Right Place, Right Time
FIDM was the first U.S. organization to deploy the new IBM System i IP Telephony solution
Photography by Robert Pacheco
|CUSTOMER: The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising
HEADQUARTERS: Los Angeles
BUSINESS: Fashion and design school
HARDWARE: An IBM System i 520 and a System i 570
SOFTWARE: IBM/3Com System i IP Telephony, WebSphere Application Server, Lotus Notes, Domino and Sametime
CHALLENGE: Moving from a traditional PBX telephone system to voice over IP
SOLUTION: Working with Key Information Systems, IBM and 3Com, as well as other partners, to deploy the first U.S. installation of the IBM System i IP Telephony solution
There's something to be said for being in the right place at the right time, especially when it comes to adopting emerging technologies. The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) discovered just that. FIDM was considering moving to a plain-vanilla voice over IP (VoIP) solution when they found out that the new IBM System i IP Telephony solution, a joint venture between IBM and 3Com, was soon to hit the streets. "When this announcement was made, everything changed," recalls Roxanne Reynolds-Lair, FIDM CIO.
So instead of going live with the VoIP system it had planned to deploy, the organization worked with several business partners, including Key Information Systems, IBM, 3Com and telecommunications providers, to implement the new, System i platform-integrated VoIP solution. Its sudden change in course made FIDM the first organization in the United States to adopt the system, and now it expects to save a great deal of money (the institute won't disclose exactly how much) and achieve an ROI in just two years. "It turned out to be a great decision," eynolds-Lair says.
Established in 1969 in Los Angeles (where it's still headquartered), FIDM has grown quite a bit over the years. It now has three additional campuses - in San Francisco, Orange County and San Diego - as well as several one-person satellite offices. Its curriculum, which includes interior design, merchandise marketing and product development, film and television costume design, footwear design and its flagship degree, fashion design, makes it a perfect fit for its California location.
FIDM has more than 1,000 staff and faculty members, 6,000-plus currently enrolled students and more than 30,000 alumni. Supporting its staff, faculty and students are two System i servers, a 570 and a 520. The former, FIDM's main production box, runs nine partitions. Two partitions are devoted to the VoIP solution on Linux, one to its student database, one to its IBM WebSphere Application Server, one to IBM Lotus Domino and one to its WebSphere-based e-commerce site (the FIDM Museum Store). It also has the typical development and testing partitions. The 520 acts as the organization's VoIP backup system.
As with most businesses, the telephone is key to FIDM's core functions. Staff, faculty and students all need to connect with one another, even though the school is already highly collaborative, having Domino, Notes and Sametime in place and running on the 570. However, its 8-year-old private branch exchange (PBX)-based phone system was becoming an impediment to future growth and telephony innovation. "It was actually a very reliable system," Reynolds-Lair says, "but it was getting to the point where it wasn't offering any new features or functionality. In addition, we were reaching its maximum capacity."
Perhaps more important, however, the system had no clear path toward VoIP, which the organization sought as an alternative to its costly asynchronous transfer mode (ATM)-based system. One such alternative was multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) running over a WAN. This would effectively let the organization jettison its dedicated ATM lines - and improve bandwidth, reduce costs and allow a move to VoIP.
FIDM's first look at VoIP involved a traditional, phased-in approach. The organization would maintain its PBX environment while slowly moving to VoIP over a multiyear period. As Suzanna Grueser, FIDM's IT operations supervisor, explains, "We would have been purchasing six more PBXs at our different locations and not immediately switching out our telephones. That would be done a year later in a future phase of our transition to VoIP."
And then that right-place, right-time moment came. Reynolds-Lair was attending the COMMON conference when the new IBM System i IP Telephony solution was announced. Upon hearing the news, she immediately put the brakes on any attempts to deploy the other VoIP solution. "The contracts from the other vendor were literally on Suzanna's desk with my signature on them and they were ready to go to our CFO," Reynolds-Lair recalls. "I sent her an e-mail telling her to hold the contracts based on the announcement. If the announcement had come a day or two later, it would have been too late for us to change course. We would have been locked in for five to eight years with the other vendor."
"I was a little skeptical at first," Grueser says. "So I ended up going back to IBM and 3Com to ask them some technical questions about the configuration and the design process. And instead of looking at the functionality of the solution and how it fit the way we did business, we looked at the way we did business and then how the solution would fit that. After going through this introspective process, we couldn't find any reason why it wouldn't fit. In fact, everything would operate the same as it had in the past from a business perspective."
"Instead of looking at the functionality of the solution and how it fit the way we did business, we looked at the way we did business and then how the solution would fit that." Suzanna Grueser, IT operations supervisor, FIDM