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ComputerWorld Malaysia: Malaysia key to Shell’s VoIP rollout

By Phil Hochmuth

Malaysia will be home to a new Royal Dutch Shell IP (internet protocol) telephony facility under the oil giant’s plans to consolidate all call control, collaboration and messaging functions into three data centres worldwide.

Including Shell’s two centres in the US and the Netherlands, the three facilities will eventually handle all VoIP (voice over internet protocol) call control for more than 40,000 IP hard phones from Nortel and soft phones (personal computer-based VoIP software) based on Microsoft Office Communicator.

“Ultimately, we don’t see the need for separate IP telephony” and Microsoft messaging platforms, said Johan Krebbers, group IT (information technology) architect at Shell, during a presentation at VoiceCon, a business IP telephony forum which took place in March in the US. “That is our vision, but it depends on whether Microsoft delivers.”

This year Shell plans to begin testing Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007, Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007, and rolling the platforms into production by early next year. Shell now has Nortel’s Communication Server 1000 IP PBX (private branch exchange) running in its data centres, which host around 1,000 IP phones worldwide.

When the Microsoft infrastructure is in place, Shell will start to switch over large numbers of employees to Office Communicator soft phone clients hosted by the OCS platforms, as well as Nortel IP hard phones, managed by CS1000 IP PBXs.
What Microsoft must deliver on is its forthcoming OCS—a session initiation protocol (SIP)-based, real-time communication server, which can act as an IP PBX, among other roles. Shell’s multi-year plan involves a gradual migration of hundreds of disparate PBX systems in more than 110 countries to a centralised VoIP, messaging and collaboration infrastructure based on Microsoft servers, and Nortel IP PBX and gateway technology.

The oil giant’s core VoIP network will shift eventually to Microsoft OCS, with Nortel IP telephony technology serving as a bridge between legacy telephony and VoIP.
“We will not have a separate Nortel IP PBX infrastructure,” if the OCS servers prove to be stable enough, and offer the right amount of features, Krebbers said.

OCS 2007, due to ship this year, is the successor to Microsoft’s current Live Communication Server (LCS)—a real-time communications product for instant messaging, audio and video conferencing, as well as IP PBX-like call control. (Most IP PBX vendors—including Avaya, Cisco Systems, Mitel, Nortel and others—have products that interoperate with LCS).

With the forthcoming voice mail features that will be included in Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, Krebbers said OCS 2007 and Exchange will serve as the core VoIP and messaging platforms for the company. Nortel will still have a role in Shell’s network for specialty applications such as call centres. Nortel’s VoIP gateway equipment also will be used in the data centres, to connect to the public switched telephone network, as well as in branch offices, for backup phone connectivity.

Centralisation goals

A big reason behind Shell’s VoIP plans is the desire to simplify the company’s worldwide voice infrastructure.

“We have many different PBXs out there,” Krebbers said. “There is no centralised management for these systems. Sometimes we cannot purchase certain types of equipment in certain countries or regions.” Delivering equipment to some of the remote parts of the world where Shell operates also is a burden.

A centralised VoIP system will take the telephony purchasing decisions out of the hands of local Shell offices and subsidiaries.

“Five years ago, an office could have said we’re not using Nortel or Alcatel or Siemens,” Krebbers said. “That option is gone; it needs to be that way because a global company cannot afford to have a global infrastructure that is not the same.”
Microsoft video conferencing, IM (instant messaging), voice mail and IP telephony will enable its high-value employees—such as scientists, petroleum exploration experts and executives—to collaborate more easily and efficiently.

“Our whole desire is to bring work to people not people to work,” Krebbers said. “We can’t afford anymore to bring experts around the world to the work.”

The mixed Microsoft/Nortel network will use Shell’s Microsoft Active Directory infrastructure as the base for its global dialling plan. IP soft phone and hard phone users will appear as extensions on one large system, Krebbers said.

“Depending on the success of that, the next phase is that all phones will be managed out of an OCS environment,” he said. With the dialling plan based on active directory, SIP-based Nortel phones would be redirected to OCS servers and the Nortel IP PBXs would be removed.

Regarding the reliability—or perceived unreliability—of a Microsoft-based VoIP network, Krebbers said this was not a factor in Shell’s decision making.

The reliability of Microsoft’s server platforms will be critical, he said. “But it’s already critical for us today.” He added that many people at Shell already perceive Microsoft-based IM and email as critical, can’t-fail applications.

The back story

In late 2005, Shell put out requests for proposals to several VoIP vendors, outlining its requirements and vision. Early last year, Shell set up an intensive, week-long evaluation of five IP telephony suppliers before choosing the Nortel/Microsoft platform. Two key requirements for Shell’s VoIP system were strong support for Microsoft Active Directory, and interoperability with LCS (Microsoft’s platform at the time of the evaluation).

Krebbers also wanted to avoid creating a massive, duplicate user directory for employees on the new phone system. So Nortel was chosen, due to the strong partnership it has with Microsoft on IP telephony.

“We had to get some kind of IPT solution for now,” he said. “We will continue with the [Nortel IP PBXs] several years until Microsoft gets its act together.”

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