Robust and reliable communications are essential for any business to remain efficient and competitive. Telephony with VoIP (voice over internet protocol) services is becoming increasingly commonplace across the small business community.

It is helped by the fact that most businesses already have the networks installed, but it also provides a number of advantages.

One is that the total cost of ownership is lower than with traditional voice and video technologies, and small businesses in particular like the bundled billing of all their telecom costs, which gives them more control over their cost centres.

In addition, multiple and remote sites can all be supported over one network, offering a level of integration from which smaller enterprises can benefit.

The technology underlying VoIP may be familiar, but it is critical that the systems, like any other business service are set up and optimised to realise their full potential.

Today this means optimising a company's use of SIP (session initiation protocol) trunking that replaces ISDN with a standard and more importantly, cheaper connection to the internet. The key with this technology is that it places the telecoms services into a layer that anyone within a business, no matter where they are, can access the VoIP services.

Enterprises should follow these steps to optimise their VoIP networks:

1. Perform a telecoms audit

VoIP may at first glance appear to be a panacea for a company's telecoms needs. But the reality is that a business should look closely at its telecoms usage now and try and project it into the future.

VoIP and the network that supports it can then be upgraded where necessary to ensure fully optimised services.

2. Assess network capability

Businesses often assume that their existing network can easily cope with VoIP when it is installed, when the reality is very different.

It is crucial to fully assess and test the existing network infrastructure, and more importantly the available bandwidth.

Bandwidth availability and VoIP performance are directly linked and have a significant impact on VoIP optimisation.

3. Server performance

Bandwidth and network connections also rely on high performance servers to deliver the VoIP data packets on which the quality of the service relies. Older servers that may have high latency levels and weak I/O interfaces may need to be upgraded to at least 100 Mbps.

Dell's PowerEdge servers are good examples of server platforms that are ideal for VoIP applications.

4. Perform a stress test

It is important when optimising your VoIP services to perform a number of stress tests to see if all of the components of a network can cope with the added demands that VoIP will create.

The level of traffic over a network will ebb and flow, but focus on peak times to see how well – or not – VoIP calls perform at these times. This will instantly identify where upgrades are needed.

5. Check for interoperability

It's critical that each component in a VoIP system is interoperable. These include soft-phone clients, handsets, VoIP gateways, SIP servers and firewalls. Each of these components must work together to deliver a fully optimised service.

Transitioning to a VoIP platform requires careful planning. The systems are IP based and so need to be optimised along with the other IP traffic that a business network will have to manage.

To ensure a fully optimised VoIP installation it's necessary to take an overview of all IP traffic. Only then will a business be able to fully optimise its VoIP and begin to reap the benefits.