How This Billion Dollar Mall Operator Virtualized its Unified Communications System

Forest City Enterprises is a massive real estate management firm based in Cleveland, Ohio. With nearly $11 billion in property under management, Forest City’s best-known properties include the Westfield San Francisco Centre mall in downtown San Francisco and the Atlantic Yards mixed-use redevelopment project, which includes the new Barclays Center basketball arena where the Brooklyn Nets, play.
 
Forest City reaps more than $1 billion in revenue a year and employs more than 2,500 people nationwide. Despite its size, the company’s workers were largely content with its old phone system – a stable first-generation VoIP-based system for internal calls and PRI and T1 connections for outside ones, says Bradley J. Coyne, telecom specialist for Forest City, who candidly shared his experience in a talk at the International Avaya Users Group’s Converge 2013 conference in Orlando this week.
The bread-and-butter system was 7 years old. While it was not loaded with features, it boasted Five 9s (99.999%) reliability, says Coyne – the most important factor in an old-school business like real estate. “If the telephones are down, we are closed for business,” he said. 
Nevertheless, Forest City was looking to upgrade its communications system and add SIP underneath in order to gain full Unified Communications capabilities, as well as consolidate its networks. The organization was already two months into the upgrade to the latest version of Avaya Aura when its system integrator, NACR, approached them with an enticing proposal: besides upgrading to Avaya Aura, why not also virtualize Aura, in order to gain efficiencies, better uptime and disaster recovery, and scalability?
 
Despite being potentially NACR’s first customer running Aura on VMware, Coyne and his compatriots in IT were enthusiastic. Forest City was no stranger to VMware. Over the past 5 years, Forest City had virtualized 80% of its servers using VMware – virtually all (pun intended) of its non-communication servers. That had allowed Forest City to boost the number of applications it ran (it now had 500 virtual machines) while slashing the number of physical servers it maintained from 150 to 50.
Slide4.JPG
Slides courtesy of Bradley J. Coyne of Forest City Enterprises.

Convincing Forest City’s top brass took some effort, mostly because of worries that this last-minute change would delay the new Aura rollout, says Coyne. But he and his team were able to show that rolling out Aura on VMware would be worth any delays.
More difficult, ironically, was for Coyne and his communications team to build relationships with the server infrastructure team it never had had close dealings with – and upon whom they would suddenly have to rely heavily. Post virtualization, they would have the power to wipe out servers controlling phone routing and user data information for thousands of employees with the incorrect push of a button. Not only were processes created to prevent that scenario from happening, but new relationships and a spirit of teamwork between formerly siloed departments within IT were created as a result of this upgrade, says Coyne.
 
Slide6.JPG
Through diligent work, NACR and Forest City were able to get several weeks ahead of the original schedule. But the switchover to the new virtualized communications systems did have some scary moments due, ironically, to miscommunication. 
During the weekend cutover of the main phone system, Forest City realized that it had told NACR’s engineers that it had already signed up a SIP carrier. In fact, its phones were still using the H.323 protocol. Moving forward could’ve resulted in the erasure of the routing data and phone numbers of thousands of deskphones. 
For a moment, Coyne thought, “Uh oh, we might not have jobs next Monday.”
Fortunately, Forest City and NACR were able to roll back to backups of the old phone servers before continuing on its upgrade. “We dodged a huge bullet,” he said. When Monday morning rolled around, no employees called to complain. Only the employees’ phones’ call logs were missing. “It was such a smooth cutover that users couldn’t tell that their entire phone system had changed. When they asked what we’d done, we’d reply, ‘Oh, nothing big.'”
Similarly, the changeover of the voice mail system to the new Avaya Aura Messaging also resulted in minimal complaints from users, who only noted that the touch tones sounded different.
From 22 physical communications servers, Forest City now runs 43 virtual and physical server instances. Besides running far more than twice the number of applications than before, these servers are more secure, easier to recover and move around in case of server failure or disaster, and easier to manage. For instance, firmware updates to the virtual servers take just 5 minutes, versus 28-30 minutes as before.
These will all combine to save Forest City’s IT big-time, predicts Coyne, especially when the company completes its SIP trunk upgrades.
With Avaya Aura 6.2, Forest City’s many traveling workers will also begin to be able to use softphones and communication apps such as Avaya Flare Communicator and one-X Communicator on their laptops and mobile devices. Coyne isn’t rushing with those upgrades, though, as he wants to make them as painless as possible for the workers. He plans to use SAP Afaria to roll out the apps to mobile devices.
While Forest City uses LifeSize for video conferencing today, it is looking into replacing that with Avaya Scopia and Aura Web video conferencing, says Coyne. He and his team are also working on turning on other Aura features such as faxing over IP.
“Every week we install another application or turn on another feature, all without impacting our users,” Coyne said. “We’re getting gold stars in IT from the business units, which is really gratifying.”

