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Powerful PBX handles volume surge; pension fund administrator breathes sigh of relief.


The State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) of Ohio, established in 1920, manages Ohio's largest public pension fund.

At $18.5 billion, it's the 18th-largest public pension fund in the U.S. and the 24th largest in the world.

Based in Columbus, the 250-person-plus organization deals in a wide range of activity including investing, real estate, benefits, and health care.

But despite its diverse activity, STRS never loses sight of its main goal: providing the best pension service possible to teacher members.

Much of that service is conducted over the phone. That's where Neal Hutchinson, communications manager for STRS, enters the picture.

Since being hired in 1979, STRS telecommunications needs have tripled in size--in terms of lines, teacher members, and expenditures.

Hutchinson's current system, using PBX and terminal equipment from NEC America, handles between 8000 and 10,000 phone calls per day.

The first NEAX2400 Information Management System (IMS) installed more than six years ago has made it possible for STRS to:

* move, expand, and upgrade existing switching equipment rather than having to replace it;

* network communications at three different office locations to provide users with one integrated system rather than three separate ones;

* save at least three times the floor space as a result of the switch's small footprint;

* establish direct lines (hot lines) between STRS portfolio managers and trading desks in New York and other sites;

* establish more reliable voice and data communications using backups;

* and control long-distance costs by accurately accounting for calls and services.

In 1984, STRS was growing rapidly and needed to add three more trunk lines to its existing PBX, and NEC 22VS.

Rather than add trunks to the old switch, STRS traded it in toward the new 2400.

"We saved money," Hutchison says.

"We eased cabling problems by replacing electronic-key equipment with digital stations."

(Digital equipment requires two pairs of wire per phone; 1A2 equipment requires 75.)

Software Intensity

A year and a half after installing its first NEAX2400 IMS, the STRS staff had outgrown its existing building.

STRS started construction to expand its office space, but that would not be completed for four years.

In the interim, STRS relocated its 50-person investing group to an office building across the street.

To manage 200 phone lines at the new site, STRS got another NEAX2400 IMS, integrating the two switches into a network without having to buy excessive hardware.

"When it comes to integrating multiple switches, the flexibility of the software really pays off," Hutchison maintains.

"It allowed me to take all incoming and outgoing calls (DID and DOD) through the main switch downtown.

"The software intensity separates it from other switches.

"With Common Channel Interface Signalling (CCIS), our investment personnel retained their phone numbers when they moved.

"The 2400 acts more like a front-end processor than a telephone switch," Hutchison adds.

"You can do things you wouldn't consider with other telephone switches.

"We were able to install hot lines linking our portfolio managers to trading desks on Wall Street.

"As soon as one picks up the phone, it's ringing at the other person's desk."

Building Blocks

Modular architecture design provides extra flexibility.

When additional capacity is needed, new modules can be stacked one on top of another.

Each Port Interface Module (PIM) houses line, trunk, data, register, and other packages.

When STRS installed its first 2400 downtown, it included two PIMs and handled 384 ports (lines and/or trunks).

Today, eight PIMs handle 1532 ports.

STRS has taken advantage of the flexible architecture to remove a PIM from a switch at one location and add it to another.

During the last six years, STRS has effectively transferred PIMs between three different locations while maintaining uninterrupted phone service.

"We've moved PIMs around like checkers," Hutchison says.

When construction on the downtown building was completed in February 1990, STRS's investing group returned from across the street.

Hutchison took the PIMs that comprised the 2400 across the street and added them to his PBX at the main building.

Modular design saves space.

"Most switches are cabinet-oriented; you buy a big box and fill it up as you expand," Hutchison explains.

"That eats up valuable space.

"With the NEAX2400, you start as small as you need and then increase the footprint as you need added capacity.

"NEC has the smallest footprint around."

Redundant Redundant

To ensure that it can provide quality service through any circumstances, STRS has created a system with multiple layers of redundancy.

"Whatever it takes to provide quality service for our teacher members, we'll do it.

"That's why redundancy is of utmost importance.

"The switch is so redundant, the folks at NEC should call it the 2400 2400," Hutchison quips.

"We have redundant system processing, redundant power supplies to each shelf, redundant time-division switches, redundant highway switches, and redundant memory.

"If any component fails, the network will continue to operate.

"If something does go wrong, the PBX provides very good fault information that allows us to isolate the problem quickly.

"That's especially important to us because our system is totally self-servicing.

"Outside of attending NEC training sessions, we do not rely on outside contractors."

In taking reliability a step further than most organizations, STRS has designated its computer center, on the out-skirts of Columbus, as its disaster recovery site.

During normal operations, the center serves as the main-line site for STRS's computer network.

"However, if catastrophe occurs downtown, we will run our entire telecommunications operation from there," Hutchison explains.

"If necessary, we can move all our personnel to the computer center and have them up and working the same day.

"Everyone keeps the same number."

Although STRS does not use its PBX network for transmitting data during normal operations, it does rely on it to back up normal data transmissions. "We decided not to switch data and voice through the same platform. We don't want to lose everything if one system goes down."

But even though the data and voice sides are independent, PBX data capability is important, Hutchison says, for two reasons:

* STRS relies on the switch as a backup system for data.

* STRS uses its phone lines for limited data services. Through its two PBXs, it monitors the computer center's security system, power usage, and HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) system. Using the same lines that carry voice traffic, a technician downtown can change the temperature at the computer center.

The switch can handle diverse routing patterns for long-distance calls.

Least-cost routing gives STRS the best rate possible on every long-distance call placed.

The NEAX2400 IMS, with NEC's Astra call-accounting system, provides an historical record of every event that takes place in the system.

The two are linked by serial data interfaces.

Together, they collect data from every station and channel the data into a single pipeline to be recorded.

Recorded data include who made the call, number dialed, trunking facility used, call length, and cost.

Once collected, the data are processed and automatically generated into a detailed invoice or summary report. With such info, STRS makes cost-effective decisions about long distance and local telephone services.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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