Rollout: Avaya Distributed Office

Avaya's Distributed Office is an easy and cost effective way to roll voice over IP out to branch and remote offices.

October 5, 2007

6 Min Read
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We all know that voice over IP offers significant advantages over traditional PBXes. Using the data network for voice saves on toll charges, and adds, moves and changes are simplified. But rolling VoIP out to remote offices has been a significant obstacle to widespread deployment, particularly when you're talking small branches or retail outlets that lack dedicated IT staffs.

Avaya's Distributed Office, a SIP-based, distributed VoIP system, aims to simplify remote deployment and management. Avaya will preconfigure its IP gateways, the i40 and i120, to fit your remote branches, and the company's VoIP phones are included with gateways, which alse support a variety of third-party VoIP and analog phones. In our tests the system offered good call quality, a useful set of phone features and was easy to manage.

On the downside, Distributed Office is a voice-only platform. If you're looking for a unified communications system that can integrate voice with other applications, such as e-mail, or if your branch offices would benefit from an all-in-one system that supports functions such as firewalling and routing, you'll have to look elsewhere. Avaya is aiming squarely at companies that will find Distributed Office's low starting price of $350 per seat for 20 users--with the i40 gateway and phones included--and ease of deployment a square trade for all-inclusive hardware.

Avaya's main competitor in this market is Cisco, which is taking a different approach with its UC500 and ISR series platforms. The UC500 with Call Manager Express is similar to the i40 in terms of voice service, but also provides WAN access, routing and a firewall. However, if a branch has more than 50 users, you would have to move up to the full Cisco ISR line; that will increase costs significantly and may be more horsepower than you need. Cisco's SmartAssist program covers configuration needs, comparable to Avaya's preconfiguration options.Call Me

Distributed Office starts with Avaya's SIP Enablement Services Edge Switch, which handles incoming SIP connections at the corporate headquarters, routes calls among branches, and provides a management workstation to remotely administer the i40 and i120 gateways (see diagram at right). Next are the gateways. The i40 is a 2U rack-mount unit that supports as many as 40 users. It has 10 PoE ports to power phones directly. The 4U rack-mount i120, which supports as many as 120 users, comes with 40 PoE ports. Need to support additional phones on either gateway? Simply add a PoE switch, from either Avaya or a third-party.

Distributed Office
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Voice mail is stored locally on the gateway on a 1 Gigabyte (i40) or 2 Gigabyte (i120) compact flash drive. Voice mail can be sent to an FTP or SCP server to move it into your long-term storage system. If you have Avaya's centralized IMDO (Integrated Management for Distributed Office), server backups can be automated, scheduled and saved there via the network configuration manager application.

The i40 is appropriate for as few as five or 10 users at the branch, because pricing is based on seats, not on a flat hardware cost; the system starts at $350 per user, with volume discounts available. Distributed Office includes Avaya's One-X VoIP phones in the per-seat price. One-X phones include basic features, such as forwarding, conference calling and speed dial, as well as such niceties as auto-attendant, announcements and routing. The i40 and i120 also include fax ports.

If you want to bump your phones up a notch or two, this system supports the Avaya 9600 series, which can be branded with your logo, and the Avaya 4600 and 4610 phones. We also tested the wireless Avaya IP DECT devices, which are useful for employees roaming the sales floor or throughout the office. DECT shouldn't interfere with standard Wi-Fi. Avaya also supports any brand of analog phone, as well as various models of Cisco SIP phones. Additional models are being tested and added, so you should be able to find a handset to your liking.Avaya will ship the platform pre-configured to your specifications to make it easier to get up and running. For $100 per system (not per seat), Avaya will load a profile configuration, test it, and placing the unit and endpoints together in a single box. This can save a lot of time, especially if you're dealing with tens or hundreds of locations. It should also allow you a much faster cutover time, because all the of the primary configuration is done. The base price does include preconfiguration of media modules.

And if you prefer not to install the gateways yourself, Avaya Services will be happy to go on premises and do it (for a fee of course).

Can You Hear Me Now?

We tested two i40s and an i120 connected by the SES server, and an assortment of the IP phones. We used a workstation with the Avaya Integrated Management console to configure and manage the devices. Call quality was good in a variety of scenarios, including three-way calls, and calls to remote devices off the IP network through the PSTN.

As with any VoIP product, especially one intended for use over T-1 circuits, you need to enable QoS to ensure voice traffic gets sufficient priority. The branch site should have at least a partial T-1 to handle voice calls, but it can make outbound local calls through POTS lines, or you can route all calls back to a central location. The i40 and i120 support a multitude of PSTN options: analog and digital CO and DID, as well as ISDN PRI and BRI.The Avaya Integrated Management console is accessed via a Web interface. We could view the network by device type; subnet view; or a VoIP system view, which comes in handy when scrolling through a large number of sites. We could push software updates remotely to both phones and gateways in branches, all from a central location. Install the Integrated Management Console on a workstation at your branch to administer all phone functions.

We ran into only minor problems, including an i40 that reset itself, with no explanation to be found in the logs. It did not fail again after that. A One-X phone also reset during our testing, and wouldn't reconnect to the i40 until we physically pulled the PoE plug. Also, the screen on the One-X is very small compared with some of the Cisco 7900 series, which limits its functionality.

Kevin Miller is the IT Administrator for Advance/Newhouse Communications in Syracuse, NY. He has worked previously for the banking, internet services and telecom industries in network and system engineering support roles. He can be reached at [email protected]

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