Beat the Rush
- By Joseph C. Panettieri
Worried that peer schools will get the
jump on your communications edge? Take your
time and get unified communications right.
DESPITE THE HYPE, IP CONVERGENCE
doesn't happen overnight. Just ask Robert Juckiewicz, VP of IT
at Hofstra University (NY). As this story went to press, Hofstra
was "actively assembling the building blocks" for unified
communications across its campus. "We've issued a request
for proposals for IP telephony solutions and we are currently
testing the top contenders' solutions," says Juckiewicz. The
ultimate goal: to merge three disparate data, voice, and video networks into
one common, converged IP network.
Hofstra isn't alone in its quest-- worldwide spending on unified communications
products and services will top $48.7 billion by 2012, up dramatically from
$22.6 billion in 2007, according to market research firm In-Stat.
Old Products, New Market?
Still, navigating the IP convergence market isn't easy. Some network equipment
makers are taking traditional voice over IP (VoIP) product lines and rebranding
them as unified communications offerings. But beware: While closely related,
VoIP and UC are not the same. Generally speaking, VoIP equipment allows universities
to converge voice communications onto IP networks. This can greatly
reduce administration costs and ongoing telecom service expenses. But UC goes
much further; it blends VoIP with a range of rich applications that follow users
wherever they go. A typical UC system includes the following elements, according
to In-Stat analysts: presence; instant messaging; IP telephony; audio conferencing;
web conferencing or data collaboration; unified messaging (common
message store for voicemail, email, and faxes); mobility; and videoconferencing.
All of the above components need to be accessible through a single client interface
or within an embedded application interface, the consultants note. Some prime examples of unified applications
include rich customer relationship management
(rich CRM), presence, telepresence,
mobile video applications, and
video surveillance (see "Rich Unified
"Clearly, installing call-processing
systems that run off open source applications is not advisable."
-- Bob Cagnazzi, BlueWater Communications Group
Yet, no two unified networks are alike,
notes Bob Cagnazzi, CEO of BlueWater
Communications Group, a technology consulting firm
in New York that serves universities in
the northeastern US. "University technologists
are gung-ho to jump into the
world of unified communications," says
Cagnazzi. "But they don't always pay as
much attention to the business-process
integration as they do to the total cost of
ownership benefits. UC has a great, welldocumented
TCO story, but university
CIOs now need to understand how to
leverage the platform and the applications
to bring real business- or academic-level
benefits to their communities."
Before a university can embrace UC, it
needs to have a solid VoIP network
foundation in place.
Consider the situation at Indiana University,
where a range of gigabit Ethernet
and WiFi networks-- leveraging gigabit
Ethernet and 10 gigabit Ethernet switches
from a range of companies-- provides
reliable pipelines for unified communications.
The university uses a communications
server (one of the 2100 product
family) from Nortel Networks in order to give 18,000 staff
and faculty members a single system for
telephony, e-mail, collaboration, presence,
instant messaging, and desktop
applications, notes IU CIO Brad Wheeler.
Rich Unified Apps, Defined
IT MANAGERS sometimes focus too much on infrastructure and too little on the applications they're
hoping to deploy. Here's a sampling of unified apps that are gaining traction on college campuses:
- Telepresence, the next generation of videoconferencing, where high-definition TV and surround
sound create the illusion that participants in separate rooms in various locations are
together in one virtual room. Starting at about $300,000 per conference room, telepresence initially
was too expensive for many colleges. But lower-cost solutions from companies like LifeSize
Communications are starting to enter the market.
- Presence, wherein the network automatically discovers the user's location and routes e-mail,
phone calls, and instant messages to the most appropriate device. This is especially valuable for
students, professors, and administrators who roam between multiple systems (PCs, laptops,
smart phones) and network locations (home, office, classroom).
- Rich customer relationship management (rich CRM). Colleges increasingly are connecting
their VoIP systems to CRM applications. In a typical scenario, the Office of the Registrar can instantly
retrieve a student's financial and academic records because the VoIP phone system recognizes the
incoming phone number and fetches the appropriate student records from the CRM system.
- Mobile video applications. As colleges increasingly capture lectures and other types of
classroom content on video, they will need robust, reliable broadband connections (both wired
and wireless) to push that content out to students' mobile devices.
- Video surveillance. Closed-circuit TV has given way to pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras that are
typically connected to Ethernet or WiFi networks. Plus, power over Ethernet (POE) standards allow
video surveillance cameras to be placed in areas that otherwise don't have access to electric lines.
Truth is, most universities are not that
far along with unified communications.
According to Cagnazzi, "The mindset of
academia runs the gamut of sticking
with TDM-based PBXs-- sometimes
due to political issues-- on the conservative
side, to installing call-processing
systems that run off open source applications
which, clearly, is not advisable."
Instead of taking the open source path
(where service and support levels vary
from software project to software project),
Cagnazzi recommends unified
solutions from companies like Cisco
Systems. Other unified
product suppliers include Adtran, Avaya, IBM, Microsoft, Nortel, and ShoreTel.