Related Articles:

Avaya CS1000 Customers—We’ve Got Your Backs!

We live in the age of “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts.” Depending on where you live and where you stand on various issues, the daily coverage of events can range from annoying to farcical to deeply troubling. Not to be left out, one of our competitors recently published a blog that by any standard meets the “Fake News” criteria. The headline screams “Avaya End of Support for CS1000” and then (surprise, surprise) suggests the path to glory is to move to their solutions. It really is FUD at its best!

Get the Facts about Avaya CS1000

The Avaya Communication Server 1000 remains a fully supported and saleable product. We have been crystal clear with our customers and partners that Release 7.6 is the final feature release and only Service Packs will continue to be issued. As promised, Avaya continues with Service Packs and has done so on a regular basis over the past several years.

We continue to work with our material suppliers, customers and partners to determine the right date for the end of sale and, once the decision has been made, we will make a formal announcement of the EoS date in accordance with our normal polices. Once an EoS date is announced, per our standard Avaya support policies, we will provide support out to at least 2024. Specifically:

  • End of Sale would be followed by one year of Manufacturer Support for software (three years for hardware)
  • That in turn would be followed by five years of Extended Services Support for software (three for hardware)

So we will provide support for a full six years following an End of Sale announcement—which is why I say we will provide support to at least 2024. Note that this is the earliest possible date for the end of support.

Beyond supporting specific dates, Avaya has a number of programs and policies (like the Avaya Software Investment Protection Policy) that provide investment protection for CS1000 customers as they migrate to the Avaya Aura® platform or the Avaya IP Office™ platform. Avaya plans to expand these offers with additional announcements over the next few quarters—details will be widely communicated to our customers.

Feeling better? You should be. Avaya values our CS1000 customer—and all of our customers. It is our intention to remain your trusted partner and supplier of innovative communications and collaboration solutions for many years to come. A big part of that is our drive to provide a path forward for every customer. If you’d like to learn more, please contact your Avaya or partner representative and start a conversation about where Avaya’s latest solutions can take your business.

Avaya. Strong Now. Stronger in the Future.

A Look at the Radical New Desk Phone You Never Knew You Needed

Back in 2009, Gartner boldly stated that enterprise mobile phones would replace desk phones in the U.S. by 2011. Today, six years later, we can see that this statement never became reality. If you ask us, it never will.

It’s true that mobility has transformed communications. Nearly 80% of Americans now own a smartphone. Over 340 million minutes are spent each day using video calling apps like WhatsApp. Every minute, over 340,000 new apps are downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Mobile capabilities like texting, video, and collaboration apps may have changed the game, but they haven’t killed the desk phone. In fact, 65% of workers still prefer using desk phones. This even includes millennials, who rank the desk phone as one of their top communication technologies. For many of these younger workers, the device represents stability in a dynamic, fast-paced environment.

If anything, the rise of mobility has ushered the desk phone into a new, digital era of seemingly limitless possibilities. One that combines the flexibility of mobile with the reliability of a traditional desk phone. That’s exactly why we at Avaya are so excited about our new multi-touch, customizable desktop device, the Avaya Vantage™ Device.

The Fundamentals

Avaya Vantage is available in two models—one with an integrated camera and one without, for privacy—that each offer a variety of essential functions:

  • 8-inch, portrait-oriented, 800×1280 color display with capacitive touch
  • All-glass screen (no mechanical buttons)
  • Enterprise grade security and audio excellence
  • Compatibility with both cordless Bluetooth handsets and corded handsets
  • Message Waiting Lamp for message notification and visual call alerting
  • Hinged stand for smooth, multi-angle positioning
  • Power over Ethernet Class 3 (802.3af)
  • Single Port RJ45 Ethernet Connector
  • Integrated Wi-Fi (can be deployed over the Wi-Fi network)
  • Optional power adapter when deployed over Wi-Fi or when PoE data networking switch is not available

Fusion of Mobile Simplicity

Avaya Vantage is ideal for a collaborative, on-demand work environment. The device is inherently designed to deliver next-gen security, ease-of-use, and seamless integration—three major challenges of mobile reported by businesses across virtually every sector. Consider utilities, where 79% of executives believe they are exposed to more risks than they can effectively handle. Or, consider how data integration challenges are costing healthcare organizations billions.

It’s clear that a better communications solution is needed. Avaya Vantage works to bridge these gaps with a simple yet sleek appearance, seamless yet secure multimedia collaboration, and flexible application integration, supported by Android Marshmallow OS. The device preserves those desk phone features that users have come to know and love, while enabling integrated business workflows that support custom user experiences. That means no unnatural breaks in business processes, no need to own multiple devices to engage, and no costs associated with BYOD or system migrations.

