The United Kingdom’s Bedfordshire County, located about 40 miles north of London, has been inhabited for more than 5000 years. Reflecting its long history, the county is steeped in tradition and still has some quaint, rural features.
Despite its picturesque thatched roofed houses, the county’s government is anything but old-fashioned. In fact, the Mid Beds District Council, the regional authority for one-third of Bedfordshire County, is at the forefront of using the latest IP technologies to deliver innovative solutions for its 150,000 households.
Like many other government entities, the District Council is under constraints — the need to deliver increasing levels of citizen services must be balanced with the need to hold the line on costs by delivering these services more efficiently.
To meet these challenges, the Council has become one of the UK’s leading proponents for switching to IP telephony and video communications to save money and improve its interaction with citizens.
Recently, the Council began an impressive project to update its existing offices with the latest telecommunications capabilities, create small branch offices and video kiosks to interact with local citizens, and prepare for the merger of its two main offices into a single central office.
Although the existing Mitel PBXs were only four years old — and were fine for the current operations — the Council realized that the circuit-switched system could not handle the innovative services it wanted to add. In addition, the Council determined that it would be expensive and technically complex to adapt the old system for the structural changes required to move two offices into a single, new location.
To meet its management goals, the Council decided to replace its traditional voice system with an IP telephony system featuring a Cisco CallManager in each of its two main offices. At the same time, it selected XelorRate Service Quality Manager software to ensure the reliability, performance and quality of real-time communications over a converged Cisco IP network.
The installation of XelorRate software (news - alerts) was a conscious part of our management plan, because the Council realized that the IP telephony system had to operate flawlessly for the plan to be successful. The process couldn’t proceed without the assurance that the new system would consistently deliver real-time communications that were at least as good as the old-style circuit-switched system it was replacing.
XelorRate is a Linux application for the Red Hat operating system that automatically integrates with the Council’s data network and IP telephony system. The software leverages industry standards for quality of service (QoS) to deliver simplified network configuration, real-time automated packet prioritization and daily policy management.
With awareness of the network topology, knowledge of all authorized calls, and proactive management of prioritization, XelorRate software eliminates the common QoS problems that have plagued IP telephony deployments, such as packet loss, jitter and, competition between data and real-time applications.
XelorRate software simplifies the management of the converged network and automatically responds to changes in telecommunications layout. The automatic mapping of the IP telephony system is enormously helpful as new desktops are added and when the Council moves into its new offices.
The combination of Cisco IP telephony with XelorRate software allows the Mid Beds District Council to bring innovative government services to the district’s citizens with high-quality voice and video communications over the converged network. In addition, the new system provides a number of financial benefits, including reduced infrastructure costs, lower ongoing communications expenses, and manpower savings through reduced technical complexity.
The IP telephony system will allow the Council to save £80,000 (approximately $144,000) in wiring costs alone as we prepare to move into new headquarters in July of 2006. The savings derive from running all building systems off a single network wire, instead of using multiple wires for data, telephony and building management.
In addition, the new system has already allowed the Council to reduce technical headcount and save £50,000 (approximately $90,000) in fully loaded staff costs by converging the telephony and data infrastructures and help desks. Formerly, two staffers were required just to support the Mitel phone system. Now, one person has been shifted over to the merged IT/telephony help desk and another post has been freed. The change also has been more convenient for users because they can get all their phone and IT questions answered by a single organization.
XelorRate software delivers other savings with simplified network operations. By using SNMP to automatically discover the IP telephony network and topology and then configuring the network elements according to industry best practices and the network equipment provider’s reference manual for QoS, the software has dramatically reduced the management headaches required for maintaining an effective real-time communications system.
Best of all, the resulting IP telephony network maps are accurate and always up to date. In most cases, IT managers don’t create accurate IP telephony network maps and then continually update them with all the elements and endpoints. Without XelorRate software, it would be almost impossible to keep up with all the IP telephony network changes, especially in a situation where have employees frequently switch desks, work from remote locations, and even work from home on softphones.
By continuously reacting to changes in the network, XelorRate software allows the Council to provide significant flexibility for its employees and elected members. Because XelorRate software automatically re-maps the network to account for changing endpoints, the system can easily handle members and employees who use softphones from wherever they choose to work.
XelorRate software also allows for easy diagnosis of any problems with call quality. Before the installation of XelorRate software, there was no effective way to solve the occasional problem with words dropping from the conversation or the call dropping altogether, because the complaints were so anecdotal. It was impossible to tell if the drop was an issue caused by the IP network, an endpoint, a router, a PBX, an IP-to-mobile connection, or a mobile network provider.
XelorRate provides complete reports that allow pinpointing of any problems by searching the service logs for an event during a particular day and time. Although CallManager shows how many calls were attempted, it doesn’t tell you how many were actually successful from a quality perspective. For the first time, it is possible understand which of the many possibilities require change to restore service quality.
Perhaps the most important benefit of XelorRate software is that it gives us the same feeling of confidence as traditional circuit-switched telephony. XelorRate gives tremendous peace of mind, because it determines the available priority capacity for the entire call path when it establishes the call and doesn’t jeopardize existing calls when other demands are made on the network.
By implementing XelorRate software, dropped calls, voice quality issues, and management headaches that can otherwise occur with IP telephony deployments have been eliminated. It’s a great relief to know that the CEO will not be complaining that his phone failed while he was talking with an important newspaper editor or individual.
The Mid Beds District Council was one of the first of the UK’s 388 district councils to migrate to IP telephony. Because of the early adoption, the Council rolled out the new system relatively slowly and methodically in order to work out any kinks before expanding. Now, with confidence that the system is working well and that XelorRate software can ensure circuit-quality communications, IP telephony is being extended to all 300 employees.
In closing, the Council’s deployment architecture, strategies, and results will be used by other districts and serve as a national model for IP telephony. In fact, the Council are already sharing its results with the other two districts within New Bedfordshire County, and expects to submit them to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister as an IP telephony migration strategy for other district councils. IT
Clive Jones is head of customer services and information technology for the Mid Beds District Council. Earlier in his career, he held a variety of positions with British Telecom. For more information on the technology that Mid Beds chose to configure, deploy and manage the quality of service for its converged network, please visit www.xelorsoftware.com (news - alerts).