Cleaning up the messy
world of telecom"> Lincoln and Argus worked together to configure Argus WAN to carry the VOIP traffic. For Lincoln, this meant configuring voice and data VLANs (virtual LANs); voice QOS (quality of service) parameters; security; and, ultimately, post-installation testing, training, and support, OBrien said. Argus initial outlay in cost was all Cisco Systems equipmentswitches, routers, security products and Cisco 7960 IP phones (at $425 each). M5 provides for Argus a private, dedicated, and redundant voice and data infrastructure comprising a T-1 network backed up by DSL lines at all three U.S. locations. Employees plug their phones into the network connection, and then computers are plugged into the phone. The two devices share the same line, though their traffic rides on two separate VLANs, Hoffman said.Those phones all point to central servers at the M5 data center, the reservoir for Argus call management, voice mail, conferencing and call routing. M5s data center has two points outone goes to the phone networks of the world and the other to the Internet, Hoffman said.While data traffic is managed by Lincoln, M5 manages the voice traffic, which requires constant monitoringlooking for strange calls, security breaches and intrusion detection on any circuit. In addition, Hoffman said both Lincoln and M5 handle basic maintenance tasks such as adding new users or back-end system administration such as managing the telephone companys connection to the gateways. Everyone in the three U.S.-based offices is connected via M5s network and can call one another via a four-digit extension as if they were all physically in the same office. Lehn said he couldnt find a vendor that had a solution that could take into account the 15 employees in the London office. For now, that office has only two IP phones that connect over the Internet, not M5s network. Lehn said hes not concernedits not a critical need right now. What were once complicated communications to coordinate, such as conference calls, have become simple for Argus to initiate and conduct. With the M5 system, Lehn can begin a six-person conference call off his handset with no setup. Best of all, he said he can hear everyone. "[There were] things you didnt even think of before because it was just a limitation of how," Lehn said. "[Now] its just something you find that you use all the time." Probably the most commonly used feature in the Argus office is the "follow me" feature, which allows employees to telecommute, automatically rerouting calls to a home number, another office number or a cell phone. "I could be in the middle of a conference call, and I have to leave the office. I can transfer that call to my cell phone, and people on the conference call dont even know I did that," Lehn said. This follow-me feature also gives the research company business continuity and redundancy. "Any disaster affecting the Argus offices will be unnoticed by customers or people trying to call them," said OBrien. For example, during the recent New York transit strike, the New York office forwarded its main number to another office, and everyone worked from home, causing no disruption in office communications. "This is a huge benefit that most SMB companies dont have in place today or cant take advantage of through traditional phone systems," said OBrien. "Telecom is kind of a messy world. Theres a lot of pain and dissatisfaction out there," said M5s Hoffman. He said he aims to make the lives of the chief technology officer and chief financial officer easier by offering a hosted solution. "It is a great solution and entry point into VOIP services. In many cases, its completely bottom-line-driven. If the customer outgrows the solution due to size or advanced feature requirements, its investment in the handsets and internal infrastructure is completely protected," OBrien said. Hoffman said he hopes more SMB customers realize this about M5s VOIP solution. Hoffman said all he wants to hear from a client is: "This is so much better than the mess I was in before." "These guys just take care of it," he said. David Spark is a freelance writer in San Francisco. Contact him at email@example.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.