SDK for Communication-enabled, Contextual Experiences

Avaya Vantage is an application platform that can be customized to meet the needs of the business. Think of it as a single pane of glass into the Enterprise. Avaya Vantage comes with out-of-box support for the Avaya Equinox™ Experience and the Avaya Breeze™ Client SDK. Customers can use ready-made applications from Avaya, install existing apps from the Google Play™ store, or embed custom communication features into workflows to meet their exact user and vertical needs. Executives can rest assured with administrator control over which applications can be installed, and all users can enjoy the convenience of single-step login for both the device and all communication applications.

Consider how Avaya Vantage can be strategically used across several industries. In hospitality, for example, the device can be leveraged to offer customers in-room help or recommendations, with the option to initiate and/or escalate to chat, video and voice. In healthcare, an application can be integrated with a hospital’s database to show a real-time view of patient and doctor schedule information.

The Bottom Line

The desk phone isn’t extinct—it’s evolving. Engineered for acoustic excellence, enterprise deployment and security, Avaya Vantage offers mobile simplicity with the necessary enterprise software tools to enable personalized, vertical-specific user experiences. The future of the communications experience is now, and Avaya Vantage is at the heart of it.

Avaya Aura® Platform—The Original Pragmatic Hybrid Cloud

In a recent InfoWorld post David Linthicum wrote of “an organic movement driven by rank-and-file enterprise IT people who simply want to solve their issues using the best technology and approach.” Linthicum called this the “pragmatic hybrid cloud.” Reading this from the perspective of someone with decades of experience in the enterprise communications market, my immediate reactions was, “Aha, he’s talking about the Avaya Aura® Platform.” He isn’t, but here I’ll explain why this thought struck me.

Linthicum writes, “What this movement has discovered is that you can combine the public cloud and modernize some of your legacy systems to be more cloudlike.” That is exactly what Avaya customers have been achieving in an evolutionary process spanning almost two decades. Long before the term cloud came into vogue, Avaya customers have been able to gain the benefits of the cloud paradigm while avoiding the need to comprehensively lift workloads to a public cloud provider and the need to wholesale forklift and abandon existing investments.

Today, many Avaya customers—including a large swath of the globe’s most notable organizations in industries ranging from financial services, to healthcare, to government, and many small and medium businesses—process their mission-critical workloads using a combination of premise-based solutions and both public and private cloud-served applications. It is a “pragmatic hybrid” approach that since the mid-2000s has provided these Avaya customers with unparalleled reliability, cost savings, and business agility.

The Avaya Aura Platform is the reason why. Avaya Aura had its genesis in a time tested methodology for allowing geographically distributed organizations to link islands of resources to gain economies of scale. Back in the day, to create either a contact center that followed the sun or a single enterprise communications solution that served the needs of a worldwide workface, expensive dedicated circuits were required. As IP Telephony evolved, companies began to use packet-switched technologies to more cost-effectively link together distant resources into single holistic systems. Rather than centralized in isolated locations, communications applications could now be seamlessly and cost-effectively shared across distances. This made new ways to organize communication assets and the work that depended upon those resources possible.

Avaya’s great insight was to take advantage of the session initiation protocol (SIP). Over time Avaya’s customers have “pragmatically” converted the networking connections of their existing standalone investments to create fabrics of SIP internetworked appliances. The Avaya Aura® Session Manager lets companies treat their owned assets as part of a private cloud and combine those resources with public cloud capabilities both from Avaya and from a growing ecosystem of additional providers. It is a strategy that has resulted in significant cost savings while unleashing new innovation.

Today the Avaya Aura Platform has moved far beyond simply a “pragmatic hybrid” for sharing resources. It has become a strategic tool for many organizations. It gives companies a flexibility and agility to adapt and reconfigure at the speed of business. Avaya Aura has also opened the doors to both internal Avaya inventions and new external development.

Avaya Breeze™ Platform is but the latest application development platform that takes advantage of Avaya Aura. Avaya, Avaya’s customers, and an industry of third-party companies are leveraging Breeze with their own creativity for solving business problems. Breeze allows the creation of unique ways to leverage the inherent capabilities of Avaya products in combination with cloud and third-party capabilities. Whether those assets reside in a private data center, on premises-based servers, or in public clouds, because of the Avaya Aura Platform, the only barriers to progress are the limits of human ingenuity.

Linthicum concluded that, the “pragmatic approach is very sensible. It makes the most of what you have, reducing the need for new resources and letting you transition to the cloud at a pace you can handle, both in terms of cost and time.” Your Path, Your Pace, Your Choice, where have I heard that before? Avaya circa 2004 maybe? Nice to see the industry finally following Avaya’s lead.