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Matt Brunk
Matt Brunk has worked in past roles as director of IT for a multisite health care firm; president of Telecomworx,...
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Matt Brunk | February 12, 2016 |

 
   

Long Live TDM... Until It Crashes

Long Live TDM... Until It Crashes After so many decades of installing modern telephony systems, I can't understand why any enterprise would be willing to keep Big Iron systems in place.

After so many decades of installing modern telephony systems, I can't understand why any enterprise would be willing to keep Big Iron systems in place.

There's a New York kind of place that I love visiting, a well-known establishment with a national presence. On the one hand, the place is quite progressive -- embracing bold new looks and abandoning its roots. On the other hand, it clings to its 1980s-era telephone system. I just can't understand its apprehension about replacing this technology.

Whenever customers call this company's published numbers, they hit a snag. This is what I find amusing in a strange way, in that surely they're encountering a classic IT workaround. If you call the DID number when the company is open, you'll hear ring-back tone. Then, you'll go through five to six ring cycles before an automated attendant answers and provides caller menu options.

Since I frequent this company, I know its technology well -- I installed this same Big Iron beast at another place in Virginia Beach around 1983. With no receptionist or onsite operator, the ringing is a default meant for use when whoever is supposed to answer incoming calls is too busy .

I can venture to say the receptionist position at this company is long gone, and so is the operator console that came with this system. So instead of re-programming the system to change the ringing behavior, someone figured out that by leaving it in default callers would eventually land at the auto-attendant and then be able to get to where they want -- so long as they don't press 0 because then they'll end up in the same ring-cycle road to Hades and right back to auto-attendant.

I will now embellish as to why the company never re-programmed the system. Maybe the age of the gear has something to do with it, maybe there's a missing skillset, or maybe it's a situation of both. Whatever the reason, leaving customers on the hook for five to six ring cycles with the potential of snagging them in telephone Hades just isn't cool.

In the early 2000s when I replaced this same style PBX with a 3Com NBX VoIP system at a client, removing it required a forklift -- it was that big. The company praised our efforts, embracing the new technology -- a lightweight box mounted in a 19-inch rack and substantially less power hungry. Here in south Florida, electric rates are not inexpensive and the cost to run this particular PBX can be high, since each cabinet has redundant power supplies and inverters.

While I am very comfortable with TDM, it really is disconcerting that technology this old is still in use. I know the intellectual investment that goes into learning a product can lead down many trails. But after so many decades of installing new stuff I can't understand why any enterprise would be willing to keep this technology in place. It costs more to power than I think any other option. So let me be more emphatic, why would any enterprise maintain 34-year-old technology?

Are you still embracing TDM? Is Big Iron still in your closets, rooms with raised floors, and other nooks and crannies?

Those 3Com systems I installed... a few still live. What happens when they crash? Who does the company call? It may be me, but there's a problem... where do I get the parts that are reliable, and will I remember all the intricacies and tricks and uhhh, workarounds?

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