Advanced features can be deployed on legacy phones, switches  It’s now accepted that when choosing a phone system for a greenfield facility, IP telephony on an integrated voice and data network is generally the way to go.But in cases where migration of the entire enterprise is on the agenda, many businesses find they can keep much of their legacy equipment, while adopting advanced features that dramatically improve the way they communicate. It often proves cost-effective to upgrade selected equipment and features, while holding off migration of other components until a later stage. In other situations, full migration to IP telephony must be delayed until the data network can be upgraded to support voice transmission.Such a partial or layered approach offers several benefits: Lower initial cost of ownership, spreading the full migration expense over a longer period. Reduced disruption and lower training costs. Sharpened focus on solving customer-specific problems (see box). Utilization of IP telephony features that reduce onerous operating expenses. Find Me/Follow MeOne sector where a staged approach has found adopters is education, where requirements are highly diverse, and restricted budgets may not permit a complete switch to IP. Telemanagement talked with two educational institutions that recently moved to IP telephony while retaining some legacy equipment: Washington State’s Highline School District and Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. Their stories were surprising in one vital respect. Each organization was able, in their partial implementation of IP telephony, to deploy one of its most advanced, leading-edge features: "Find-Me-Follow-Me." This service is call forwarding on steroids: an incoming call can be routed to any device anywhere, via phone circuits or the Internet, and users can give sophisticated and flexible instructions regarding their availability. Highline Schools: Advanced Features with TDM PhonesWhen the Highline school district just south of Seattle began standardizing communication systems in its administration centre, performing arts centre, and 12 other support, maintenance, and student services facilities, its administrators realized that a full migration to VoIP was out of its price range. So Highline decided to start the migration with the administration centre and ensure that four new schools under construction were equipped with VoIP systems. The long-term plan is to hold off migration in the rest of the district, which includes 31 schools serving about 17,000 students, until the savings from lowered operational costs generates a fund to help pay for the transition. At the heart of Highline’s problem was a communications system that was built without future integration of the district’s communications in mind. According to Highline Telecommunications Manager Dave Collins, it includes dozens of different systems, sometimes even within the same building. "We had a mishmash of 1A2 Key Systems and Comdial Executech systems," Collins says. Highline’s choice for the administration centre was Avaya’s IP Office, which supports up to 180 analog, digital, and IP extensions. The changeover "cost about US$92,000 plus a three-year maintenance contract," Collins says. "The cutover was done on a three-day weekend and completed before the workday started on Tuesday." TDM HandsetsThe administrators opted for new handsets—the old equipment was not compatible with the Avaya system. Yet they decided not to buy the more expensive IP phones. Even so, the new circuit-switched phones allowed workers to use advanced features such as Find Me/Follow Me. "At the time we did this, we didn’t think we were quite ready for a complete VoIP system, but we wanted to be ready when the time came," says Vern Jacobson, Highline Director of Information Services."We’ll have to swap out phones at some point, but we have the appropriate system in already." Operational CostsHighline had fundamental cost issues that the new system had to address. For example, workers sitting next to each other were often calling on different systems. Simple interoffice phone calls, even to talk to someone metres away, were routed over several internal and external outside lines—with greatly increased costs for unnecessary trunking. The voicemail system also required a call to an outside line. Add mostly out-of-date equipment to the incompatible systems, and managing this jumble of technology within the administration centre alone was a considerable challenge. Another problem was the lack of conferencing capability, forcing the district to pay high monthly bills to AT&T to provide the service. Highline needed a system offering integrated conferencing capabilities to help eliminate huge annual costs for outside contractors. IP OfficeCollins went looking for a system that met two simple requirements: IP capability and a single easy-to-use voicemail system that served every user at each site. After researching five solutions, Collins chose Avaya’s IP412 Office. The IP Office’s 180-extension capacity can be enlarged by up to 12 expansion modules, each offering capacity for 208 analog trunks and 96 digital trunks. It provides trunk expansion capability of up to four PRIs. It also offers 60 voice compression channels, two independent LAN hub ports, and 60 data channels used for routing, Voice over IP, and voicemail applications. "It was immediate and easy: I can migrate to VoIP any time I feel we’re ready to do so. The system has already the capability built in to start adding VoIP phones every time I create a new user account," Collins explains. "No extra equipment is needed and there’s no cost other than the price of the VoIP phones. This is one of the reasons we decided on this system." Voicemail IntegrationThe close integration between voicemail and the telephone system, as well as the capability to integrate Microsoft Exchange messaging with the IP Office system, ensured that employees would never have to guess whether voicemail was waiting, as was the case with the previous technology. Collins was pleased by the staff’s willingness to learn and use the new technology. And to his surprise, district employees quickly made the advanced Find Me/Follow Me feature the most widely used tool of the new installation. The system can also create instant conference calls. Another popular feature is the electronic busy light field (eBLF), which allows the receptionist to see every user and their status at a glance and route calls using a touch screen. Highline’s experience with IP telephony shows that enterprises may exploit the most advanced functions, save money, and plan for a slow and steady transition. Worcester: On the Leading Edge with a 15-Year-Old SwitchBut other enterprises face an upgrade that is forced on them, rather than one carried out after lengthy preparation. In some cases, migration to new technology becomes necessary when vendor support expires on legacy equipment. In the best of cases, vendors will offer migration paths that permit even ancient and long-since-paid-for switches