Algonquin College adds to IP phone rollout

Algonquin College is planning to expand the IP communications infrastructure project it has underway with Cisco Systems.

The Ottawa-based school installed 500 of Cisco’s IP telephones in 2000 and added 500 more over

the last two years. Algonquin plans to add another 400 phones in the next year and is looking into other features like unified messaging.

“”Currently the servers that handle the mail don’t have enough power to run that. They’re OK for voice mail,”” says Barry Brock, director of IT services. “”The problem is everything costs money. It’s going to take a bit of time.””

Brock says the decision to ditch its analogue system was made in1999 when the school decided to consolidate campuses and build new residences. A request for proposal was sent out stating it was looking for a solution that could provide 5,000 phones by 2004/5. Five bids were submitted: four offering a “”traditional”” solution and Cisco and Bell’s VOIP plan.

And Brock has nothing but good things to say about the decision. While VOIP has a reputation of providing inconsistent voice service, he says “”it’s so good that we don’t believe it”” and has yet to receive a single complaint. The stability of the data network has also been improved thanks to twin routers.

“”All of a sudden the infrastructure is incredibly stable. It doesn’t break because you have redundant switching and redundant paths as well from our main switches to our subsidiary switches.””

Cisco Systems Canada is hoping to lure other potential IP customers to one of the five education centres it is launching across the country to help defeat the “”if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”” philosophy surrounding analogue phone systems.

The telephony infrastructure company says voice over IP (VOIP) is no longer the ugly duckling of the communications world.

“”Not only is it as good as old fashion telephony, it’s better,”” according to Brantz Myers, national solutions manager. “”We’re over the questions around the voice quality, the scalability and the reliability of IP telephony.””

Cisco opened the first business communication innovation centre in Toronto and plans to add one in Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. The centre in Toronto (at Cisco’s headquarter’s) consists of two rooms. The first one looks like a typical boardroom: white boards, a large table and a half dozen or more IP phones with monochrome displays for demonstrations. The other room looks more like an IT department: PCs, laptops, video cameras, and TV.

The centre is a necessity, according to Myers, because gathering up everything needed to pitch IP telephony to a client took too much effort. This included a server, soft switch, phones and more, which would then be unavailable for 30 days or so and didn’t provide much of a showcase.

“”You want to show 30 or so different apps, but you really couldn’t. So you had to pick the best few, but it might have been the one that you didn’t put on that really would have been useful to a customer,”” Myers says.

Some of those apps include unified messaging, a Windows-based softphone, contact and calendar integration and conference calling. Myers says application development is simple. Web-savvy programmers can develop apps to the phone by spending about an hour to learn some XML parameters that expose applications to the phone. “”So you’re not really doing anything special for the phone, you’re just taking into account how it acts as an end point.””

One of the most popular features is on-the-fly extension switching. Myers says companies are spared the hassle and expense of re-configuring the PBX.

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