THE WARPED PERSPECTIVE
"How will we justify VOIP
(Voice Over Internet Protocol)? The answer is.... Users want good interface design."
-- David Willis, Network Computing
magazine, July 8, 2002.
In the 1990's we watched a large number of companies offer slick "solutions"
that had little or nothing to offer in terms of real productivity or performance
improvements. The products they offered were merely window-dressing or just hype-driven
fluff. Venture capitalists certainly found that their own "core competency"
was giving money to glib spinmeisters, not finding real products with real value.
A lot of companies changed their entire information infrastructure and got zero
or even negative productivity growth to show for it.
Now we have the latest pseudo-craze in telecom-computer convergence, VOIP. The idea
of putting all analog or even digitized voice information onto an Intranet may sound
hip and leading-edge, but one wonders what the justification could be. On what basis
would a company take one of the few remaining bastions of reliability in the world
of small computers, the PBX or Private Branch Exchange, and replace it with a IP-based
system with unpredictable and inconsistent levels of service? Is there a reliable
ROI (Return On Investment) model to prove that this is a good idea?
Remember that the IP (Internet Protocol), being based on little packets of information
that can take independent routes to their intended destination, has a statistical
basis instead of a deterministic basis. In other words, you are at the mercy of
the "odds" that your packets arrive in the correct order. You will have
to delay reassembling the message until the packets arrive and are de-scrambled
and returned to their correct original order that existed at the sending point.
Your "QOS" or Quality Of Service depends on how many resources you are
willing to devote to "promise" a certain maximum delay within a
certain percentage probability. On the other hand, an ordinary digital PBX
or analog phone circuit delivers near-instantaneous messages with essentially 100%
probability for all calls, not just those given special allocations
of "extra" resources (bandwidth, processing power, priority in the queue,
etc.) to "promise" (the word commonly used is "guarantee") higher
QOS (less probability of high delay).
So the so-called efficiency is produced by fudging on resources and only giving
"enough" resources to truly "important" messages. The fun and
games come from deciding which messages are "important enough" to be given
"enough" resources. And how much will you pay to make more likely (since
with IP you will never be certain) that you will receive the truly important message
in a truly timely manner? And never mind the lower reliability of a typical Windoze-based
So where did the know-it-alls go wrong? When they decided to use a protocol from
a non-real-time system (the Internet) for a real-time (telecom) application. Sure,
there are certain parts of a PBX system (such as voice mail) that are not time-sensitive.
But voice messages that are subject to digitized multipath distortion, variable
message delay, and increased downtime (typical of a cut-rate Windoze system) are
penny-wise and pound-foolish. The know-it-alls are selling reduced reliability and
reduced performance on the premise of reduced costs....
Which is another bogus line of reasoning. The main cost of an information infrastructure
is the infrastructure fixed cost and maintenance, not the transactional overhead.
Tearing out a working infrastructure to replace it with another infrastructure --
even for FREE -- is no wiser than replacing a shaving razor with a pocketknife on
the theory that "you'll save a lot of money by not buying blades." If
the infrastructure is wrong, then the overhead savings are meaningless. Claiming
that "the infrastructure is the Web" is not telling the whole truth. That's
like saying the infrastructure of a PBX is the phone company.
So how do our friendly neighborhood yarn-spinners now plan to sell this bogus scheme
to uninformed and misinformed managers everywhere? As the opening quote said, by
focusing on user interface improvements. You remember the last big fiasco involving
improved user interfaces, right? The one about being "intuitive" and "never
needing training" because a "uniform GUI" would provide "user
friendliness"? Yes, that was the Windoze party-line for a decade. Companies
did not realize they were inserting an entirely new programming infrastructure between
the hardware and the GUI, and that the GUI was only the rationalization or selling
point. Windoze was never about making things easier, it was about selling
more hardware. And so is VOIP.
Most recent revision: July 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.