Cisco Channel Partner Highlights Value of IP-Based System Over Traditional PBX
August 8, 2001
U. S. Robotics (USR) is a worldwide leader in Internet access and connectivity. Its parent company, 3Com, spun the company off in June of 2000, allowing it to remain independent and focus on its core market. In re-emerging as an independent company, however, company officials reviewed the operations needed for its new headquarters, and a new phone system was at the top of the list. A traditional private branch exchange (PBX) system was recom-mended to serve the 250 employees that would be working at the new building. But Lee Mulcrone, USR's CIO, was tempted to move to an IP-based telephony system to take advantage of the enhanced communications and easy maintenance provided by a converged network system.
IP-based System Addresses "What if?" Scenarios
Network Data Systems (NDS) was hired by 3Com to unbuckle USR from the corporate network, it was during this time that Steve Caliger, vice president of sales at NDS, initiated a discussion with Mulcrone about migrating to IP-based telephone system.
"I was already leaning in the direction of an IP-based system when we sat down with NDS," said Mulcrone. "There was a possibility we'd have to accommodate a call center at the new headquarter site, so we needed a solution that would be scalable, flexible, and powerful enough for that scenario if necessary. Steve positioned the Cisco AVVID (Architecture for Voice, Video, and Integrated Data) solution as a very scalable solution for all of USR's 'what if' scenarios, and both organizations agreed that a converged network was the way to go."
"NDS's Cisco certification was a key reason Mulcrone entrusted it to USR's new phone system, noting that with the certification he knew they'd get the job done and that Cisco would stand behind them. Also, NDS was willing to work within USR's very compressed time schedule with little information on call volumes.
Firms Overcome FUD to Recommend Converged Network
While Mulcrone's team and NDS were in agreement on going with an IP-based system, they faced an uphill battle when it came to convincing everyone else.
"Even though we wanted the AVVID system, we still had to prove our case by doing due diligence and checking out traditional PBX systems," notes Mulcrone. Some of the staff members at USR were not supportive of an IP-based solution. They had no experience with the technology, and so couldn't stand behind it. Therefore, they proposed going with a traditional PBX system. Mulcrone and Caliger found themselves competing with compa-nies such as Nortel and Lucent, companies the staff had worked with before and were comfortable with.
"We went ahead and looked at the PBX presentation, but it didn't fit our needs," said Mulcrone. "In the end, we went with the IP-based system."
Confront a Myriad of Challenges
Once NDS won the go-ahead for the AVVID system, they faced the first of many challenges: there was no building in which to stage and set up the system.
"The new building was just a shellQ it had no heat and no power, but we needed to get going on the system so it could be deployed quickly when the employees moved in," said Caliger. With just six weeks until planned deployment, they decided to stage everything at the NDS site. There they could burn in the system, configure all the phones and test everything prior to moving it into the new facility. A few USR people joined Caliger's team at NDS and underwent some quick training. Together, the two teams got everything ready to go without ever setting foot inside the new facility. They finally got building access three days before the official move-in day. Over a weekend, they installed a complete Layer 3 infrastructure for the IP telephony system, including interactive intelligence voice-mail and unified messaging. The whole system was up and running Monday.
Any new technology is going to have its challenges, and this installation was no exception. Moving the staging area to NDS was the first of many tests that the team confronted to meet its tight deadline. Another one involved the gateway module they had planned to use not being available. Without this module, workers could call other phones within the building, but could not make or receive calls outside the building. This clearly was not acceptable. NDS worked with Cisco to obtain another supervisor engine and blade that allowed connec-tivity to the outside world.
"The solution Cisco recommended and delivered as a replacement worked beautifully," said Rich Dennie , NDS technical manager for the US Robotics project. "In fact, everyone liked the new solution so much that USR eventually upgraded their core network to use the 'replacement' 6509 switches throughout."
Another challenge was a problem with the integration channel with the original voicemail system, an older system not deployed by NDS.
For security reasons, US Robotics wanted the call-forwarding feature to function inside the building only. "Even though this wasn't a standard request, Cisco worked with us to provide a solution fix that met USR's need," said Dennie. "It was a through-the-night effort to rebuild the system so it would be up and running for employees on Monday. This was all very new technology, so we worked closely with Cisco, sharing information and in some cases, learning together."
As far as Mulcrone was concerned, this was all part of deploying leading edge technology. "What we had," he said, "was a partner and Cisco working together and committed to meeting our demanding requirements." He notes that the new system has all the features he was looking for: phone company reliability and quality, and ease of administration. The plug-and-play feature was especially critical as they were moving employees around painters and others putting final touches on the new building. Additionally, he doesn't need telephony or voice-mail administrators on staff, which is positive for the department's bottom line.
To help the employees adjust to the new system, NDS conducted training in small groups. They also utilized the Cisco Web-based IP telephone demo, which teaches users about the phone features. Now the employees at USR's headquar-ters are using the AVVID system to its fullest: the corporate directory, plug-and-play operation, conferencing, and the ability to see a list of calls they've missed while away from their desk.
"There was a lot of planning and coordination involved in this project," notes Mulcrone. "A lot of thought and hard work was put into building this system. We've already extended the environment out to our Irvine, California office and it's working beautifully. This is exciting technology that will serve us for years to come."
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