By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2005-12-14 Print this article Print

Boeing will scrap 125 old phone switches as part of one the world's biggest IP telephony projects. Will the new system fly right?

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Heading up the rollout is Cliff Naughton, director of network services in Boeing's central information-technology services group.

In this post, which he has held since 2000, the 20-year Boeing veteran oversees more than 400 network engineers who support the company's global voice, video and data communications infrastructure.

To date, Naughton says, Boeing has switched 20,000 employees—about 13 percent—over to IP phones, with another 15,000 to 20,000 planned for 2006.

It expects gradually to retire 125 circuit-switched phone systems, including several from AT&T and Avaya, over the life of the project; about a dozen have been taken offline so far.

They will be replaced with between 25 and 30 Cisco CallManager clusters, each composed of four Intel-based servers.

Boeing won't say how much it's spending on its IP telephony project, but according to rough industry estimates, the tab will probably exceed $150 million.

Naughton says a major reason for spreading the project over seven years is to not blow a hole in the company's information-technology budget.

"We have to manage this investment within the profit and loss of the corporation," he says. "The amount of investment we make year to year will vary. A higher priority may come along and we'll have to say, 'buy fewer phones this year.'"

In general, Cisco's IP telephony system provides all the basic functions Boeing expected. But Naughton says some advanced features were missing at first.

For example, executive assistants couldn't see from their own phones the incoming Caller ID of someone dialing up their boss, to help decide whether to interrupt a call in progress. (Cisco has since added the capability to certain models.)

"We found the most important folks you have to impress are the receptionists and executive secretaries," Naughton says. "If they don't like it, their bosses won't like it."

Cisco also only recently added the ability to encrypt sensitive phone conversations, a major requirement for Boeing as a large government contractor.

Cisco's CallManager 4.1, officially released in March 2005, provides two-way encrypted conversations and meets Department of Defense telephony specifications.

Naughton and his team are testing those features. For now, he says, "We tell folks, 'Do not have [sensitive] conversations over the telephone—period.'"

Boeing also found that Cisco didn't have a way to display location information for 911 callers, which was critical for its Puget Sound facilities near Seattle where Boeing security personnel are "first responders" for emergencies.

For those locations, the company chose a system from Xtend Communications that integrated more easily with the existing 911 infrastructure, according to Naughton.

Cisco says its CER (Cisco Emergency Responder) system is designed to send location information for callers on the IP telephony network to 911 systems; it refers customers that need a system for responding to emergency calls to a partner, CML Emergency Services.

Story Guide:

  • Talking Points: After years as an also-ran, VOIP is in the front ranks of business tech.
  • Leap to IP Is Still a Tough Call Despite advantages in cost and maintenance, it still takes a leap of faith to migrate, and a lot of determination to sell the idea to decision makers.
  • No Killer App, But Lots of Small Enticements Smallish efficiencies and the increasing number of apps aimed at particular businesses build up to make a good case for VOIP.
  • Boeing's Jumbo Phone-System Overhaul: Boeing moves 125 phone switches to IP, in what may be the largest corporate migration to date.
  • Non-Trivial Migration: 35,000 Users, 125 PBXs, Clusters, Servers…
  • Cutting Costs; Admirable ROI: 49 percent over seven years.
  • Unsupportable Optimism? Some analysts say Boeing and other companies may be ignoring potential downsides.
  • Cost Analysis: Functionality aside, do the costs justify a migration to VOIP?

    Next page: Cutting Costs; Admirable ROI

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