Cisco VoIP network ousted for ShoreTel in Wisconsin school district

A combination of costs savings and features plus a need to refresh the network infrastructure in general drove a Wisconsin school district to abandon its Cisco VoIP and data network for one driven by ShoreTel and HP.

Now the district is paying $22,000 less per year for leasing its phone and network gear -- a 25.5 per cent cut in annual costs -- and has an option to buy the gear outright for $1 after the fifth year, says Bob Summers, the IT manager for the Kaukauna, Wis., district that's housed in seven buildings, serves about 4,200 students and has about 600 phones.

THE BIG PICTURE: Morphing VoIP into unified communications

There wasn't anything wrong with the Cisco network in 2008 except that it was 4 years old, the lease was running out in a year and Cisco wouldn't give the district a buyout estimate until 60 days before the lease expired, Summers says. It might have made sense to buy the gear depending on the price, but if not, 60 days wouldn't have been enough time to research and fund an alternative, he says. Plus, as a general rule, he felt it was risky to buy gear that old. Cisco was also offering to extend the lease for five years, but by the end of that term the gear definitely would have outlived itself, he says.

So in 2008 the district set the wheels in motion to have funding in place for a new system and checked out VoIP gear from Avaya, Cisco, Mitel and ShoreTel. The phone upgrade called for a data network upgrade as well that was a separate bid, but all the VoIP vendors had to guarantee that their phone solution would be compatible with all the switching gear that was being proposed, he says. Mitel came in least expensive, but Summers was unfamiliar with the company and didn't feel comfortable with it. ShoreTel came in second on price and not that much more than the Mitel bid. Through talks with ShoreTel customers and his VAR, he gained the confidence to enter a lease with the company.

The ShoreTel/HP five-year lease costs $64,000 per year, support included, Summers says. By contrast, the expired Cisco lease had cost $78,000 per year plus $8,000 per year for support.

With the new system, 911 calls are connected not only to police but also to designated numbers within the school district so school officials are aware of them. Before, 911 calls went to police, but school administrators often found out about it when citizens would call in to find out why an ambulance was outside a particular school, he says.

IN DEPTH: Thinking about 911 in a converged world

The district also takes advantage of the phone system Code Blue feature designed to summon emergency response teams in hospitals. In the district, if a teacher sets off a Code Blue, it can call for classroom support to deal with behavior problems or special help for individual students who might have personal problems, Summers says.

PC clients let staff remotely forward calls to any other phone. So on snowy days, Summers can forward calls from his work extension to his cellphone, for example. Similarly, a PC softphone can pick up calls that come to an extension in a school building, so the intended recipient of the call can pick it up if the PC is connected to the Internet.

Voicemail is sent to email accounts as audio files, and via Outlook integration, written responses can be sent to the caller's email account.

One of VoIP's main advantages is that it runs over a 12-strand fiber network that connects town buildings and schools. Since most calls are made between schools, VoIP over the private fiber makes the cost of voice calls very low, Summers says.

Summers says his first experience with VoIP came when he arrived at the school district in 2004. Before that he'd worked only with traditional TDM PBX phone systems, which put him in good stead at Kaukauna, which had an independent PBX in each building made by at least three different vendors. After the swap-out for the Cisco VoIP network, he became convinced that VoIP was definitely simpler and offered more features, so there was no question that the schools would stick with it when they refreshed in 2009. "This is a lot simpler," he says.

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