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Yes to VoIP

Yes to VoIP

AUT’s CIO, Wendy Bussen, is delighted with the university’s latest telephony upgrade. The secret of her success: planning, and more planning

“Anyone looking at a new telephone system should look at voice over IP. I can’t imagine they would then choose anything else.”

Wendy Bussen, CIO at the Auckland University of Technology, is nothing if not enthusiastic about the new technology, which went live on July 1. She has good reason to be. The roll-out went without a hitch. Cisco described it has the fastest implementation they had ever seen for a site of that size. It was the most extensive deployment of VoIP technology undertaken by a New Zealand university.

“It was,” says Bussen, “one of the cleanest technology transitions we’ve ever had.” Planning, and more planning, was the key.

AUT had been watching the trend toward VoIP since it changed to a Cisco network five years ago. It had been looking at possibilities in how it could best use the new network, and had been trialling VoIP for some time. The real driver for the technology switch from an Ericsson MD110 PABX was a $50 million new building for the business faculty.

“There was a requirement for 200 handsets,” Bussen says. “If we were going to go there, it paid to look at the whole university. The business faculty is IT savvy and they want any new technology right away. VoIP fitted beautifully into their IT strategy because they have laptops rather than desktops. There are round tables for discussions and the laptops fit into purpose-built cavities. They are pulled out when technology is needed.”

AUT has a city campus, a North Shore campus, an IT technology park at Penrose, and leases some buildings in Queen St. Bussen says the IT department often gets short notice

about staff and students moving into new buildings “so VoIP works well for us”.

That’s because one of the benefits of VoIP is its ability to reduce the cost of moves, adds and changes.

Bussen says a lot of analysis was done and six options were identified. They included upgrading the existing system, a staged approach and using different vendors. “Some were discarded because of cost. There was not much in it between upgrading the existing system and installing Cisco Call Manager.”

She says VoIP generated savings in productivity, as well as in moves, adds and changes. “The capital cost was about the same but there were savings in operational costs. We lease the equipment and we got a very good discount on 1800 handsets – these were purchased -- which cost around the same as our previous Ericsson digital handsets.”

As a rule of thumb, the up-front capital cost of implementing either VoIP or a traditional PABX system is around half the cost of running the system for five years.

Savings on toll calls have been widely touted as a driver for implementing VoIP but they may, in fact, be minimal. They are achieved because the business can use its own network for calls made between geographically dispersed employees with local or remote access to the network. All calls are thus treated as local. For an organisation such as AUT, based exclusively in Auckland, they don’t figure so highly.

Security has been one of the major concerns with VoIP. AUT is managing it the same way it handles network security. Bussen says it has created a separate logical network and that the users can’t see the IP network. “We found one or two exposures during the trial and Cisco spent a lot of time fixing these,” she says.

“We have very strong security practices and procedures. There are alarms if a foreign device is connected to the network, and automatic ways of stopping such things. There are disciplinary procedures for students. Every time they log on, they have to click on ‘yes, I have read the policies and procedures’. Quite frankly, AUT is a bit like Fort Knox. Our risks are mainly internal, so our security has to be high.”

For example, some staff are using the free peer-to-peer Skype telephony service. She says the university is doing an evaluation of that for security reasons.

Switching to VoIP has not meant hiring new expertise in the IT department. In fact, there have been savings made because the university does not now need to employ contractors for the average 150 moves, adds and changes made each year. And there have been real benefits for call centre staff, says Bussen. “A lot of the staff now work remotely using soft phones over a virtual private network. This has made it easier.”

As part of the planning, the IT team visited other New Zealand sites for reference checking, while Bussen herself visited overseas sites as a guest of Cisco. “We did a lot of pre-planning,” she says. “There is no doubt that the more planning you do, the more comfortable staff are. We set up a control centre for staff inquiries and we had engineers on standby.”

The main complaint came from a user who thought the phone was slightly heavier than the one it replaced.

Generally, staff inquiries were about features of the new phones. Most staff received the Cisco 7912 model but some got the 7960, which has enhanced features, such as the number of lines that can be queued and a screen for messages. “There was a little bit of a learning curve for staff because of the features,” Bussen says. “We ran training courses of up to two days for supervisors and operators. We were more nervous when we did our trial,” she says. “Anyone looking at a new telephone system should look at VoIP.”

Next, the university will work on video-conferencing at the desktop. As a general observation, Bussen says she has no regrets whatsoever about moving to VoIP. “We took the plunge with confidence that we’d trialled the technology and given the staff time to learn about it. “But if you’re green, you will have to lean on contractors. If you are a large organisation, you will make savings, particularly on moves, adds and changes.”

Bussen has 85 IT staff across five departments. They service 27,000 students, making AUT the fourth largest university in New Zealand. Bussen has held the CIO role for nine years. “There is always change here,” she says. “That’s the nice thing about working at a university.”

SIDEBAR ONE

IBM subsidiary heads roll-outs

New Zealand is the first IBM subsidiary to roll out VoIP as part of Big Blue’s worldwide strategy to move to the technology.

The roll-out was completed in June across four sites: Petone, Wellington, Newton and Wyndham St (the latter two in Auckland) and two satellite sites (Christchurch and Rockridge Ave).

IBM has 950 users, plus provision for additional services such as meeting rooms and “free”seating.

It is a Cisco solution and will be used for the majority of voice services.

SIDEBAR TWO

VoIP high on agenda

Half of 200 IT managers surveyed in Australia and New Zealand have either deployed or are “seriously considering” deploying a VoIP network across some part of there business.

