Boeing’s Jumbo Phone-System Overhaul

In July 2004, the Boeing Co. Announced a 747-sized project: The aircraft maker said it would replace its entire telephone infrastructure with Internet-based equipment from Cisco Systems.

With 160,000 employees in 70 countries, the $52 billion company is now building what looms as one of the world’s largest Internet-protocol telephone networks.

Boeing expects it will save money by having to manage only a single, converged network infrastructure for both voice and data, and offer flexibility to mobile workers who consistently need to connect from different locations.

“Cisco’s family of products will be the foundation of the next-generation network required to replace Boeing’s aging voice infrastructure,” said Christopher Kent, head of Boeing’s computing and network operations, in a press release issued when the two companies announced the deal.

But how well will the system stand up to real-world issues? Will Boeing actually see the trumpeted benefits?

On the big questions, the jury’s still out: Boeing doesn’t expect to complete the project until 2011.

But with more than a year of experience and thousands of IP phones now dropped on workers’ desks, the company already has learned lessons about what works—and what doesn’t.

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: Non-Trivial Migration