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Unified Communications Plans: 6 Ways To Derail Disaster

Donna Mills

Donna Mills About The Author

Sep 15

Upgrades to existing networks are always a challenge, which is a good reason to choose a UC&C platform that allows you to deploy in stages on top of your legacy communications system. This gives your organization’s users the time they need to phase into the new system, too.

This article excerpt, by Justin Bagatti, originally appeared here.

00284893Before you choose a UC product or platform, careful evaluation of existing attitudes, equipment and systems could save your project — and your sanity.

User Habits and Resistance to Change

Even when the amount of change explicitly for UC is minimal, other issues may complicate matters (ask anyone forced to migrate from Windows XP). Buttons on phones are bound to be in different locations, and software may have a different look and feel. Voicemail options will change, and new headsets may be required. Prepare for things to be different.

The goal is to ensure you understand how employees use the current system, so that you can minimize the impact of changes you introduce into the organization.

Computer Endpoints and Mobile Devices

When most people talk about the devices used in UC systems, the transition from a large, button-rich endpoint to a software or client-controlled device is one of the most significant changes among users. A large number of office users, receptionists, operators and call center staff can benefit from moving to a softphone and USB headset running on a PC. Other workers, who communicate primarily through direct face-to-face interaction, may benefit most from a properly sized IP endpoint.

The trick is balancing needs and costs. A high-end IP phone can range from $250 to $800 if it includes a large screen, sidecars, and headsets. A USB headset and softphone can cut that cost to $100 per user.

Network cabling and hardware

How are your phones connected now? Legacy digital TDM with CAT3 wiring will not support current Ethernet-based IP endpoints. Older IP systems run at 10/100 Ethernet, so check to ensure that your network can support Gigabit Ethernet speeds. The physical plant and switching infrastructure directly affect the choice to run a separate network for voice or a converged voice/data network.

Both have pros and cons, as well as different associated costs. Companies that have a lot of TDM cable will need to rewire. If that’s the case, installing a Gigabit Ethernet converged network makes a lot of sense, from a cost and effort perspective.

A converged network also reduces the number of switches required, which in turn reduces rack space, batteries, power, cooling and management overhead.

If you already have Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches in place, verify that they are still supported and the speeds are acceptable. Moving from a basic IP phone to a higher-end model may require more power than the current switch can provide.

Ultimately, a UC upgrade is a great chance to update your switching infrastructure. If you do upgrade, always plan ahead and size the project out for at least 20% extra available switch ports.

Legacy phone system

The industry is moving to complete virtualized, software-based platforms. External gateways or FXO/FXS cards installed in a router or separate device can enable legacy phone connections. A carrier router/gateway will convert physical connections to Session Initiation Protocol (SIP/VoIP) and on to your network.

Based on vendor requirements, your existing VMware Hyper-V environment could house your new UC system. Or a vendor may recommend installing specific servers to house the new solution.

Voicemail can be integrated in a UC solution, or you can utilize unified messaging capabilities built into Exchange and similar platforms. This varies depending on manufacturer and whether your organization is upgrading or moving to a new system.

Analog Devices and Office machines

Besides telephony, organizations still rely on a lot of legacy TDM and analog devices. Fax machines usually top the list. Depending on your industry, you may also have postage machines, credit card swipers, night ringers, door buzzers and intercoms, overhead music, legacy test equipment, dialup remote access, and fire and burglar alarms.

If you plan to migrate to a new VoIP solution, you need to confirm how these devices are currently connected (most likely by an existing PBX or directly to a carrier analog line). Verify if the devices support VoIP. Analog postage machines, for instance, do not like anything to do with VoIP. If your current devices do not support VoIP, you’ll need to upgrade to new equipment, or ensure you have enough analog lines in your building to support the legacy devices.

If you have a heavy reliance on faxing, it might be time to look at moving toward an efaxing service. The savings on paper, toner and fax machine replacements usually justify the service in 12 to 14 months.

Carrier Services

Chances are, your current corporate phone system is connected to your carrier via a physical Prime Rate Interface (PRI). This copper connection supports 23 concurrent calls per circuit. With the advent of VoIP, many organizations moved from TDM to an IP connection using SIP trunking. I am a major advocate of SIP trunking because of the huge benefits it offers when properly deployed.

When evaluating what is needed for a new UC system, it’s important to examine underlying carrier requirements. Advanced collaboration features will use your data connection to deliver services over the Internet. The PRI will deliver the voice calls to the rest of the world.

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