Washington County, Pa., is rolling out VoIP to give employees digital capabilities and full phone-system redundancy, says IT Director Dan Briner.

Dial-Up Savings

Government organizations find that IP phones can cut energy use.

Government organizations find that IP phones can cut energy use.

Dan Briner becomes noticeably enthusiastic when discussing the use of Voice over IP telephony as a not-so-obvious green IT initiative.

Briner, director of information technology for Washington County, Pa., is converting the county’s PBX system to Cisco Unified Communications Manager (formerly Cisco CallManager) with Session Initiation Protocol to integrate voice and data services. Briner says his three call servers will improve the survivability of the phone system and reduce power consumption.

“We’re seeing a convergence of technology that really speaks to the heart of fewer devices doing more things in an integrated fashion with lower energy costs,” Briner says.

“Companies realize savings by consolidating the number of PBXes,” agrees Zeus Kerravala, a senior vice president at Yankee Group. “If your company is powering 56 individual PBXes and [reduces the number] down to three, there’s a huge cost and energy savings in the power reduction.”

But Kerravala adds that simply switching out traditional phones and replacing them with IP phones will not garner instant energy savings. “If you architect the network differently by taking advantage of the IP layer, you will see energy savings,’’ he says.

Telecom Transition

About 82 percent of organizations have VoIP deployed somewhere, while another 10 percent have VoIP deployed across the entire organization, according to the Yankee Group.

Other municipalities are also reaping energy benefits from VoIP technology. The city and county of Honolulu, for one, has rolled out 4,000 Cisco IP phones to date and plans to eventually replace a multitude of phone systems by the end of next year, says Gordon Bruce, director of the department of information technology.

“The savings appear obvious as we move from 14 different phone systems — one of which is a very large, 30-year-old analog switch that draws incredible power — to zero phone systems by the end of next calendar year,’’ Bruce says. “I cannot help but believe the electrical savings will be significant.”

The city of Raleigh, N.C., recently completed the rollout of 700 VoIP phones from Cisco for its new convention center and main administrative building, with another 1,000 phones to be deployed in a few months, says CIO Gail Roper.

The city has set up two conference rooms with videoconferencing equipment for conducting remote, collaborative meetings. The rooms also have VoIP phones and cameras mounted so employees no longer have to travel around the city, saving time as well as gasoline, Roper says.

Washington County has some 500 Cisco IP phones, and Briner particularly likes their power-saving features. “At 5 p.m., the display on the phone goes black and it shuts itself down like a PC going to sleep,” he says. When a user picks up the headset, the phone immediately turns back on. “If a phone call comes in, it goes to the automated attendant and ends up in my e-mail as a voice mail. So the phone is very efficient in terms of energy usage.”

What’s more, the corporate phone book is now accessible through the IP phones, so the county is getting ready to phase out its paper directory. All the IP phones have an internal database; an employee merely has to push a button and the phone places the call.

Remote management of IP phones also helps save energy. “Now we can centrally administer the phone, so we don’t have to go to the phone’s location to take care of it,’’ says Briner.

With IP, says Kerravala, servers and other resources don’t have to be local; the network figures out where everything is.

“That’s the magic of IP — it makes things simpler.”

Jan 15 2009