Unified Communication Links University CommunityBy Samuel Greengard Print
The University of Washington turned to unified communications to combine its voice and data networks and to build a platform that supports diverse products.
Unified communications (UC) is at the center of enterprise efficiency. The technology ties together data and voice networks in a way that would have been unthinkable only a decade ago.
That ability to connect people and data effectively is paramount for the University of Washington (UW), which serves more than 51,000 students and approximately 31,000 faculty members across three academic campuses and 500 buildings scattered across Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell, Wash.
About three years ago, the university was coping with an out-of-date communications infrastructure. "The technology did not support many of the systems and applications necessary for today's educational environment, including mobility, BYOD, VoIP and video conferencing," recalls Roland Rivera, UW's director of network strategy and telecommunications. "Better integration of voice and data services was critical, and it was apparent that there was a need for a unified communications infrastructure."
UW surveyed and tested products from three major vendors before turning to an Aura UC solution from Avaya. The goal was to provide seamless connectivity for multiple vendors across a variety of platforms and devices, including PCs, Macs, tablets, smartphones and conference room video systems.
The project required provisioning communications services in the cloud, as well as the ability to support current and future IT environments. In 2011, the university began the upgrade process. A year later, it had the foundation for unified communications in place.
The UC system supports products from a diverse array of vendors, including Microsoft Lync, AVST, Cisco and Polycom. The Avaya Aura Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based platform also ties together multiple session managers to create greater geo-redundancy. Using a Web-based management console, IT staff can isolate different communities of use, oversee dial plan management and routing policies, and better manage security and licensing.
"We have a single system for managing everything at the core," Rivera says.
The university is currently migrating users to VoIP and will soon roll out a spate of UC applications that provide users with access to various tools across different devices. The environment ties together voice, messaging, email, desktop sharing and collaboration, and other tools. The list of features includes auto call recording, unified messaging and more advanced video conferencing.
Students, faculty and staff will be able to enter virtual video conferencing rooms and use on-premises video to connect mobile and desktop video to conference room systems. The university is also piloting hosted video conferencing that will link any type of device and software.
Rivera says that the UC solution has brought the school's communications infrastructure into the digital age. Over the long run, it will trim IT costs and administrative overhead, while providing greater simplicity and flexibility.
"We believe the system will unleash productivity gains," he says. "It will allow employees and students to get work done faster and better than they could in the past. The environment supports BYOD and provides connectivity across software, devices and systems. We are moving toward state-of-the-art communication services."
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