Communications Merger
College's phone, data systems to converge in VoIP project

When the college’s telephone network converges with the computer network in a campus-wide project from this June to at least the next June, the aim is for a sum greater than its parts.

Showing new handsets.Joe Moreau, the college’s chief technology offer, said voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephony offers, thanks to this shared pathway, many advanced features, probable long-run cost savings and not much downtime for either phone or computer users on campus.

“I think the disruption to users will be at most a couple of hours as we do the switchover, if that long,” said Moreau, who reported that the VoIP project will start with five buildings on the east end of campus not long after commencement, with upgrades through summer. Individual office-phone installations will take 10 minutes or less, he said.

Faculty and staff in some buildings may experience longer, planned downtime with the computer network—as much as a day—as Facilities Operations expands and reroutes fiber-optic cable needed for the project, according to John Moore, director of facilities design and construction. Publicly visible work will begin soon with a new conduit for fiber from Sheldon Hall to King Alumni Hall, Moore said.

The first buildings in the VoIP conversion plan are in or near the upcoming sciences/education complex and its long and deep footprint: Wilber, Park and Lee halls and the Campus Center/Poucher complex. The site work and, eventually, digging and construction, would have put key portions of the current phone network at risk.

Underground sensation

“There’s an enormous amount of telephone infrastructure underground and in some buildings there,” said Moreau. The choice, he said, was to add the existing telephone network to the new complex or to take this opportunity to move to a single campus network for voice and data.

The administration ultimately decided to make a cost-avoidance case to the SUNY Construction Fund, Moreau said, in order to include a campuswide VoIP project as part of the sciences/education series of projects. If the state accepted the idea, it would mean funds would be available through bonding usually reserved for bricks-and-mortar construction.

“They said, ‘Well, it’s not really going to save any money—it’s about a break-even—but you’ll be better off with one network and VoIP,’” Moreau said

The $1 million project would not have happened now without the financing plan, he said.

Every office and classroom, as they are converted, will receive new telephone handsets, which take calls over data network connections rather than traditional phone lines. The phones will connect directly with PCs or Macs. The Cisco Systems units don’t look extraordinarily different from the Nortel ones currently in use. The college is switching from Call Pilot to a more VoIP-friendly service from Cisco called Unity, so users will have to set their voice mail up again.

Added features

Once the VoIP system is up and running, there are many features CTS will look at taking advantage of:

* Messages, such as emergency notifications, can appear on the displays of the new phones.

* A staffer’s desk phone can be programmed to ring on his or her mobile phone.

* Work-at-home opportunities can increase when the office phone can ring in an employee’s house.

* CTS can install a program to make the user’s computer a “soft phone,” with a headset, to open up multitasking capabilities.

* Wireless phones with Internet protocol capability also can connect wirelessly and securely over the campus system, making them sophisticated nodes for “radioing” other campus employees.

* There are opportunities to manage automated caller queues in more caller-friendly ways.

* The new system enhances 911 service through University Police because each phone has a unique identity that can display the who-and-where for first responders.

* In a campuswide emergency, crisis coordinators can take over the phone system and turn it, literally, into part of the broadcast alert system.

* Future cost recovery going from two networks to one should be simpler, more efficient, and, Moreau trusts but hasn’t yet formally calculated, cheaper.

“It (VoIP) really does give us enormous flexibility that our current system doesn’t,” said Moreau.

PHOTO CAPTION: New phones—Handsets for the new VoIP voice-to-data phone system can pull emergency messages to the screen. Tyrone Johnson-Neuland, right, assistant director of telecommunications, and Greg Fuller, network manager, coordinate the VoIP project, which will bring telephony and computing into the same data network, a portion of which is behind Johnson-Neuland and Fuller in the first-floor computer room in Culkin Hall.

(Posted: Apr 09, 2010)