As Cagnazzi hints, some universities are
testing open source solutions for their
unified networks. Admittedly, some open
source solutions are "use at your own
risk" options that can deliver poor phone
and IP service because they lack enterprise
support. However, one company, Digium, has successfully
pushed its open-source-based UC
solutions into the higher ed market.
Digium builds its IP telephony solutions
on top of Asterisk, an open source IP PBX. While dozens of companies support and promote
Asterisk to varying degrees,
Digium is widely considered the poster
child for the Asterisk community. "If
you're looking for an open source IP
PBX, the first provider you'd likely call
is Digium," remarks Ed Golod, president
of consultancy Revenue Accelerators.
True believers include the University of
Pennsylvania, which worked closely
with Digium to jointly develop a campuswide
unified messaging component
using Asterisk. The university launched a
750-person Asterisk pilot program in
2005, reports Dikran Kassabian, a
senior technology director. Initially, the
Asterisk-based system delivered better
telecommunications service for the same
ongoing costs of the university's traditional
system. However, in the long term,
the Asterisk-based solution is expected to
drive down costs because the university
will avoid the need to fix aging in-ground
copper connections for its phone systems,
Kassabian explains. The ultimate goal is
for Asterisk to allow U Penn students to
make free phone calls and access university
apps directly from their phones.
Unified Players: A Sampler
- Adtran. This IP telephony
specialist targets midsize organizations, and has
successfully carved out a niche for itself as a lowercost
alternative to Cisco Systems, in some settings.
- Avaya. Now privately held,
Avaya is one of the few big, traditional telecom
equipment providers offering hybrid products, and
allowing universities to mix and match traditional
phone equipment with VoIP solutions.
- Cisco Systems.With WebEx acquisition and increased focus
on software partnerships, aims to ensure converged
apps can ride across Cisco-driven VoIP networks.
- Digium. Pioneering IP
PBXs based on Asterisk (an open source telephony
platform). Very popular in small
businesses and gaining interest from universities
that are already familiar with Linux and have open source mindsets.
- IBM. The Switzerland of the
UC market, IBM has relationships with most major
industry players, including Cisco and Microsoft.
- Microsoft. Aggressively
promotes Office Communications Server 2007 as
the de facto platform for unified communications.
Has strong enterprise partnership with Nortel Networks,
delivering end-to-end hardware and software
solutions in the unified market.
- Nortel Networks. Close
relationship with Microsoft has raised Nortel's visibility
in the unified communications market. Plus,
Nortel's heritage in traditional telecom has given
the company a natural entry into some universities.
- ShoreTel. Focuses mostly
on small businesses, but has successfully targeted
some smaller departments within major universities,
colleges, and community colleges.
In addition to putting the proper network
infrastructure in place, universities may
also need to adjust their existing applications
or deploy new apps that can ride
across unified networks. At Hofstra, for
instance, the university hopes to "create a
'physical free' environment wherein
users have full access to all forms of messaging
in all locations, from a single
device in real time," notes Juckiewicz.
With that goal in mind, the university
migrated to a hosted Microsoft Exchange
environment for faculty, staff, and administrative
messaging, and Google Apps for student
messaging and collaboration. "The
Exchange environment will provide
the software platform necessary to
enable the UC features we desire,"
says Juckiewicz. "We also are actively
migrating the campus to an Active
Directory environment, to ensure the
reliability and security of our network.
As all of these components
unfold, we will have constructed an
infrastructure to fully exploit the features
of unified communications."
and Campus Safety
While unified networks can save
money through lower phone bills and
reduced administration costs, the
networks also can unlock new revenue
opportunities while potentially
improving campus safety. BlueWater's
Cagnazzi notes that some
universities are evaluating online
advertising opportunities to help offset
lost revenue from in-dorm phone
services. "The hottest thing now
seems to be advertising and interfacing
with outside services like the
local pizza place. This creates a revenue
model for the schools which
can supplant the lost revenue due to
the prevalence of student cell phones
versus the use of dorm phones."
At Hofstra, administrators also are
looking at global positioning system
solutions to enhance student safety.
Using a unified network and students'
own mobile devices, "Students
would be able to notify Public Safety
of their whereabouts and be tracked for
safe arrival to locations on campus," says
Juckiewicz. "We are striving to provide a
ubiquitous wireless network as well as
reliable access to cellular carriers, to create
the kind of mobility necessary for anywhere,
Ultimately, Hofstra's network also will
strive to support a broad range of devices,
rather than university-mandated appliances.
"We don't feel we can impose a
single device on all campus users," Juckiewicz
observes. "We continuously press
the carriers to conform to some form of
standard across devices, particularly in
light of the urgency associated with emergency
messaging on campuses today."
Clearly though, success won't arrive
overnight. The path to UC requires careful
planning, proper infrastructure, and
clear business goals that can take several
months to develop.
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