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VoIP, MPLS converge financial firm's network

A financial services company has successfully rolled out VoIP on a converged MPLS network.

With five offices spread out across the country and phone systems at roughly the decade mark, one network executive saw the need for a change.

"Maintenance and reliability became pressing issues," said IFC CIO Jim Norman. "It was time to consider an alternative."

For IFC, a financial services firm, it would not make sense to go backward and install another phone system that would be outdated by the time it was up and running. Also, the company was fully reworking its WAN, so VoIP became somewhat of an obvious choice, Norman said.

In December 2005, the company added VoIP to its Chicago office. In the following months, it did the same at its offices in Dallas; Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; and Irvine, Calif. Now, Norman said, there are roughly 160 phones on the system -- and counting.

Each office can communicate directly with another through the phone system or can stand on its own -- a big difference from the past, when calls between the different branches would rack up hefty long-distance charges.

Norman estimated that 12% to 15% of all phone calls at IFC were between headquarters and branches, to the tune of about $400 a month, and the company was still paying for a conference bridge service and being socked by additional charges. That and savings in other areas should help IFC see ROI on the $270,000 project within about 14 months, he said.

IFC uses a ShoreTel phone system with service through Business Telecommunications Services of California. The company also uses Virtela's managed MPLS VPN network and remote-access services to boost VoIP performance and the sharing of data and applications between offices.

According to Norman, IFC picked Virtela about a year ago to replace its carrier-provided network with a managed IP VPN solution. And when the company decided to upgrade its VoIP system and wanted to boost Quality of Service (QoS), it called on Virtela to implement an MPLS-based network with class of service options that met the requirements of the new VoIP system.

"If we wanted to get the quality that we wanted, we had to go with MPLS," Norman said. "We wanted reliability, convenience and efficiency."

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MPLS, short for Multiprotocol Label Switching, essentially integrates Layer 2 information about network links such as bandwidth, latency and utilization into Layer 3 -- the IP layer -- to improve IP packet exchange. MPLS gives network operators more flexibility to divert and route traffic around link failures, congestion and bottlenecks, allowing converged networks to operate more fluidly.

Norman said he's noticed a productivity boost as well, because the phones and PCs communicate. He's also been able to generate comprehensive call reporting logs and track calls from every location.

"From an administrative standpoint, we now have control of the phone system from here for all branches, and from anywhere, really," he said.

The installation went well too, he said. "We didn't have any real hiccups."

A few quick training sessions got the end users up to speed with no hindrances, Norman said. The system is fairly intuitive and didn't take much time to get used to.

"We had one or two people complain that from time to time the call quality has not been 100%," he said, but one or two people out of nearly 200 isn't too bad.

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