Merging voice, video and data on campus

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This article appeared in the Issue 181, 19 September 2005 issue of CRN magazine.

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Sydney-based specialist integrator NSC has carved out a niche in the burgeoning IP telephony network space.

Last year, it completed the deployment of one of Australia’s largest IP telephony networks to date for the Australian National University in Canberra. The deployment included the design, implementation and management of the university’s intercampus network (ICN).

The ANU ICN upgrade tender initially identified streamlining campus technology and cost savings as its major goals. ANU also wanted the network to serve as a building block in a communications infrastructure of international standards.

Most importantly, however, what the ANU needed was an ICN capable of converging its data, voice and video services onto a common IP fabric. They thus opted for an IP telephony solution, provided by NSC, to replace its ageing PABX voice system.

With 3200 staff and 12,000 users across 130 ANU buildings and three remote campuses all requiring varying levels of access to the ICN, the deployment presented a number of challenges for NSC, which had previously delivered implementations mainly to the SMB market with at most around 2000 users.


Levels of complexity

According to NSC chairman and founder Craig Neil, the complexity involved in a major IP telephony deployment is directly proportional to the expertise present in a customer’s IT department.

"It is essential that prospective customers have a reasonable handle on their voice and data infrastructure. Once they outsource an integrator and a good relationship is established and the engineers understand what each other’s objectives are, merging voice and data into one group can, as in the case with the ANU deployment, occur relatively seamlessly," Neil says. "The IT people at ANU were fantastic to work with. It was a big project and a stringent process, but it went like clockwork, due to the fact that they were technically clever."

The other prerequisite for an organisation pursuing an IP telephony system is the existence of a functioning data network that can support the technology. Neil says it is mandatory that customers do certain tests to look at the design of their networks, the earlier the better, especially in regards to basic equipment such as switches, ports and hubs. The ANU had a distinct advantage, Neil says, because its data network was already highly functional.


Initial investment

In the initial stages of a deployment such as this example for ANU, an investment of only a few thousand dollars may be required to ascertain what exactly needs to be done.

"We put equipment onto the network to measure its performance and compatibility, met with the IT group and got a network diagram to fi nd out which switches were OK," Neil says. Once the specifics of the features and functions required were also ascertained, the cost of the network’s design and implementation could then be summarised. Neil does not offer specifics on the total cost of the network, though he does say that it was "extremely competitive". He adds that smaller implementations for around 2000 users generally cost around $100,000, depending on the state of the customer’s existing network.

On completion, the new ICN IP telephony system had 10,000 end points, scaleable to 15,000, making it one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Fifteen hundred handsets were initially deployed replacing the obsolete handsets of the old PABX. That number has since grown to 4000.


Benefits

Neil says ANU achieved huge cost savings in the 12 months since the completion of the ICN telephony deployment, not only in phone calls but in upgrades to the PABX system. Also, the university can now run video applications over the network, giving it true network triple play voice, video and data capabilities.

"In  the case of ANU, there is a tremendous amount of information sharing, so the ability to exchange data, make cheap voice calls and show lectures via video has been of immeasurable benefit," Neil says. "They now have a state-of-the-art infrastructure ready to adopt new applications, which they can layer in over their network."

A single network management and support service has been implemented throughout the campus to manage the new fully-integrated infrastructure. NSC says the design of the ICN delivers 99.999 percent availability to the core network and voice servers. The ICN is managed by a single support team, meeting the service levels for all network and communications services.

A single disaster recovery strategy was also implemented, covering both data communications and voice services. Under the common IP fabric, both computing and telephony can be re-established in an hour, compared to up to a one-week wait if the former external copper cable plant was damaged, NSC says.

Neil says there are three main reasons why organisations should make the upgrade to IP telephony. The fi rst is the ability to have a centralised architecture, which brings with it a number of effi ciencies, such as not having to upgrade 10 PABXs. The second is the obvious saving in call costs and the third is the savings in installation sites.

Neil says the infrastructure is more than VoIP. Rather, it is a complete IP telephony system offering administrative effi ciency gains and fi nancial benefi ts on several levels.

As awareness of the benefits of this technology increase, organisations are starting to realise VoIP is a strategic move towards improved operations and valueadd performance, Neil says. IP telephony also uses applications to enhance the way a customer does business and to more cheaply solve business problems.

By converging voice and data, it enables organisations to take advantage of a single unified network, facilitating efficiencies, driving lower transaction costs, enabling higher levels of customer service and providing flexible solutions for business locations, Neil adds.

"Far from just using it to make phone calls, IP telephony applications can [affect] strategic objectives and solve real business problems."

According to Neil, structured cabling for new and refurbished buildings can provide a saving of 50 percent of the cost of traditional infrastructure because IP phones with 3-port Ethernet switches on a standard desktop need only one communications port, rather than the parallel telephone structured cabling originally used.

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