VoIP makes headlines at paper

While there are many preconceived notions about voice over IP, the reality is often different from the theory, says Thomas Dunkerley, communications manager/IT at The Seattle Times.

          While there are many preconceived notions about voice over IP, the reality is often different from the theory, says Thomas Dunkerley, communications manager/IT at The Seattle Times.

          Washington state's largest daily newspaper is in the thick of a companywide upgrade to an Avaya IP telephony system that will see more than 1200 IP phones deployed on employees' desktops by the end of next year. As the newspaper's telecom and data network staff work together to converge their respective environments, they've discovered some pleasant surprises and learned some interesting lessons.

          For one, Dunkerley says, VoIP isn't as fussy as you might expect. When the Times first got going with VoIP, it experimented with IP phones on its existing infrastructure - shared 10/100 Bay Networks hubs (with 50% utilised bandwidth) and Category 3 wire. It worked fine.

          "We had a phone on one hub that was averaging 60% to 70% utilisation, and you would get some pops and snaps, but nothing the person on the other end noticed," says Paul DeWees, the Times' network systems analyst.

          Although the organisation is upgrading its data network infrastructure and adding quality of service (QoS) in the process, these early tests were reassuring.

          "My biggest nightmare when we started this project," DeWees says, "was hearing a user say, 'My phone isn't working; what's wrong with the network?'" So far, that hasn't happened.

          IP phones are now running on about 200 desktops at the Times' headquarters and bureaus.

          The Times began its convergence project three months ago when the time came to upgrade its Lucent Technologies/Avaya Definity G3 and G2 PBX systems. At first the company looked to upgrade the G3 PBX's TDM central processing unit, based on Avaya's homegrown Unix. Instead, Dunkerley went with redundant Avaya S8700s Media Servers, which are Intel- and Linux-based IP servers.

          The Avaya S8700s could not have arrived a day too soon, Dunkerley says, as the system was put to work to fix a telecom problem in one of the newspaper's bureaus.

          "It saved our butts," Dunkerley says. Immediately after the IP PBXs went in, an older Lucent G2 PBX in one of the Times' major news bureaus crashed beyond repair. Dunkerley kick-started the newspaper's IP telephony project one weekend by sending a dozen phones to the branch office, which accessed the S8700 over a T-1 line and eliminated the need for a remote office phone switch. The remote office's change to VoIP almost went unnoticed, according to Dunkerley.

          "On Monday, everyone just said, 'Oh cool, new phones,' and went to work," he says. "From that point on, we've been rolling out a dozen phones or so per week."

          The S8700 servers run the same MultiVantage call control operating system as the TDM-based PBX; they also fit into the existing cabinetry and use the same digital trunk cards and public switched telephone network interfaces as the old system. This lets the newspaper gradually deploy Avaya IP phones without disrupting users with older digital Avaya handsets.

          While the cost for upgrading to the IP-based PBX was about the same as a standard Avaya PBX upgrade, Dunkerley says the Times expects to see savings in WAN costs, productivity gains from converged voice/data applications, and simplified network administration. Adds, moves and changes also will be simplified, as end users can log on to any IP phone on the network and have their phone extension and preferences moved to that phone.

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