Learning to Love the Private Cloud for Higher Ed

Learning to Love the Private Cloud for Higher Ed

By Blair Pleasant February 1, 2016 Leave a Comment
Mitel-Logo and Unified Communications Strategies
Learning to Love the Private Cloud for Higher Ed by Blair Pleasant

This is part of a series of case studies showcasing how Mitel helps companies achieve their business communication objectives.

Walk on to any college campus today, and you’ll see students, staff, and faculty heads down looking at their mobile devices. Mobility rules, which requires new communication capabilities on campuses. As places of higher learning, universities and colleges have unique communication needs to ensure security and safety while facilitating collaboration for students and staff.

As one of the 23 California State University (CSU) campuses, CSU Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) is a highly diverse, metropolitan university primarily serving the South Bay area of Los Angeles County. Supporting almost 15,000 students, CSUDH offers 45 undergraduate majors, 24 master's degrees, and a number of certificate and credential programs on its state-of-the-art educational campus equipped with “Smart classrooms” using advanced technologies.

Experiencing dramatic growth since 2008, the university has seen applications increase from 9,729 in 2008, to 26,000 last year. Unfortunately, its aging phone system was not able to support the college’s rapid growth, leading CSUDH to upgrade its communication system to best support its students, staff, and faculty. According to Marci Payne, Division Fiscal and Project Management Officer and Interim Director of User and Access Services, Division of Information Technology, CSUDH, “Our PBX was about 15 years old and we realized that service and support would go away soon. In addition, the phones were very old and were becoming hard to replace.”

The Correct Answer – Mitel Private Cloud

After looking at a large number of solutions available on the market, Marci and her team realized that a Mitel Private Cloud would be the best solution for the university’s communication needs. Marci had previously worked in IT at CSU Fullerton (CSUF), where they had deployed a virtualized private cloud Mitel solution, and she realized that this would be the best option for CSUDH. CSU Dominguez Hills’ private cloud is a joint venture with CSU Fullerton and one satellite campus in Irvine, with one core in Dominguez Hills and one at Fullerton. With the Mitel private cloud in a data center on both campuses, the solution is completely redundant including georedundancy, ensuring business continuity.

A virtualized private cloud makes it easier to support the university’s telecommunications needs, while providing the scalability, redundancy, flexibility, and security required. “With a private cloud, we have control and security, and can deploy the service on multiple campuses. For example, our Session Boarder Controllers (SBC) are within our network and we can control what packets go out and get in, making it more secure.” In addition, a private cloud provides version control, which is important in cases where the university wanted time to prepare users for new features rather than rolling them out as soon as they became available.

As part of the joint venture with CSU Fullerton, CSUDH is a separate enterprise on the system that can be managed independently, so that each campus can do their own moves, adds, and changes. Prior to using the Mitel private cloud, in order to do MACs, CSUDH had to contract with a technician to come to campus and run the jumpers. “Now we can have a student deliver the phone and plug it in and have it come to life – the switches are already patched in the telecom closet, so we don’t have to pay a technician.”

Most of the phones moved to SIP, but there are still some analog phones and devices that need to be supported, such as the Blue Light security and elevator phones around campus. The university deployed 1,650 SIP phones for faculty and staff, as well as 250 classroom and courtesy phones, plus 72 analog devices and 3,000 DID numbers. While deploying the system at CSUF, the initial plan was to use soft clients rather than hard endpoints in as many cases as possible, but as Marci noted, “People are tethered to the endpoints on their desk, and we got kickback from a lot of people who didn’t want to use the soft client.”

Meeting the Needs of Faculty, Staff, and IT – From Security to Voicemail

When moving to a new system, the university needed to take into account the mobile needs of its faculty, staff, and students. Marci noted, “Moving to Mitel fit our vision of mobile first, as our users rely on their mobile devices. We want to give them the best possible end user experience so they don't have to be tethered to a desk phone and they can be as productive as if they were in the office when they’re mobile.”

Campus security is a top priority, and 911 is very important. As Marci explained, “It’s important for the police department to identify where a caller is located. With a private cloud service, we simply have to activate the switch ports in such a way that 911 gets the correct information for that location.” We’ve also trained the 911 dispatchers to confirm the location with the caller as they may actually be calling via their mobile device while away from their office.

The feature most appreciated by the faculty and staff is the ability to access voicemail messages from email, eliminating the need to pick up the phone to hear voicemail. In addition, conference calling is simplified, as users can now have up to 15 people on a conference call without having to prearrange it with a conference organizer to set up the bridge. Features like simultaneous or sequential ringing let faculty and staff hear their phone ring no matter where they are in the office, making them more responsive to callers. In addition, it’s easy to be connected to students without giving out personal information. For example, instead of giving their private mobile number to students, faculty and staff can have their mobile device appear as if it’s their office device and receive calls made to their office number on their mobile device. Similarly, when on sabbatical, faculty members can use Wi-Fi calling from any country and pay for a local call instead of an international call. When traveling overseas, faculty can make calls that appear like they’re in the office, without incurring long distance charges.

Results – What They Learned

The university found that by moving to a private cloud, the capital layout was less than purchasing and deploying a new premise-based system. According to Marci, “Cost was a no-brainer. With this private cloud solution, we only had to buy a couple of SBCs, phones, licenses, and a few analog gateways. With the private cloud, we need a bare minimum of equipment compared to a typical data center with a premise-based PBX.” The system scales much more easily, and when the university needs to add staff or faculty, they just buy a license, and in some cases a phone.

Another benefit is flexibility. The Telecom staff can manage things remotely, Marci noted, “As long as you can access the network switches and phone system via the Internet, you can add new users, make changes to a phone, and run quick fixes from anywhere.”

For the future, CSUDH notes that the Mitel vision of the mobile enterprise matches their vision. Mitel’s vision is a world where communications between business networks and mobile networks are seamless to the user. Mitel plans to create a mobile experience, which will enable native Wi-Fi calling, chatting, and other UC capabilities native to the mobile device without requiring users to download various apps. All full-time staff and faculty at CSUDH have iPad Minis, and Marci notes that she is looking forward to seeing how the faculty and staff can use Mitel technology for mobile calling with their iPad Minis.

In the near term, additional CSU campuses are planning to be added to the CSUF/CSUDH private cloud network. Similar to CSUDH, their systems are old and need to be replaced.

For universities and colleges with old technology, a private cloud that provides the required security and redundancy while meeting today’s mobile needs could help them graduate to the next level.

This paper is sponsored by Mitel.


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