War Museum conquers costs with VoIP

The Canadian War Museum provides visitors with a glimpse into the country’s military past, but the technology the institution relies on for its day-to-day operations could give network managers ideas about the future of their own telecommunications setups.

After re-opening in a brand new building this May, the War Museum now boasts a voice over IP system, redundant fixed wireless connections back to its parent, the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC), and network costs that are $80,000 to $100,000 less than they were at the old War Museum.

Gord Butler, chief information technology officer for the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corp., said the move to a VoIP system was relatively easy, because IT staff were able to build from the ground up at the new War Museum building.

“We were looking at what type of technologies to bring in to be efficient in terms of resources and cost, but we were also looking for something that would let us expand in the future, not only at the War Museum, but also at CMC…” he said. “The War Museum is a smaller building — there are only approximately 100 voice seats over there versus almost 500 at the main CMC building — and we realized the potential for cost savings by piggybacking the data traffic requirements with the voice traffic requirements.”

Butler made another major cost-saving move by replacing the leased T-1s that had carried voice traffic from the old War Museum to a call centre at the CMC building with a pair of point-to-point 100Mbps fixed wireless bridges using gear from DragonWave Inc. The wireless connections carry data, voice and security video traffic from the War Museum, on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River, 1.4 kilometres to the CMC building, on the Quebec side if the river. The two buildings have line-of-sight to one another.

So far, Butler said, the quality of service on the wireless links has been excellent.

“One of our main concerns was how to ensure the network availability and uptime is maintained as would be expected with a traditional voice system,” he explained. “So far we’ve been able to keep the quality of service up.”

To maintain network QoS, the museum relies on management tools from Computer Associates. CA also maintains the network for the museum in an outsourcing arrangement.

In the near future Butler plans to upgrade the wireless bridges to 200Mbps each.

For its VoIP system, the museum is using Mitel 3300 switches, one in the War Museum and one in the CMC building. So far the CMC building is running only limited VoIP, but Butler plans to gradually migrate from the CMC’s existing Meridian PBX to a full VoIP implementation over several years.

“With VoIP we’re able to use tools now that may have been more cost-prohibitive in the old environment,” he said.

Those tools include integrated messaging, where users can view their voice mail and fax messages as attachments in their Outlook inbox, and softphones. Butler said he is still looking at how softphones might make the museum’s staff more efficient.

Overall, Butler said the move to VoIP has been relatively painless.

The only hurdle, he noted, was beefing up the museum’s network so it could handle voice as well as data.

“The move to VoIP showed us there were some inefficiencies in the network that hadn’t mattered for data, but would matter for voice,” he said. “Those had to be fixed as part of the deployment. They were minor things, but it forced us to tweak the system and it’s been a benefit to both the voice and data traffic passing through the network.”

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