Merrill Lynch swaps out Cisco VoIP gear for Avaya

VoIP early adopter Merrill Lynch & Co. Thursday said it was taking out large Cisco Systems-based IP telephony installations at campuses in New Jersey and Tokyo and replacing them with a mix of IP and traditional telephony gear from Avaya.

The move comes after IT executives at Merrill -- which adopted Cisco’s VoIP in 2000 -- "became increasingly concerned about putting all of our eggs in one basket," according to a Merrill spokesman involved in the project.

"If we were to move to an IP-only telephony network, then a successful attack on our IP network would leave us without both voice and data," the spokesman says. The move is part of a global IT policy to push forward with IP telephony but have TDM voice as a backup, he added. To accomplish this, Merrill plans to pull out Cisco CallManager IP PBXs and IP phones and deploy Avaya S8700 media servers, which can switch calls for IP and TDM -- a feature Merrill wanted to ensure backup. Avaya PBXs already are used at some Merrill sites.

Merrill says the move to dual IP/TDM voice would have been hard to accomplish with voice gear that worked only in an IP environment.

"The problem for us today was that the Cisco IP handset was specific to particular (IP telephony) switch," the Merrill spokesman says. "You cannot mix Cisco handsets and Avaya (TDM) switches, and vice versa. That gave us no choice but to replace the Cisco handsets."

The spokesman says the mixed Avaya environment will give the company the flexibility of IP telephony, with traditional phones available as a backup.

By year-end, the company plans to migrate a majority of 5,800 employees at its Hopewell, N.J., campus and 1,800 workers at its Tokyo regional headquarters to Avaya IP handsets, but with some Avaya TDM phones mixed in.

The spokesman says that a "doubling of attacks" on the firm’s IP network over the last 18 months prompted rethinking of the firm’s IP convergence strategy. He did not elaborate about the attacks.

"The main thing to get across is that this was not a vendor-preference decision at all," the spokesman says. "This is basically risk-assessment-driven."

Cisco did not return a request for comment on Merrill Lynch's plans.

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