Blood bank sources new IP system

When the folks at BloodSource, a California-based blood bank, went hunting for a new communication platform, they didn’t expect to see Cisco Systems Inc. on the short list.

“I was a little skeptical,” said Stephanie Stevens, the non-profit’s director of center recruitment in Sacramento. To her mind, Cisco’s equipment was for larger firms than BloodSource. The organization has 14 sites, but many of them with just three or four staffers.

At the end of the selection process, however, Cisco was the winner. BloodSource chose the new CallManager Express to replace the ageing infrastructure at its Merced, Calif. station.

“The way they partnered with us was just fabulous, as far as getting to know our business, making sure we were getting what we needed, and having an in-depth understanding of our network,” Stevens said.

Her initial skepticism speaks to Cisco’s reputation as a big-business vendor, but it seems the company is now taking aim at the small- and medium-sized business (SMB) market as well. CallManager Express is Cisco’s IP platform for the little guys.

CallManager Express is like CallManager, Cisco’s IP telephony platform for the enterprise, but it uses the IOS operating system, whereas CallManager is a Windows-based program. And whereas CallManager resides on a server, CallManager Express sits right on the router.

According to Chris Bazinet, a Toronto-based manager at Cisco Systems Canada Co., CallManager Express is meant to entice SMBs and enterprises with small branch offices that already use Cisco routers for their data networks, and are considering a converged voice-data network.

“They already have a router; they’ve already built some expertise around managing it,” Bazinet said. “Let’s build these applications within the router.”

Alongside CallManager Express, Cisco unveiled Unity Express, a voice mail module that also resides in the router. Bazinet said the all-in-one philosophy serves customers well.

“From a cost standpoint it’s a lot cheaper, and SMBs are very cost focussed.”

Bazinet said the trick is convincing customers that the benefits of IP telephony go beyond toll bypass. “That’s nice, but it’s half of the potential an IP telephony solution brings.” For example, a retail chain could put touch-screen IP phones at its locations, and managers could use the devices to access the corporate network and order new stock. It would save the cost of installing computers at every store.

But for BloodSource, “The selling point was definitely the toll bypass,” Stevens said of the company’s decision to go with IP.

Still, she added, “The features and such are what made the decision easy. When you’re looking at different vendors, any box can deliver toll bypass, but that was the deciding factor, and the ease-of-use, as far as getting users up to speed.”

Stevens said BloodSource CallManager Express worked well at the Merced office. Now the firm is deploying CallManager across all locations.

“We’re just in the planning phase to roll it out at our main office (in Sacramento). Hopefully that will roll in December. We’re configuring routers and switches now. Then we’ll roll it to our Chico, Calif. and Redding, Calif. facilities, our two next-biggest sites. In the meantime we’ll integrate Merced in.”

Bazinet said enterprises using CallManager Express as a trial balloon can turn the program into a survivable remote-site telephony (SRST) platform if they decide to implement CallManager. He added, BloodSource is doing just that.

CallManager Express licences range from US$750 to US$2,800, depending on the number of users. Unity Express is priced at US$2,995. It works with Cisco’s 2600XM and 3700 routers. CallManager Express operates on the 1751, 1760 and 3600 routers, as well as the 2600XM and 3700. For more information visit Cisco Canada online at