to be recycled in a startlingly up-to-date context. That’s exactly what happened when Massachusetts’ Worcester Polytechnic Institute was finally forced into the decision to upgrade its existing Nortel Networks Meridian Option 81C PBX. "Before we upgraded, our phone switch was about 15 years old, and that really made me start looking at the offering," says Sean O’Connor, Network Operations Manager for the college. And Worcester was far from current with software upgrades. Indeed the software was about to be cut from the vendor’s technical support roster. Investment ProtectionBut Nortel prides itself on its "Evergreen" policy of providing older products with migration paths that preserve investment, and in this case, the policy paid off. The PBX was upgraded and IP enabled to support the converged desktop feature set. The goal was to apply advanced multimedia technology to the legacy equipment without a "rip and replace" requirement. The college also opted to overlay its upgraded Option 81C with Nortel’s Succession Multimedia Communication Server 5100, one of the industry’s most advanced multimedia platforms. The MCS 5100 can handle calls in different ways depending on directions from the user. For example, specific calls from the boss or spouse may be routed through directly no matter where the user is, while all others go into voicemail. It also establishes multiple levels of availability by allowing the user to select if all, some, or no calls go directly to voicemail depending on the particular situation. So when necessary, "find me" can become "hide me." In addition, in chosen sites, fully converged IP telephony was achieved by installing a Nortel Business Communications Manager or a Remote Office 9150. "The cost to set this up was about the same as that of a non-IP box, but we’re asking the system to do a whole lot more," says O’Connor. "There was a bit of cost to that, but it was much less than I thought it would be for what we got in return." The MCS 5100 helped extend unified messaging across multiple devices while maintaining the 81C switch and many circuit-switched phones. Worcester also used Nortel’s Optivity Telephony Manager to provide desktop management capabilities that allow the college to add telephones and mailboxes as needed quickly and efficiently. While the Institute has 50 IP phones, they are also deploying the converged desktop on existing digital and analog phones, at a great cost saving. SoftphonesIn the past, the school sent their researchers traveling with rented mobile phones, which ran up huge usage and toll costs whether receiving or making calls. Many researchers hesitated to even turn on the cellphones because they were acutely aware of the large bills they’d incur making and receiving calls. With its new system, Worcester bought a quantity of IP softphones, which enable professors and students on the go to make calls from their laptop computers. While visiting a university or research institute in, say, Japan, the user can Gartner: For a ‘Holistic’ View of IP Telephony  Many of the organizations who look to IP telephony as the future of their communications system are not yet examining the specific benefits it can offer their business, says Gartner Group Canada Vice-President Bob Hafner. His recent Gartner study "IP Telephony Will Not Reach Its Potential in 2004" concluded that almost all enterprises view IP telephony as a simple replacement for a PBX or Centrex service rather than the first step of an evolving process to redefine communications and help transform their business. Switching to IP telephony isn’t a simple swap of technologies and boxes, it requires a careful examination of the existing situation, a determination of the changes required, and thoughtful consideration of the lasting effects on the overall operation, Hafner says. Specifically, IP telephony will fall short of being used effectively unless enterprises begin to take a more holistic view of this technology and the business opportunity it offers. "Enterprises and many of the vendors are still learning about where IP telephony belongs in the enterprise and the problems it’s going to fix," Hafner says. "Most importantly, enterprises must have a strategic plan focusing on the evolution of their network. New voice applications such as IP telephony have the potential to dramatically change the way organizations communicate." plug into a high-speed connection and have immediate access to Worcester’s PBX, receiving calls on her extension number. Transmission is via the Internet, so there is no usage fee, and Worcester saves the toll charges. Professors and students on the road set a personal agent, which allows the user to direct the routing for phone calls. So, a professor traveling in another country simply sets her agent to ring on her laptop when a call comes into her office in Worcester. "It depends how much it gets used, but obviously it will save us money with anyone who travels," O’Connor says. "We know that professors were not making calls because they knew it cost money. Now that they are able to do everything as if they were sitting at their desk and without extra cost, they will be more productive." Narrowband VoIPWorcester has an advantage in that its remote workers usually travel to other universities where broadband networks are readily available. But there is the option to set the bandwidth to allow the system to run voice on a 56K modem, so the college workers can continue to use the system for calling in places where a high-speed connection is not available. Although the reliability is not exceptional and the quality suffers—dropped calls happen regularly at low bandwidth—it is a usable option in bandwidth-scarce environments, O’Connor says. "It’s pretty slick—obviously it’s better if you set the bandwidth at a higher rate, but on the other hand if you don’t have bandwidth available, it’s convenient to have the option to dial it down and use the functionality you can," O’Connor says. "When the high bandwidth is available, they can do video calls: all you need is a standard laptop and headphone along with one of those small round Web cameras, and you can do a full multimedia phone call." While he expected some difficulties with the beta trials, O’Connor says he was extremely pleased with the first deployment. "Once you have something good, people ask for it. Everybody wants it and they want it yesterday, so the pressure is on," he said. There’s no doubt the pressure is on for enterprises to move to VoIP, especially those incurring huge costs because of cumbersome legacy systems and those whose aged equipment is nearing end of support. But as we’ve seen, a gradual approach to the technology doesn’t necessarily deprive the enterprise of leading-edge functions that make VoIP migration so attractive. Legacy equipment more than a decade old may remain in use as the enterprise moves in stages toward a full VoIP system. This approach allows customers to reduce immediate outlay and apply the savings to future steps on the road to a fully converged voice-data system.