VoIP better, cheaper than TDM upgrade for medical imaging center

As business continued to grow, Steinberg Diagnostic Medical Imaging needed to boost its infrastructure. The company added a voice system from Mitel and FastIron switches with Power-Over-Ethernet from Foundry.

After revamping its entire network to better transport and store thousands of images among four buildings, Steinberg Diagnostic Medical Imaging (SDMI) was ready to upgrade its phones.

The old TDM system was lacking. There were countless "band-aid" fixes, making it a nearly impossible web of wiring. But the thought of switching over to VoIP was terrifying, SDMI's CIO, Don Shackley, said.

"I was just looking at it and I said 'I don't think this is a good idea,'" he said.

Shackley didn't want IT to be burdened with running a phone system, since most of the staff didn't have much to do with the TDM anyway. Also, VoIP was still a relatively new technology, and Shackley was concerned with possible glitches and other troubles.

So, instead, SDMI looked into upgrading the TDM. After a $20,000 survey to figure out the requirements, it appeared that a full upgrade was going to run just below half a million dollars. The upgrade would require moving one phone system to a different building, buying a new switch, and upgrading another switch.

The deal was just about to be signed, Shackley said, when he stumbled upon a VoIP system that was exactly what the company needed.

I was expecting the absolute worst. I was expecting dropped calls, echoing, the phones not working at all.
Don Shackley
CIOSteinberg Diagnostic Medical Imaging
The Mitel 3300 IP Communication Platform and the Mitel Contact Center Management solution fit perfectly into SDMI's plans. According to Mitel, the system offers full-featured IP communications functionality and a browser-based application set for real-time monitoring, historical reporting, and forecasting across all contact center media: voice, e-mail, Web, chat and fax.

A Mitel deployment integrated perfectly with the recent network overhaul at SDMI, which included adding in Foundry Networks' FastIron 400 switches with Power-Over-Ethernet (POE) modules and FastIron Edge 4802-POE switches.

"After that, we had such a great network, it was so solid, and we had a lot of bandwidth to spare," Shackley said.

SDMI transports more than 250,000 medical imaging studies per year in its Las Vegas-based imaging centers. The outpatient facility, which handles CT scans, MRIs and X-rays, computerized and digitized its imaging format and linked it to databases to make it easier to retrieve and transport image cases. Some intense searching led SDMI to get its own dedicated fiber ring connecting its four buildings, and that strong backbone opened the door to the Foundry switches.

"As our business grew, we needed a network that could flexibly grow to handle the large volume of images we were storing in our picture-archiving communication systems," Shackley said. "Our previous network vendor simply couldn't handle the load. With Foundry, we found that the reliability, flexibility, low latency, and excellent support delivered exactly what we needed to handle our growing volume of client images."

Following the choice of Foundry's infrastructure, Shackley said, selecting Mitel for VoIP was a simple decision.

"As we opened new imaging centers, it was only natural that we looked at deploying VoIP services, both to save on costs and for enhanced communications," he said. "Mitel's IP telephony solutions provided excellent value, a full feature set, and time-saving Web-based management utilities."

Shackley said the type of switches used doesn't matter when running Mitel, and since it can run over Ethernet, it's something the IT shop gets the hang of.

"IT understands Ethernet," he said. "Now you're taking the whole mystery out of the TDM thing. When you're troubleshooting with VoIP, you understand that it's packets."

Through a reseller, SDMI ran another survey for the Mitel deployment. Redoing all of the switches, all of the phones, and any other necessary tweaks would cost the company about $275,000, much less than the TDM upgrade.

But as SDMI neared rolling out VoIP, Shackley was still frightened, he said.

"I was scared to death," he said. "We went from not having to be responsible for the phones to disconnecting the whole system to go live."

Step one was to deploy voice at the smallest of SDMI's four Las Vegas-area offices "just to get some experience," Shackley said. The migration, after a week of hardcore planning, took a day.

"It seems really odd, but there were no problems," he said. The biggest problem was some echoing, but IT found that the echo was caused by feedback because some users turned up their phone volumes too high to compensate for a low dial tone.

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Other obvious fears Shackley had were latency, poor quality, and other problems described in VoIP horror stories. So far, however, with the 350 phones in use by SDMI, none of those nightmares have come about.

"The voice quality is better than with the TDM, for sure," he said.

That system ran for two months with no trouble, so it was time to bring VoIP to the other three buildings. After the one-building trial, Shackley said, it took three days to roll out VoIP to the rest.

"Here I am, I was so nervous I didn't even pull the old phone system out," he said. "But come Monday, there were little problems here and there, but they got worked out."

Shackley said SDMI has not yet done an ROI study to determine how much the system has saved the company, but he estimated the new voice system paid for itself with the money that would've been spent on TDM maintenance.

He said the system also allows him to look at real-time reports, including call volume and trends.

One drawback, Shackley said, is that he would've done more user-specific training, catering it better to the specific needs of each group of users, since some received more training than necessary while others received not enough.

Overall, though, Shackley said the system is a welcome change.

"I was expecting the absolute worst," he said. "I was expecting dropped calls, echoing, the phones not working at all. None of that happened."

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