Voice over IP is fast becoming a standard technology in organizations of all sizes, from the small business to the enterprise. Yet it's a technology that most IT professionals probably didn't encounter in their formal training and early on-the-job experience. So when it comes to deploying VoIP on their networks, companies often must turn to consultants, and/or in-house IT personnel must quickly get up to speed on the new technology.
Of course, computer technology is constantly changing, and so are the skills required of network administrators. Having to learn new skill sets on a regular basis is something that comes with the job description. But whether you just want to gain the basic competence necessary to maintain VoIP servers and applications on your network or you're interested in specializing in voice and data convergence and becoming one of those high-paid experts yourself, the first step is to determine what you need to know and then map out a plan for gaining that knowledge.
Most IT admins already have a good grasp of the "IP" part of VoIP. You already know how a TCP/IP network works and understand the basic protocols, the layered networking model, network devices such as routers and switches, and concepts such as name resolution, subnetting, etc. It's the "voice" part that introduces new terminology, new protocols, new hardware, and worries over things such as latency and jitter that didn't present much of a problem on a data network.
A formal training course can be a good starting point on your road to VoIP expertise. Popular IT training companies such as Global Knowledge offer courses in VoIP foundations, VoIP security, and protocol-specific courses in the essentials of H.323, SIP, and MGCP — as well as courses that focus on vendor-specific VoIP implementation, such as Cisco Voice over IP. The company has training locations all over the country, and the Web site offers a list of VoIP-related courses.
However, it can be difficult for busy IT pros to get away from the job for training, even for a one-week course. Some training programs can provide in-house training at your location, or you can take courses online for even more flexibility. Here are some companies that provide these types of training options:
- Sunset Learning Institute offers Cisco VoIP courses in most major cities, private on-site instruction, and online courses.
- TeleManage offers live e-learning telecom courses, including VoIP.
- Teracom Training Institute provides both instructor-led courses and computer-based training in VoIP and telecommunications topics.
The training can be expensive for small company budgets — as much as $1,500 or more for a one-week online course or $3,000 for a one-week classroom-based course.
"Boot camp" courses that provide deep immersion training in a short period of time are popular within the IT industry, and VoIP boot camps are available for those who need to pack a lot of learning into one week. For example, ProTech offers a VoIP Boot Camp that focuses on VoIP security.
VoIP News publishes a training catalog that lists VoIP courses available from many different vendors, along with their costs. You can download it for free from the company's Web site. (Registration is required.)
Some VoIP vendors provide free training on their equipment. In addition, there's a plethora of free VoIP material in the form of tutorials, white papers, and so forth available on the Web.
Get VoIP certified
Obtaining the knowledge is one thing — proving to an employer or potential clients that you have it is another. The traditional way to document specific skill sets in the IT profession has been to pass industry-approved certification exams. There are now a number of certifications available that focus on VoIP and/or convergence.
One of the newest is CompTIA's Convergence+ certification, which just became available in April of this year. Unlike some CompTIA certs, this isn't an entry-level exam; CompTIA recommends that candidates have about two years of job experience in networking, VoIP, and related technologies.
The 90-minute exam consists of 90 questions, with a minimum passing score of 720 on a scale of 100 to 900. Siemens, Avaya, Intel, and Catalyst Telecom are some of the organizations that worked with CompTIA to develop the certification.Other VoIP-related certifications include the Telecommunications Industry Association's Certified in Converged Network Technologies (CCNT) and Convergence Technologies Professional (CTP) certifications. These are vendor-neutral exams that consist of multiple choice questions, developed by the TIA in conjunction with Avaya, Inter-Tel, and Toshiba.
The CCNT exam consists of 450 entry-level questions administered online as six separate tests. It's an open-book exam. The CTP consists of 65 more rigorous multiple choice questions, and it generally requires up to two years of experience in data networking, telephony networking, and convergence networking.
Universities and community colleges are also offering technical certificates and degrees in VoIP and convergence technology. Check with local schools in your area.
VoIP skills build on the existing knowledge and skills of IP data network administrators, but adding voice to the network requires a new skill set. Learning VoIP on the job by trial and error may not be the most cost-effective way for your IT staff to get up to speed on the new technology.
Luckily, there are numerous training options available to fit a wide variety of schedules and budgets. If you want to go a step further, there are several entry-level and advanced certifications that will document your skill level and improve your value to employers and clients.
Deb Shinder is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. She currently specializes in security issues and Microsoft products, and she has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) status in Windows Server Security.
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