Lincoln University IT director Stuart Reilly says in 2010 the university’s telephone system was “a traditional Nortel PBX”.
In theory the PBX should have had a few years useful life in it, but Reilly says he was increasingly concerned about the implications of Nortel’s bankruptcy for such a vital piece of equipment. He says: “It was already hard to get upgrades and that worried me.”
At the time he had begun thinking about options, including a move to Lync, Microsoft’s business-class unified communications software. Reilly was considering a pilot project.
That was in September 2010. Then something happened to change those plans: a devastating earthquake hit the city of Christchurch, just 15km from Lincoln.
Lincoln after the earthquake
The earthquake damaged the Lincoln campus, including the building that housed the PBX. But that wasn’t all. For months the region suffered a series of aftershocks – many were serious in their own right.
Reilly says Much of the university, including 600 staff and students had to be rehoused. It’s not a straightforward job, Lincoln’s main campus is a 50ha site and some people had to be housed kilometres away from their usual workplace. He says, servers and the telephone system were all affected by the earthquake, but they were needed more than ever.
600 km of copper
At this point Reilly looked at moving the PBX. He says the cost of a shift would be 75 percent of the price of a new system. The job would involve 600km of copper wire with roughly 1500 points each needing two wires.
At this point he says he decided Lync was better fit as the university moved buildings. .So Reilly promoted his Lync plan to the top of his agenda.
Lincoln already had most of the licenses it needed for a Lync roll-out, but Microsoft discounts academic software, so Lync itself wasn’t going to cost much.
He says: “The biggest cost was buying headsets. Overall moving to Lync cost around half the cost of a traditional system, but that’s not the biggest saving. We found operational savings of around 10 to 15 percent. We saved a lot on national toll calls, but we have extra costs transferring calls to mobiles”.
Another advantage was that it doesn’t need specialist dedicated hardware. Reilly says: “We were able to virtualize, there are no physical servers, it acts more like a router.” This was handy, because the after effects of the earthquake meant the virtual servers running Lync were 20km away from the main site, effectively running in a private cloud.
That proved useful on another level. The wave of aftershocks meant frequent power cuts in the city. Reilly says the phone service wasn’t disrupted because it was by now in a 24-7 datacentre with its own back-up power supply.
Reilly says there was also an immediate benefit not having do deal with wiring when people move around – he says people can move a lot in a university – now their phone connection follows them.
A more extreme case is the university’s dairy farm which is just next to the campus. Instead of running copper all the way to the farm, Reilly picked up a non-standard, non-certified $350 piece of wireless gear which connects the farm to the network. He says there’s been no problems with this and it works just fine.
Lincoln’s next project is to use Lync to deliver educational content.