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Firm shoots straight with VoIP: consulting and engineering company maximizes investment by relying on a network built for voice over IP.

Tired of the delays and lost packets on his firm's Frame Relay network, Don Bird, IT manager for management consulting and engineering firm R. W. Beck, knew he needed to come up with a better network solution. With the company's increasing use of voice over IP (VoIP), Bird decided to find a way to update the network without blowing his entire budget.

R. W. Beck has been providing services to energy, water and solid waste clients in both the public and private sector since 1942. The firm had deployed IP PBX systems for its offices around the United States on its Frame Relay WAN from a major provider. The performance, however, was not able to consistently meet the company's demands. For R.W. Beck's five largest offices--Seattle, Orlando, Boston, Denver and Nashville--the Frame Relay solution offered only two full T-1 lines, while the other three offices had 512 Kbps.

"The committed information rate (CIR) was only 256 bits per second," explains Bird. "The Frame Relay vendor didn't offer us full guaranteed bandwidth to all five locations without a substantial increase in cost. We knew we needed to increase bandwidth and improve performance."

In addition, the increasing use of VoIP had become a factor in updating the network. The company had been running VoIP since December 2003, but had quality issues with Frame Relay. R.W. Beck initially had an Inter-Tel PBX set up in its Seattle, Denver and Minneapolis offices, with digital phone sets in the offices. The quality of the WAN service was unsatisfactory even though the firm implemented rudimentary quality-of-service commands.

"During times of heavy WAN traffic load, the Frame Relay network could not differentiate VoIP traffic from other WAN traffic, such as large file transfers and financial applications," Bird says. "As a result, voice call quality suffered."

To get adequate bandwidth and quality, R.W. Beck would have had to increase its bandwidth and CIRs on the Frame Relay. About that time, the company met with Straitshot Communications, and as Bird explains it, "We saw a way to increase our bandwidth, reduce the jitter, get a guaranteed bandwidth and save money at the same time.

"The primary justification for switching to Straitshot was the ability to get higher bandwidth, reduced jitter, end-to-end quality of service (QoS) and lower cost," he adds. "Our Frame Relay for five locations was running about $96,000 annually, with two locations at 1,536 Kbps port speed and three at 512 Kbps port speed, and reduced CIRs. If we were to increase all locations to 1,536 Kbps port speed it would have been about $120,000. With Straitshot, the five locations, including full T-1 port speeds and 99% CIR, was less than $50,000 annually and the performance was better and more predictable."

R.W. Beck began running its existing Frame Relay and Straitshot networks in parallel for several months so that Bird and the IT department were comfortable that the performance was as good as Straitshot had promoted. Bird took that opportunity to compare VoIP traffic on Frame Relay vs. Straitshot Communications to determine which solution was the most effective in each location. Eventually, R.W. Beck converted all the Frame Relay circuits completely to the Straitshot network.

"Because we already had a Frame Relay network that used T-1 circuits and we replaced that with the Straitshot network that also used T-1 circuits, the net hardware cost to switch from Frame Relay to Straitshot was very small," Bird says. "In order to run the systems in parallel, we acquired a second T-1 interface card for each of the five regional offices' WAN routers."

Since the IT department already was planning to change out its phone system, Bird looked at systems that would support VoIP. The initial Inter-Tel systems the company had acquired two years previously required optional network interfaces to support IP phones and network-to-network VoIP. The cost to add the VoIP networking features ranged from about $6,000 for the first (and largest) system down to about $1,500 for the most recent smaller system.

The Straitshot network for R.W. Beck is configured as a hub-and-spoke arrangement with two interconnected hubs--Straitshot point-of-presence (POP) locations--with spokes going to each of the company's offices on the Straitshot network. The two PoP locations are interconnected with a high-speed connection.

Each office on the Straitshot network has two permanent virtual circuits--one to a California PoP location and one to a Chicago PoP. The connections are direct from the R.W. Beck router to the Straitshot router at the PoP location and then to the company's other offices. This gives R.W. Beck nearly direct connections among its offices. This also allows the company to apply QoS to its connections because they are under the control of its own IT department.

Most of the regional offices have a VoIP-enabled Inter-Tel PBX that supports both digital phones and IP connections. The PBXs interconnect with each other over the Straitshot network for the regional offices and via Internet-based VPN circuits for a few of the smaller branch offices.

In addition to enabling its VoIP system to run smoothly, Straitshot's service helps R.W. Beck's employees access a mission-critical financial application hosted in Seattle and replicated over the Straitshot network in Orlando. The firm also runs e-mail over the network and transfers CAD and other engineering files of up to 100 MB. Employees also use the WAN to access the intranet located in Seattle and Orlando for human resource information and other corporate data.

Photography by Karen MasonBlair. Edmonds, Wash.

For more information from Straitshot: rsleads.com/604cn-266
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Title Annotation:Voice Networks; Straitshot system deployed
Publication:Communications News
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:932
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