Guelph U pulls the plug on PBX

Reducing costs and simplifying network management are the primary reasons the University of Guelph has went live with its campus-wide IP network — including VoIP — and pulled the plug on its legacy PBX for good.

Both students and employees are now hooked up to more than 7,000 IP phones — 3,300 business extensions and 3,800 residence extensions. There are more than 12,000 IP phone jacks scattered across campus, said Ken Percival, manager of IP development at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ont.

The University will now save money on its telecom costs as well as enjoying some of the additional features allowed by VoIP, Percival said. For example, Guelph plans to deploy an Integrated Voice Response (IVR) system for its main switchboard.

The convergence of the voice and data networks has led to savings in both operational and maintenance costs, Percival explained. The convergence led to a reduction in operation costs because the school now only operates one network.

The university also saving money due to the elimination of the cost associated with moves, adds and changes — which can cost up to $200 each, according to Brantz Myer, national manager of enterprise marketing for Cisco Systems Canada Co. Additionally the university built the IP network and VoIP services itself. “This then led to (creating) experienced staff in our IP shop who can operate this network.”

Throughout the project IT staff who helped in the implementation learned to operate and manage the Cisco gear. The experience provided practical training for the IT employees, which meant investment in VoIP network education was not necessary.

Because Cisco equipment was already in use, IT staff were familiar with its operation. Percival said the university chose Cisco expressly for this reason.

“We had a big data network and a very good direct relationship with Cisco and we had the skilled resources on staff here to manage a Cisco data network.”

Because the university jumped into the project early on, Percival said the only way the school would avoid hiccups and finger-pointing if anything went wrong with the telephone service would be to go with Cisco — a vendor that had already proven itself to the school.

The university realized its biggest savings through cancelling maintenance contracts for its traditional PBX system since the university IT staff now maintain the IP telephony system.

The university knew as far back as 2000 that its PBX had to be replaced and recognized VoIP as a logical technology to replace it. At the time the university’s PBX vendor and maintenance contractor offered assurance that the PBX could survive for another three years, Percival said.

Additionally, he added that the university recognized IP technology wasn’t mature enough in 2000 to scale to more than 10,000 IP phones. As a result, Guelph delayed its implementation.

In 2001, the university tested out VoIP by conducting a pilot project at its newly built East Village residence .

The system went live on Sept. 1, 2001 and two and a half months later the project was declared a success.

But the new deployment hasn’t been without problems. “Our hiccups came during the migration from the old system to the new system,” he explained. “When you get a new telephone system, the features and functions are different.”

For example, if a user sets their phone to go directly to voicemail there is no way to override it. Also, if there is a telephone with several lines on it, a user can only forward calls from one lines, Percival said.

According to Cisco, these feature glitches have been corrected and are now included in version 4 of its Call Manager software.

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