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VoIP, unified communications weather storm

VoIP and unified communications tools kept one Colorado reseller afloat during massive blizzards that shut down even the "weather-proof" airport.

VoIP, coupled with unified communications tools, came in clutch for Buffalo Communications.

Granted, Buffalo, a Boulder and Denver area technology reseller, could easily benefit from showering praise on the technologies it offers, but while braving the great Colorado blizzards of 2006, the company was forced to practice what it preached.

"Being a reseller, we have access to these technologies pretty easily," said Buffalo Communications' president Dave Michels. "We roll things out. But we don't usually focus on disaster recovery."

But a disaster recovery plan became just what Buffalo Communications needed this past winter, as parts of Colorado were walloped by successive blizzards that brought Boulder and Denver to a standstill. The three blizzards, one right after another, buried the cities under feet of snow. The cities shut down. The new, so-called "weather-proof" airport was forced to close for four days.

"This is Colorado," Michels said. "We always have two or three snow days a year, but this storm closed down everything. The storms closed the airport, grocery stores, everything. I've never experienced anything like this. This was a pretty major event."

For Michels and the rest of the Buffalo team, however, it was business as usual.

Michels said the company runs on the Mitel 3300 IP PBX as its IP communications platform. In the past, Buffalo had rolled out Mitel's Teleworker Gateway for demonstration and sales purposes. But the rash of storms forced Buffalo to truly roll it out, deploying the Teleworker Gateway, which brings the corporate network to pretty much any location, to more and more end users.

Using the gateway and VoIP phones, Buffalo staff were able to work from home and stick it out through the storms -- keeping the business running without customers' noticing anything was amiss.

Michels said it took a little tweaking, but otherwise, everything ran smoothly.

"We changed the way we handle incoming calls," he said, noting that Buffalo switched to Mitel ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) to handle and distribute incoming calls. End users would log in to all calls from home as they would in the office.

The use of an LCS Gateway allowed Buffalo Communications to use the benefits of Microsoft Office Communicator and Live Communication Server for presence information and to keep in constant contact. Instant messaging and being able to see who is online and who is offline was key, Michels said.

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Elsewhere, end users were able to have presence capabilities on their mobile devices. That way, they could indicate whether they were available, on the phone or even outside shoveling out from under several feet of snow. Adding a conference bridge into the mix further enabled fast and efficient communications, Michels said. No one missed a beat.

Michels said that, overall, Buffalo personnel were able to conduct staff meetings, share files and documents, and call one another on their usual extensions.

"We actually had a big spike in calls because people were closing their offices," he said. "We didn't miss a beat. Techs were dispatched, trucks rolled and tickets were taken care of. Everybody was working like clockwork and no one was in the office."

The entire experience was an eye-opener, Michels said. Despite not setting out to tackle disaster recovery, that's just what Buffalo Communications ended up doing.

"We didn't go into this as a disaster recovery plan," he said. "A lot of what VoIP has done is really enabled us to grow our communications ability. We didn't miss a beat, and it was never really planned out as disaster recovery."

Michels said that the storms and Buffalo's ability to recover from them illustrate that companies need to be accessible and keep running despite Mother Nature or other forces.

"I have a pet peeve now when I get an 'out of office' email or voicemail message," he said, adding that being out of the office is no longer a valid excuse. "We accept that, and I don't think we should."

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