Customer service prime mover in net upgrades

New "imperatives" confront network executives - from reducing complexity, to becoming application experts, to getting on top of security issues and best-practice frameworks can be incorporated to enable network managers to establish centres of management excellence within their IT shops, according to journalist John Gallant at an IT Roadmap conference last week.

Essentially, network managers need to better link IT infrastructure with business needs and start implementing technology that will support a virtualized, automated and more flexible network, he said. Gallant, who said merging technologies such as virtualization and automation could help network professionals build "brainier networks", is editorial director of Computerworld's sister publication Network World.

"The industry is in the midst of a transition to a much more flexible infrastructure to support advanced IP applications," Gallant told conference attendees. "Companies need to identify the business functions they want to excel at and build and manage their network infrastructure to support and optimize those critical applications."

To showcase the technologies critical to today's network professionals, the conference also featured case study presentations from network executives.

Enabling VoIP application

VoIP can deliver network managers cost savings and efficient operations over a converged network, but it can also require tweaking during deployment to best suit a company's needs.

Fran Lorion, CIO of a nursing service, deployed voice over IP to speed up the flow of patient data to call centre operators. Lorion detailed his ShoreTel VoIP implementation saying he wanted to ensure that patient calls were answered quickly and dealt with efficiently by receptionists. To do this, he required an application that would recognize an incoming call number and associate it with known patient information in the organization's databases. With some 15,000 patients and more than 300,000 home visits per year, his priority as an IT provider at the 120-year-old service was to ensure optimal patient care. As he was planning a phone system upgrade, he decided rolling out VoIP would be the best option and would eliminate the need for another upgrade in a few years.

"We wanted to improve patient satisfaction and customer service," Lorion said.

But improving the network to support voice posed some challenges for Lorion. He said that while he believed he supported a robust network, he wasn't prepared for how the data network would respond to voice traffic. And since he needed to keep the data network up and running while implementing voice, he had to tweak the voice infrastructure while simultaneously supporting his data network - which has about 275 desktops, 284 laptops and some 26 servers.

"We have between 200 and 300 users on the data network, so I couldn't unplug the network to make the changes," Lorion said. "We were most confident about our network going into the project, but ironically it was the network that gave us the most difficultly."

One issue he encountered is that the voice network could only support five simultaneous calls, and he had planned for it to handle 20 at a time. One lesson, he said, is not to install the IP phones on end user desktops until the voice network is performing as planned. "It was a constant reminder of our frustration," he said.

Lorion implemented configuration changes to the organization's routers and switches with help from a consultancy, and the VoIP vendor enabled his rollout to get back on track within a couple of months.

"Overall our rollout experienced a two-month delay, and we came in slightly over budget, and that's only because I was extremely conservative with the budget from the start," Lorion said.

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