Textile giant calls on IP

Leading Pakistani textile manufacturer, Gul Ahmed, recently implemented a huge IP telephony system in a bid to re-invigorate its sagging communications.

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By  Simon Duddy Published  March 20, 2005

|~|syed-gul-ahmed_m.jpg|~|“In just a few months, this solution has already increased our productivity by 60%.” - Syed Iqbal Shehzad, IT manager at Gul Ahmed Textile Mills.|~|Leading Pakistani textile manufacturer, Gul Ahmed, recently implemented a huge IP telephony system in a bid to re-invigorate its sagging communications. The firm comprises one main processing building and 11 other units. This scattered layout places great emphasis on effective communications and the legacy system was unable to cope with demands placed up on it. Under the old time-division multiplexing (TDM) system, placing calls from one unit to another took as long as 15 minutes, while customers and suppliers often couldn’t reach the company because of busy signals. “Our sites are scattered, so the previous inefficient phone system was a nightmare,” says Syed Iqbal Shehzad, IT manager at Gul Ahmed Textile Mills. “We lost productivity, we lost messages and it was typical for users to be put in a queue before reaching the desired connection. There were limited PSTN numbers and the system could not cope with the number of internal calls, outgoing calls and calls from customers that we were generating,” he explains. The limitations of the PBX system were made more apparent in the face of new business challenges brought about by World Trade Organisation (WTO) reforms. The WTO abolished textile export quotas in January, exposing Gul Ahmed and Pakistan’s textile industry to increasingly fierce competition. The textile firm reports that the Cisco solution has already had a dramatic impact on its productivity in the four months since its implementation. “We are committed to leading the industry in the use of information and communications technology to further strengthen our operations and enhance our position as one of the best textile houses in the world. In just a few months, this solution has already increased our productivity by 60%,” says Shehzad. When it became apparent that its previous PBX system was inadequate, the textile heavyweight did not rush into a decision. Instead, it carried out an intensive seven-month return on investment (ROI) assessment of various technologies that could have been used to move forward. Shehzad evaluated a variety of solutions including TDM, IP-PBX and pure IP telephony offerings, carrying out research and canvassing advice from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and independent consultants. The firm concluded that IP telephony was the best bet for a number of reasons. First of all, Gul Ahmed decided that IP telephony offered lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and faster ROI. The company also valued that the Cisco system chosen supported a variety of applications as well as voice and was scalable. For example, if Gul Ahmed wants to build a contact centre, it can use the same infrastructure as the basis for this. The solution also offered a unified cabling system for whole corporation. With voice, data and video on same network, the company would not have to invest in multiple cabling systems. “We [the IT department] made a presentation to the board in which we emphasised how the deployment will lower the total cost of ownership (TCO),” says Shehzad. “For example, we stressed that the IP phones will be less expensive than traditional TDM phones,” he adds. The company directors had seen the IP phone technology being used at Dubai Internet City and were impressed with the features, such as being able to view schedules on the IP phones, and were convinced by the IT department’s plan. Gul Ahmed managers are also able to view supply chain-related information on the IP phones as the ERP system is integrated through XML. “We are broadcasting vital information such as production performance indicators to the directors’ phones on a real-time basis. Seeing information on the phone display is very much convenient for them,” explains Shehzad. Gul Ahmed bought a wide range of products from Cisco as part of the huge implementation. The company bought 400 Cisco IP phones of various models and uses a further 144 analogue phones through Cisco VG248 phone gateways. Furthermore, the textile firm has opted for 50 softphone licenses and on the call processing side bought two Call Manager 3.3 systems. This allows the company to provide full redundancy and protection from call interruptions. The firm has taken the further precautions of introducing separate VLANs for data and voice traffic so that any data congestion doesn’t delay time-sensitive voice calls. On the backbone, Gul Ahmed relies on seven media gateways, including two 3660 routers, two 2620 routers and three VG248 devices. The company has also looked to Cisco for its switching needs, deploying a Catalyst 4503 and a Catalyst 4006 at the core, plus 21 Catalyst 3550-PWR-XL switches and 14 Catalyst 3524-PWR-XL models at the edge. Quality of Service has been implemented on the switches to help ensure clear, uninterrupted telephone connections. Another challenge for Gul Ahmed is providing infrastructure links between the offices. Four of the buildings are less than three kilometers apart and so can be linked with fibre. The other eight sites are connected via Cisco Aironet point to point wireless, which has a range up to 6km. In terms of security, the firm has deployed three Cisco PIX firewalls and looks to a policy of stringent patch management as well as the use of access lists to protect from internet-borne threats. Shehzad has found the system easy to manage and has reported that while there are lots of different systems, once they were up and running they have not required much attention. The firm employs two network engineers to look after the whole installation. “We have one manager overseeing the whole system, whereas the legacy system required an operator for each phone. This has allowed us to save on labour costs,” says Shehzad.||**||

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