Users’ VoIP plans, products, deployments vary

Some have radical visions while others plan a measured approach

IP telephony is working its way into all types of enterprises, with product and deployment plans varying as widely as the companies using the technology.

IT professionals attending the US VoiceCon show this month hailed from large private enterprises, public organisations and small businesses. While many at the show openly talked about their ambitious and innovative plans for IP telephony, many others said they came to learn the basic options for tying TDM PBXs into IP LANs and WANs.

One radical VoIP vision at the conference came from Johan Krebbers, group IT architect at Royal Dutch Shell, who discussed plans during a keynote session to migrate the oil company’s worldwide voice network to Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 — a product not yet even shipping — along with Nortel VoIP gateways and phones.

From its three datacentres in North America, Europe and Asia, the company plans to host all VoIP call control, messaging, collaboration and video for more than 130 sites worldwide. With this model, Shell hopes to simplify its voice and messaging management, expand its rich applications, and lower operating costs.

“We have many different PBXs out there,” Krebbers said. “There is not centralised management for these systems ... Five years ago, an office could have said we’re not using Nortel or Alcatel or Siemens [but] that option is gone; it needs to be that way because a global company cannot afford to have a global infrastructure that is not the same.”

Another large enterprise picking certain spots to deploy VoIP and messaging applications is Whirlpool. Instead of blanketing its offices and branches with VoIP, the consumer appliance manufacturer is working the technology into its service-oriented architecture (SOA); for example, SAP systems that manage production line processes, inventory, or quality control can initiate VoIP-based conference calls to groups of plant managers, or send text messages to inventory analysts, based on alerts or events that happen in SAP NetWeaver.

“We’re trying to make data more action-oriented,” said Brian Murphy, global IS development director for Whirlpool. A different kind of technologist than most of the VoiceCon crowd, Murphy’s role in the company focuses more on applications and architecture than the company’s telecom or networking operations.

Whirlpool is running Avaya’s Communications Process Manager, a web services-based application server that acts as a bridge between SOA-enabled applications (such as SAP or WebSphere) and Avaya’s VoIP, messaging and conferencing platforms.

Users at VoiceCon also buzzed about open-source IP telephony. A large roll-out of the open-source Asterisk IP PBX platform was discussed during a session by Deke Kassabian, senior technology directory at the University of Pennsylvania.

The university is planning a roll-out of around 2,000 Cisco SIP IP phones this year, as well as SIP softphones, that will connect back to Linux servers running Digium’s version of the Asterisk VoIP platform. Since the university widely uses open source platforms such as Linux Apache, Kassabian said the school’s “positive experience with open source software encouraged us to take this as a serious option.”

Kassabian said the VoIP roll-out will result in two forms of cost savings. Thousands of leased Centrex lines, with recurring monthly costs, will be eliminated when these lines are converted to SIP-based IP phones. Costs for moves, adds and changes — a constant process in universities, which the school spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on — will also be reduced.

One healthcare IT professional at VoiceCon scouting products framed some of the benefits and challenges she perceives around VoIP.

“My fear is to put in this technology, and then have people still use it just as the old telephone,” she said.

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