The survey was conducted on behalf of communications vendor Avaya by Galaxy Research. Respondents were randomly selected from lists of organisation with a minimum of 200 employees, compiled by Dun and Bradstreet. Fifty of the IT managers were from New Zealand.

The research revealed that 23% of those surveyed were already using VoIP, and 24% were “seriously considering” using the technology. 28% described themselves as having “great interest” in VoIP, while 37% felt they were only “moderately interested”.

“What the data tells us is that ANZ businesses have moved beyond the early adopter stage in terms of VoIP uptake,” says Tony Jayne, general manager Agile New Zealand, Avaya’s local partner. “While most of those who have already deployed VoIP sit in the group with budgets larger than $2 million, those ‘seriously considering’ VoIP are better represented in the group with budgets less than $2 million. This is significant because it means uptake has moved to the more mainstream section of the market.”

Another shift in the profile of users was the fact that of those using VoIP, more were at operational/middle management level. Of those “seriously considering”, a much higher percentage (28% v 19%) were at senior management level. Jayne says this suggests that awareness of the benefits of VoIP have moved beyond the confines of operations and up into senior management, which he says is a key indication of the maturity of the technology.

“This certainly confirms what we have been hearing from customers,” he says.”Awareness levels have changed quite dramatically, and the appreciation of the benefits of VoIP is widespread. While the early adopters were usually deploying VoIP in the contact centre, we are now talking to customers about rolling it out right across the organisation. This technology has matured significantly in the past 12 months.”

In another recent Australian survey, researcher IDC found that 25% of new phones sold to large companies were VoIP. Sales had risen 140%, from around 86,000 in 2003 to 205,000 in 2004. IDC is predicting that VoIP handset sales will double again in 2005.

IDC says one of every seven Australian companies has used VoIP to some extent. It predicts that by 2007 more than 50% of enterprises will have moved completely to the new IP systems.

SIDEBAR THREE

Router row nears closure

A dispute between Cisco, Internet Security Systems, the Black Hat conference and a former ISS security expert — who revealed information related to hacking Cisco routers at the conference last month— has reached a point of legal settlement.

Michael Lynn agreed to sign a court injunction requiring him to return any materials or disassembled code related to Cisco and never to discuss the materials related to the presentation he gave at the Black Hat conference on July 27.

He gave the talk in spite of a prohibition from ISS and after a request by Cisco for it to be cancelled. Cisco and ISS had decided it was premature to release sensitive information related to how unpatched Cisco routers could be hacked and were furious when the main researcher, who had uncovered the exploits, defiantly spoke out on the topic.

The agreement, signed by all the parties, also requires Black Hat not to disseminate a video made of Lynn's presentation and to deliver to Cisco any video recording made of Lynn.

According to the, injunction Lynn is also forbidden from "unlawfully disassembling or reverse engineering Cisco code in the future [and] using Cisco decompiled code currently in his possession or control for any purpose”.

With VoIP, the networking devices, the servers and their operating systems, the protocols, the phones and their software are all security risks. Information about a call is almost as valuable as the voice content. An attacker could capture and reassemble packages in order to eavesdrop on conversations. Potential denial of service is another issue.

However, the risks, while specific to VoIP, are all issues dealt with on regular IP networks.

Encryption is one answer. As well, there needs to be regular assessments of devices to ensure they are in line with security demands. That also means being up to date in terms of patches and upgrades. The possibility of denial-of-service attacks means having in place an escalation process with the IP carrier.

A power loss can bring down a network, so redundancy options are important.

The data network needs to be controlled strictly, to be locked down. Otherwise, there can be problems with speech quality, even loss of calls caused by something a simple as someone dragging in a big file which gobbles up the available bandwidth. Traffic must be prioritised and requirements for voice, data and video consistently met. Mitigation of risk is critical.

Downward pressure on telco revenues attributable to VoIP represents an inexorable trend that will not be reversed, says IDC New Zealand senior telecommunications analyst. Chris Loh.

“The telecommunications industry is therefore in transition, with national and international carriers experiencing revenue depletion,” he says. The impact of VoIP services on the business models of incumbent telecommunications carriers in particular requires strategic responses in the form of substantial organisational transformation. It will also require significant cost containment efforts.”

Loh says this is already well under way at Telecom, with its extended diversification into mobile and internet services and, most recently, IT services and solutions.

He says the analysis of fixed-line calling revenue decline is made more complex by substitution effect of mobile and internet services and the substantial increase in competition in the national and international calling services market.

“VoIP is having a direct and increasingly significant impact on international carrier revenues. The volume of calling minutes, and hence the associated revenue cannibalised by the VoIP bypass, will continue to increase, thereby reducing service provider revenues and operating margins.

“VoIP technology uncouples the access network and service components inherent in telecommunications, making all calls effectively local calls. This fact disrupts the established conventions of national and international traffic exchange and the price relationship between carriers and their customers.

“The breakdown of carrier relationships implies a substantial portion of a very profitable and long-established revenue stream is under direct threat.”

This transformation raises important issues for carriers worldwide and the bodies overseeing them, he says. “The relevance of existing agreements between carriers, the rules dealing with traffic termination conventions, the handling of peer-to-peer VoIP application-based services, and the issues surrounding the loss of location independence of VoIP services are being questioned. It is therefore apparent that traditional telecommunications concepts must be re-examined in the face of the new paradigm of VoIP services.

“With the uncoupling of network access and service components precipitated by VoIP, the opportunity for increasingly fickle customer behaviour increases.

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