Still it's not easy to make the leap away from communications platforms by solid vendors like Avaya, Cisco, ShoreTel, Siemens that have products and migration plans in place for customers to transition from traditional voice to unified communications that blends in video, chat, e-mail, conferencing and collaboration.
McCrea says his major concern was whether Asterisk could scale large enough to meet Michigan CAT's needs, so he initially bypassed it and spent six months evaluating IP phone systems from Avaya (the company's incumbent PBX vendor), Cisco, ShoreTel and Siemens.
Cost estimates came in at $300,000 to $400,000, and in January of this year McCrea's CEO Jerrold M. Jung pushed him to take another look at Asterisk. The company was already developing an ERP system based on open-source components, and he thought an open-source IP PBX might prove to be a good fit, McCrae says.
Talking to other Asterisk users convinced him Asterisk would scale, so he had to decide whether to hire a third party to deploy the system or hire someone to shepherd it through and stay on to expand its capabilities over time. He decided on the latter because he wanted ongoing support and development. He hired John Laffey in April.
Laffey says his first task was to familiarize himself with the Avaya system and how it was used at the seven Michigan CAT sites. He spent a couple of months learning that and the interoperability between the Avaya system and Asterisk so he could plan the cutover, and set up project management tools to help break down the transition into tasks.
He also worked with the firm's network manager to identify infrastructure needs to support VoIP as the old TDM phone system was shut down. That required upgrading to power-over-Ethernet switches to run the Polycom phones the company bought to support Asterisk as well as an IOS upgrade to Cisco routers to support a voice virtual LAN and quality of service.
He also laid in HP ProLiant servers provisioned to support Asterisk, as well as PRI and FSX cards to connect to phones and the old PBXs.