network engineers have knowledge of voice engineering. I know very few data network engineers who understand Erlang B and C calculations and when to use them. I have yet to meet many network engineers who understand voice trunking, call centre networks, Centrex, PBXs and advanced call handling. But knowledge of these concepts will be essential to anyone wanting to take advantage of VoIP opportunities. PBXs are the "network servers" of voice systems, Erlang B and C are the capacity planning models of the voice world, and Centrex is the "managed service" of voice.

Without knowledge of these technologies, engineers will not be able to design networks that meet the standard voice requirements of 99.999 percent availability, low latency and enhanced QoS. While most people will put up with slow response times on their data networks and the inability to access file and mail servers because of outages, few people will accommodate lack of dial tone when they lift a handset or tolerate a call that has the "walkie-talkie" effect associated with latency issues.

Voice engineers also will need to acquire new skill sets. Many IT departments have excluded the voice group from their network management processes. Voice technicians often are free to make changes to the PBX as needed without having to follow change management processes. In addition, the ability to provide availability reports, system utilisation statistics and usage metrics is not commonplace in the voice world. Voice engineers will need to become familiar with the more formalised processes and procedures associated with data networks.

Converged networks will create the need for specialised knowledge that will elevate the status of network engineering to levels not seen in the last few years. To capitalise on these opportunities, network engineers need to put in place a training plan to gain not only IP skills but also the knowledge of voice technologies. Now where did I put my copy of Newton's Telecom Dictionary?

Chuck Yoke ([email protected]) is director of business solutions engineering for a corporate network in Denver.