Concordia learns convergence

Outdated technology was not the only reason Montreal’s Concordia University decided to revamp its campus-wide network for wireless connectivity and IP.

With potential savings of over a million dollars a year, there was no question the university wanted to deliver voice and data over a single, fully redundant network, said Andrew McAusland, director of instructional and information technology services at Concordia.

“We are experiencing a significant savings,” he said.

In total, the bill for the new infrastructure will probably run Concordia about $4.6 million, however, once the infrastructure was fully deployed at the end of July the university was able to reduce its 3,800-phone line system to 300 lines – sharply reducing the monthly phone bill, McAusland explained. “This savings is paying for the new system.”

The infrastructure revolves around an end-to-end Cisco IP communications systems on a single, integrated network. It’s based on the Cisco Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data (AVVID) and features Cisco Catalyst series at the network core with redundant gigabit connections to every fibre-optic wiring closet on the campus. By the end of September there will be 430 access points installed across the campus’s 70 buildings, according to Cisco Systems Canada Co.’s Chris Bazinet, national marketing manager for product and technology services in Toronto. Bell Canada also played a key role in the partnership with Cisco.

When a company moves from a traditional telephony infrastructure to an IP-based solution, return on investment (ROI) is usually a key factor in making that decision, especially in the current economic climate, said Warren Chaisatien, senior analyst, telecommunications research at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto.

In the long-term, combining voice and data on one network provides more flexibility and also the ability to expand business, Chaisatien explained. “In the short term [one example] of the immediate cost savings, especially in this campus-based environment, is the ability to do away with long distance charges – a significant savings.”

Financial savings aside, Concordia was at a crossroad, McAusland explained.

The school was undergoing a multi-million dollar building project and faced a decision on how best to upgrade its Centrex telephony service and mishmash of various data networks that served the campus population of over 30,000 students.

“Our data network was not fantastic and with these buildings coming online, we knew it was going to be problematic…. There were going to be all sorts of things going into these buildings [such as an IP security system] that our old network couldn’t have managed.”

This chance to start a new system from scratch was a rare opportunity for Concordia, he said.

Students now have their own portal accounts and can track anything related to their career at the university via their portals, including tuition payments, locker rentals, registration, course changes, and more. Other services new to the university include e-learning, online collaboration and virtual classrooms.

In the future, McAusland says the university will continue to pump new applications onto the network and fully expects to have integrated messaging within one year.

“Don’t forget that kids entering university were born in 1983-84. They have expectations that these [types of systems] are only meeting – they’re not exceeding their expectations,” he said.

Still, deployment of IP telephony and wireless LAN (WLAN) is starting to become commonplace in university settings, IDC’s Chaisatien said, adding that education and health care verticals are proving to be leading adopters of this technology.

“Looking from a campus perspective, the most logical solution to [make] your IP-based backbone wireless, is obviously [to deploy] WLANs,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense for an organization with multi locations or buildings with people on the move all the time.”

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