How a Toronto firm engineers its video traffic

As a structural engineering and design consulting firm, Halsall Associates Ltd. depends heavily on its video conferencing equipment. The Toronto-based firm has 200 employees working out of eight offices using six video units made by Tandberg SA and two from Polycom Inc.

“Our video conferencing gets used every day,” said Randy Pond, Halsall’s IT manager. “Most of the day someone’s using it.”

But in the past, the company had problems with echo and jitter because the branch offices connected to a variety of Internet service providers using digital subscriber line (DSL).

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“We had a variety of independent ISPs all over the country,” Pond said. “It was more complicated than it needed to be and it was less reliable.”

Halsall solved the problem by moving to a hub and spoke network provided by Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Telemerge Canada Inc. using multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) technology, which prioritizes voice, video and data traffic based on classes of service. The company also installed Steelhead 550 WAN optimization appliances from Riverbed Technology Inc. of San Francisco.

“That helped significantly with network bottlenecks between heavily utilized offices for large files,” Pond said.

Halsall uses Telemerge’s MPLS for video conferencing among all the offices and for voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) in three offices. The firm chose Telemerge partly because they get a flat monthly rate for video conferencing, Pond said, adding the total cost of Telemerge services is about $9,000 per month.

“Everyone else wanted to charge us by the minute,” he said, adding customer service was also a factor.

“I don’t get the sense with the big telcos that I’ve dealt with in the past that you would get the same level of service and attention,” he said. “You’d be a small fish in a big ocean with Bell.”

Matthew Doo, Telemerge’s vice-president of operations and quality of service, said when his employees answer calls from customers, they don’t simply open work tickets and then look for a technician to help.

“Everyone on our support team really understands the technology inside and out and backwards.”

The company was founded in 2001 and currently has 35 employees. Paul Doo, Telemerge’s chief executive officer, said the company has peering arrangements with major carriers, resulting in a “seamless MPLS network.”

MPLS technology is used in virtual private local-area network services, or VPLS, which is becoming more popular among large companies, said Jennifer Pigg, vice-president with the Boston-based Yankee Group.

“Enterprises are looking for service with a quantifiable service level agreement attached to it,” she said, adding carrier Ethernet is becoming popular because it’s less expensive than private lines.

AT&T Global services is seeing “tremendous growth in the MPLS space,” said Manish Malhotra, the company’s executive director for product management, VPN services. Companies are using MPLS for multicasting, which lets them do video streaming and webcasts, as well as distribute software.

MPLS has some advantages over virtual private networks (VPNs) over the Internet, Matthew Doo said.

“A lot of clients are on Internet-based VPNs where the quality is not there and the reliability is not there,” he said. “Bringing it into an MPLS network provides that stability and the quality,” as well as one network for voice, video and data.

Telemerge’s network does not route through the public Internet, Doo said.

“We have our own firewalls interally and we have very very strict security measures within the network that provides a much more secure environment than the public Internet.”