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Managed VoIP keeps regatta's communications afloat

The world's largest rowing regatta utilizes managed VoIP to ease its year-round communications needs -- and for a temporary system during its celebrated two-day event.

VoIP is more than just a four-letter word that means cheap phone service for the Head of the Charles Regatta. It means fully enabled communications for event organizers, athletes and media professionals at the event, which annually attracts 8,000 participants and 250,000 spectators to both banks of the Charles River in Massachusetts.

To keep all those people communicating efficiently used to be one of the major headaches of Assistant Director Ben Hamilton, who was tasked with organizing and ensuring the smooth installation and running of the communications system that had to be in place for just two days each year.

"Between the coordination with the service provider, the billing details and the actual installation -- putting in those extra lines each year was my biggest headache," Hamilton said of the communications system installed each year with a traditional service provider.

To have a system that could handle the two-day increase in communications, 15 additional lines had to be installed. With the traditional service provider, each new line had to be added separately and billed separately -- a duplicate issue from the Regatta's headquarters communications service -- leaving Hamilton with a number of stuffed binders of paper bills.

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And the installation of the additional lines tended to be extremely difficult and time-consuming, often requiring more than a full day's work before everything was correctly installed and functioning.

After years of struggling with existing services, the Regatta explored alternative communications solutions. Following some research and due diligence on different alternatives, focusing particularly on VoIP, a third party introduced Hamilton to two independent VoIP providers. Whaleback Systems was one of the two providers and the one that the Regatta chose for its new solution.

For Hamilton, the idea of turning to VoIP for service took more than a little adjustment. His family had previously tried VoIP for consumer use, only to find that the service did not meet their expectations. After a bad consumer experience, he was reluctant to turn to VoIP for a professional environment.

Before a final selection was made, vendors were invited in to explain and demonstrate their products. Whaleback Systems presented the advantages of its products for both the Regatta's office and the event's needs, highlighting the built-in redundancy on their servers when used with an office of the Regatta's size.

In selecting Whaleback Systems for its VoIP service, the Regatta elected to replace not just the temporary communications system but also that of its daily operations. For the majority of the year, the Regatta's office is staffed by a bare-bones crew of dedicated workers who oversee everything from organization to sponsorship. But in July and August, as the event weekend approaches, additional volunteers and temporary staff are added to the office. This means that even within the office, additional phone lines could prove useful.

By working with Whaleback Systems and its CrystalBlue service, the Head of the Charles Regatta office received an additional five lines with a new server. The Whaleback Systems server comes with 10 lines, so for the Regatta's office, which needs only five lines during the majority of the year, the extra lines become a built-in redundancy plan. They act as fall-back lines, as the lines through the Whaleback Systems server are dedicated to voice use only.

In addition to the built-in redundancy of the Whaleback server, the Regatta also received the assurance of 24/7 monitoring. Though a smaller service provider, Whaleback Systems equips each of its support engineers with a Network Operations Center at home. So regardless of which of the engineers has on-call duty, they can quickly and efficiently solve any service issues -- ideally before the issue actually affects the customer's service and without the delay of driving to the office.

For the event weekend, the Regatta also found Whaleback to be an ideal provider because of the ease of installation. Installation took place two weeks in advance, allowing ample time to ensure that the equipment could be tested -- and it took about six hours to set up the additional servers and phones.

"Our overall downtime was only about 10 minutes," Hamilton said. "The system is amazingly scalable."

Utilizing the managed service that is named for a lighthouse in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where its headquarters is located, Whaleback -- which names its product releases not by numbers but with the names of other New England lighthouses -- was the ideal solution for this water-centric office and event. With the fixed fee per user per month, billing has become a lot easier, Hamilton said. The fixed rate means that he always knows what the cost per month will be, even during October when the Regatta takes place. Included in that fee is also immediate access to customer service, which Hamilton said is more effective than his previous experiences with traditional VoIP services. And with Whaleback Systems' recent release of its CrystalBlue package, Diamond Shoals, Hamilton said the Regatta and Whaleback's other users will have access to more functionality.

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