Technology consulting, IT infrastructure technology and integration, and leasing solutions for your business
The Convergence of VolP and Storage
James E. Geis, Director of Storage Solutions Marketing Forsythe Solutions Group
Storage Networking World Online, 05.15.2006
"You've got mail" can mean many things now. Is it e-mail? Is there voicemail in your e-mail box? The postman is often ringing twice as consumer demand for message accessibility has increased over the last several years. The technical requirements for convergence have led to an increased dependence on storage delivery over the IP network.
The options for transmission protocols have also increased as our expectations for flexibility and distance have evolved from advantages to requirements. But the ability for users to receive voicemails (as well as faxes, teleconferencing, and other messaging modalities) in their e-mail inboxes has created more capacity planning, regulatory, legal, and management issues for corporate strategists. It also complicates management simply by bringing in more technology to integrate.
The implications for the corporate storage administrator, along with their server and network peers and the legal department, have spawned yet another administrative issue: an unexpected and unpredictable growth trajectory with some liability issues peppered into the mix.
The unification of e-mail and voicemail VoIP tool suites have the ability to deliver a voicemail to the user's electronic mailbox, which can be accessed from any phone or computer. While this feature is a great convenience, it increases the potential for multiple copies of messages to be stored in multiple locations. Messages might be saved on the voicemail system, in the user's e-mail inbox, and to their personal mailbox(es), which exist on their personal computer, the server, and on backup tapes.
In addition, messages are often forwarded to multiple users (and then they tell two friends), and maybe even to a few inappropriate or unintended recipients. The convenience of the technology has caused capacity-planning issues, as there is yet another quota system and file type to manage.
In response, some companies already choose to exclude *.wav files, for example, from their backup programs, because they might consist of music or other non-work related media. But even so, much storage will be consumed by voicemails. Organizational and IT policy decisions need to be made concdrning what needs to be purged, saved, backed up, and/or replicated.
An important factor in such decisions is determining which voicemails have a compliance impact. Setting aside quality of services (QoS) issues with the IP network, what and how much is retained has a great impact on the QoS of the storage network.
Smoking guns and customer relations You've most likely received a forwarded voicemail through your voice or e-mail system. There is usually another message attached to it (along with an easily transmittable .wav file if sent via e-mail) saying something like, "FYI" or "Can you believe this?" With voicemail, just as with e-mail, we sometimes don't think before we click send. There have been many scandals over the dissemination of voicemails. This is why, whenever you call a service provider, you hear the following disclaimer while on hold: "This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes."
Many VoIP systems have numerous integrated features. For example, when you receive a call, they make sure your time and expenses are recorded and charged to a specific account. Or, when recording a call for quality purposes, the system records where is it being stored, for how long it will be stored, and who has access. If the call is bound by some specific legal instructions, information is recorded regarding how and where the message is stored, for future reference.
Voicemails may also be attached to customer database records in your customer relationship management (CRM) system. For CRM, ease of accessibility is a critical function. All of these requirements impact the storage infrastructure.
Storage tiers and processing power The voicemail system needs to be smart enough that if a message is sent to multiple users, it captures and maintains a single copy. Single-instancing storage addresses this. Without single-instancing storage, the increased demand on the e-mail servers, in not only processing power, but network and storage capacity as well, is difficult to manage.
We already have the ability to throttle threads on the servers or attachment size, but how can you stop storing and backing up the same message over and over again? To repeat, if a user forwards the 2MB voicemail attachment via e-mail to 200 people, how much storage is consumed by the multiple copies?
Luckily, disk is becoming cheaper. Unluckily, disk is becoming cheaper. Just because disk is cheap doesn't mean that backing up information is any less complicated or resource-intensive. The terabyte capacity disk is close to fruition, but while it will easily be a long-term storage alternative, it won't have screaming performance in the short-term.
Content-addressed storage (CAS) and other mature storage platforms, for example, have intrinsic features that will maintain single copies of non-duplicated files (regardless of type), but these storage platforms are generally not used until information has passed the transition point between dynamic and static.
Voicemail files will need to be included in your "document" retention policy matrix to clarify how long every voicemail will need to be retained or removed, how to find it, and how it will be protected from destruction and inappropriate access. Policy must also dictate procedures for preventing the removal of any voicemail if such removal is prohibited by an impending litigious event.
Security, privacy and liability Other issues that arise out of this convenient technology are security, privacy, and liability. You can reword an e-mail before you click send, but you usually can't take back the words that came out of your mouth, especially after you've pressed "#" or hung up. Policies need to be enacted to address yet another technology, not only for use, but for storage, forwarding, etc.
Recently, a friend told me that his CEO sent out a company-wide voicemail, using a poorly-worded phrase that led to much confusion. The message was forwarded to attorneys and had the IT group scrambling to try and find where it was saved, to whom it was distributed, and how many people sent it outside of the company.
Policy and planning First, decide what you want to do about voicemail and storage. Do you want to allow capture and integration of the voicemail system with your e-mail system? It's most likely a must, strictly from a convenience and productivity factor. If you do want to capture voicemails, whether through the system directly or via the e-mail system, who and what factors determine the disposition? How does this affect mailbox quotas? How are the voicemails stored and by whom are they accessed?
Unfortunately, you may have to use some fuzzy math for capacity planning estimates on how this will impact your storage, backup, replication and archival. You will need to determine how the transmission of each large file impacts your IP and storage networks. Most likely, if your VoIP implementation was well-designed and well-architected, you have already prepared the IP network for the additional load and planned ahead.
Make sure that your network team, which is most likely participating or driving the VoIP integration, is in sync with your storage group and understands the impact. Also, think about the remote nature of your business, not only for the transmission of voicemail over the IP network, but also with regard to the increase in traffic of the e-mail servers and storage requirements. Instill the same redundancy into the storage and server environment that has been established for critical applications, and mirror that function with the reciprocal network.