Critical in The News
Critical Links’ edgeBOX Turns A Paper-Based Law Firm Into The Modern Age Of VoIP & Content Management.
It was a random email—a mass mailing from an IT news publication—that prompted Teahan & Constantino, a New York law firm, to finally ditch its old analog phones and make the jump to VoIP. It was also the catalyst for a whole series of upgrades to the firm’s aging email, storage, content management, and even calendaring systems.
The email, which was a teaser for an article on the benefits of VoIP and unified communications, landed in the inbox of Joe Vavpetic, IT advisor for Teahan & Constantino. At that time—April 2008—Vavpetic was in the market for a new phone system for the company’s Poughkeepsie, N.Y., office, which still had a 25-year-old key-based phone system. The company’s three other branches in New York all used different analog phone systems.
“The old system was from 1980, and it was falling apart. The very day I was about to buy a [different] system, I saw an email talking about all-in-one communications services,” says Vavpetic.
Realizing that unified communications could solve more than just the company’s phone problems, he halted plans to purchase the other phones and began researching unified communications hardware and software.
“We had problems with the phones, but we also had other problems. We had no true LAN, so if someone shut off his PC, no one could print to the printer attached to it. We had a growing need for wireless. We had hosted email, which was causing problems, so that people began getting email accounts on Yahoo! and EarthLink, which meant no central backup for corporate email. And we were looking at VPN solutions because our lawyers move around a lot. They go from office to office, go on vacation, travel for business, and often need to work and access files,” says Vavpetic.
With all of those needs in mind, he looked at products from three vendors, including Critical Links’ edgeBOX Business Gateway (www.critical-links.com). His reseller advised him to buy the Critical Links product if he wanted to be able to do a lot of detailed configuring and tweaking of the system, as the edgeBOX allows IT administrators more freedom with the settings. Vavpetic opted to take his advice and chose Critical Links edgeBOX, an all-in-one unified communications gateway server for voice, data, networking, file storage, and security services.
Setting Up VoIP
His first edgeBOX arrived in July 2008, and Vavpetic’s first big challenge turned out not to be configuring the device but, rather, haggling with the phone company. Due to a freak hardware problem, the Poughkeepsie branch simply couldn’t get enough bandwidth to handle all of the IP traffic.
“Our Poughkeepsie office is, as it turns out, at the end of a line, and the limitations on the bandwidth were unbelievable. It was a nightmare trying to get them to set things up and then bridge the traffic to edgeBOX so it wasn’t going through their router. So just getting my Internet connection set up was the biggest hassle.”
After deciding that he was never going to get enough bandwidth to allow the Poughkeepsie office to be the central router for the edgeBOX intra-office voice traffic, he purchased a second box for the Millbrook, N.Y., office. The second edgeBOX serves as both a backup unit and—with the addition of a bridge between it and Poughkeepsie—the central routing hub for incoming and outgoing VoIP calls to the company.
After about 90 days, both of the edgeBOX units were up and running the core voice, networking, and file access services. But before he took the new system live throughout the whole company, Vavpetic first spent a few days testing the configuration and experimenting with different settings in order to achieve optimal voice quality and to ensure everything was working well.
During the course of this testing phase, Vavpetic discovered one potential problem: The edgeBOX had a limitation on how much storage space it could support. The first box he bought had an 80GB drive, which filled up fast. So he upgraded to a 300GB drive, with the option of adding an external drive, as well, if that space proved inadequate.
Today, all four locations use VoIP via edgeBOX for their phone calls, and Vavpetic says the advent of unified communications and VoIP is making a huge difference in the firm.
One big benefit is that voice messages and email can be sent and stored together, making it much easier and faster for lawyers to check messages. Attorneys can now also access messages and documents from any branch office or from their laptops, allowing them to work anywhere they want and also to respond immediately to a client emergency without having to get to the office. Even incoming calls follow the employee; each phone number carries a MAC IP address, so it is not identified by a physical jack and can be forwarded to wherever the attorney happens to be working.
“It’s very easy to manage the phone system now, to create a new extension, or move it around, or add a phone, because it’s all IP-based. If you have an Internet connection at home, it’s just like being in the office,” Vavpetic notes, adding that long-distance bills are down considerably because most calls are now conducted via VoIP.
The employees can use either IP phones or software-based phones on their PCs. Vavpetic purchased several IP-based office phones from listings on craigslist.org and eBay for use in the office; however, an employee can also use a software phone right on her PC or laptop. Although he wanted to get rid of the old phone system, Vavpetic notes that others who would prefer to keep their analog phones could purchase an analog telephony adapter card to convert the analog traffic into digital and back, enabling them to use edgeBOX with analog phones.
The edgeBOX includes a VoIP Gateway to route calls between PSTN and IP networks, which also acts as an IP PBX, as well as security features such as VPN software for connecting with remote clients, authorization and authentication, firewall management, and antivirus protection.
The End Of The Paper Chase
Besides the advantages of IP telephony, the edgeBOX has also given Teahan & Constantino’s employees the ability to centralize documents in one easily accessible spot. Contracts and files are no longer stored ad hoc on local PC and laptop hard drives but on the central edgeBOX server. That means that documents can be located quickly and can be accessed from another branch office or remotely via laptop. The files can also be locked down so that only authorized users can download or open them.
“I create folders on edgeBOX and set granular permissions,” Vavpetic explains. “There’s a whole system of permissions and grouping, so I can set access for partners only, or for everyone, and I can also set limits on storage space.”
The next step will be to add content management to the system sometime this year. Much of the work that Vavpetic has done during the past seven or eight months has involved cleaning up and clearing out file directories and old software programs and encouraging employees to make use of the centralized software now available via edgeBOX. But now that he has people using the system for communication and file storage, Vavpetic plans to soon roll out the content management module, which is an add-on to edgeBOX. That will help the staff with managing projects, synchronizing calendars, and creating a central client list.
Vavpetic’s ultimate goal for the company is to go virtually paperless—admittedly a stretch for a small legal firm that only a year ago had no content management or even a central server for document storage. But Vavpetic thinks the staff is comfortable enough with the edgeBOX applications to make more use of e-documents.
By Sue Hildreth
Critical Links edgeBOX Business Gateway
Multifunction communications gateway that consolidates data, voice, and IT services for small to midsized enterprises, including data networking, voice, security, file and print sharing, backup, email, and QoS management features.
“It’s very easy to manage the phone system now, to create a new extension or move it around or add a phone, because it’s all IP-based. If you have an Internet connection at home, it’s just like being in the office,” notes Joe Vavpetic, IT advisor for law firm Teahan & Constantino.
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