Insight by Ribbon

Migrating legacy Nortel PBXs to Microsoft Teams

This content is provided by Ribbon.

It has been a decade since Nortel Networks declared bankruptcy and sold its assets. One would think that in the fast-moving world of technology that Nortel PBXs (SL-100, CS2100 and CS1000) would be long gone but in fact, Nortel hardware and software are still running millions of communications endpoints in the Federal government including a substantial presence in the Department of Defense. The reasons are simple and impactful:

  • The cost to replace tens of thousands of business phones, at $200 to $500 each, can be millions of dollars.
  • Existing telecom wiring in buildings or bases is often decades old and incapable of supporting IP-based phones, adding thousands or millions more to replacement costs.
  • Many environments have thousands of analog devices that are impractical to support on most new IP-PBXs, based on the cost of the analog gateways required.
  • New solutions must meet government security requirements (JITC Certification and/or MLPP) as well as meet expectations for traditional call handling (such as shared line appearances).
  • IT staffing investments have focused on networking expertise, while legacy PBX expertise is challenging to find. Many IT teams have limited experience with these legacy platforms and the legacy adjuncts (paging, modems, fax, bells/alerts, etc.) and are often apprehensive about touching them.
  • Most of the replacement IP-PBXs from traditional vendors struggle to scale greater than 10,000 users without “gluing” systems together, which is expensive to deploy and manage.
  • The old Nortel solutions rarely fail, even after decades of non-stop use; they are often an organization’s most reliable piece of IT infrastructure.

All of these issues have made it safer and cheaper to do nothing. However, that strategy is quickly coming to a close. The government’s plan to migrate to IP-based trunks (VoIP phone lines,) the need to support remote work, the emphasis on mobility and collaboration requirements are creating serious pressure to abandon 1990s communication technology.  Not to mention the inherent risk of failure based on the age of the platforms and the challenges obtaining 30-year-old parts when the platforms need repair.

In 2019 and 2020 both civilian agencies and DoD commands began adopting modern communication collaboration tools, with Microsoft Teams leading the way as the collaboration tool of choice.  The current health crisis dramatically accelerated that adoption, creating millions of trained Teams users in just a few months. The next logical step for many agencies is to leverage Teams for phone calls and extend its use for audio/video conferencing.

The migration to Teams offers a tremendous opportunity to migrate away from legacy platforms.

  • Teams is cloud-based and can scale to match the size of legacy Nortel deployments.
  • Microsoft has invested heavily in a dedicated government cloud with stringent security requirements and best-in-class resiliency.
  • Teams reduces the need to replace desk phones as it uses soft clients and in turn reduces the need to re-wire buildings.
  • Teams offers a fantastic mobile client with a rich set of collaboration capabilities.

Of course, the full list of migration challenges is not addressed by solely by Teams but that is not a barrier to Teams migration. Ribbon Communications, who acquired the Nortel Carrier Voice business in 2010 and still supports the Nortel SL-100 and CS2100 deployments, has a solution that brings together the best of both worlds.

Ribbon can help agencies migrate off their Nortel platform, retaining the traditional elements required such as analog phones, traditional telecom features, legacy device interfaces and more. At the same time Ribbon can help extend an organization’s communication capabilities by integrating in Teams Calling.

The secret is Ribbon’s industry leading Session Border Controllers (SBC) and Application Server (AS).  In fact, the Ribbon AS traces its heritage to the Nortel carrier business, which means it was designed to integrate with Nortel solutions and it is built to be both reliable and secure. It’s no wonder that the most demanding VoIP environment in the Dept of Defense migrated to a JITC-certified Ribbon AS. Of course, both Ribbon’s AS and SBCs can run on modern, virtualized platforms so they can scale to hundreds of thousands of users.

Ribbon offers an additional advantage our competitors can’t easily match, more than a decade of partnership with Microsoft supporting OCS, Lync, Skype for Business and now Teams. The entire Ribbon SBC portfolio is Microsoft Teams Certified. That means our R&D staff and professional services staff have experts for both Microsoft Teams and Nortel migrations.

If your organization has been waiting for years to modernize its communications platform, there’s finally an answer that is both affordable and compelling. We’re more than happy to help you get started; more information about our JITC-certified Unified Communications and VoIP services can be found here.

This content is authored by Bill Grabner, Vice President, Federal Markets.