A council in Kent claims to be the first local authority in the country to go down the route of virtualised voice, as part of a move to virtualisation that could lead to savings of about 60 percent of cost.

Ashford Borough Council has adopted Virtual Mitel Communications Director (Virtual MCD), real-time voice application running on the VMware Sphere 4 platform. The council has installed the system to improve the reliability of its contact centre.

Rob Neil, the head of ICT & Customer Services, Ashford Borough Council said that the company was constantly looking to get value for money and improve performance at the same time, adding the new system had been designed to improve resiliency."Getting the old systems back up after a disaster would have taken perhaps five or six days. With VMware vSphere host image backups, we can bring the whole system, including all the intricate dependencies between components such as IVR, voice recognition, contact management, and others, back to full operation in about 20 minutes."

The local authority had been a VMware customer for about two, as part of the drive to keep IT costs low. But the move to Mitel wasn't planned. "Voice wasn't even on the table then as it was assumed that issues around supporting real-time apps would stop this happening," said Neil

The council addressed the problem of latency early on, as Neil needed to be satisfied that there were no latency issues that could impact on the network. He said that the system was tested thoroughly. "We ran a trial for a couple of months as voice is obviously mission critical and there is an expectation of reliable dialtone and voice without jitter or delay," said Neil.

He added that the council was looking to develop further applications within the VMware environment. "We're looking to move our entire estate to virtual infrastructure and from there facilitating effective DR with partner organisations and moving towards being able to offer our IT and voice services from the cloud, Neil said.

Ashford claims it is the first UK council to go down this route but with the impetus to keep public sector costs low, it's not expecting that it will be the last. "I've already been approached by a few interested councils for information. Virtualising voice is an obvious follow-on from virtualising your data and should deliver equivalent efficiency gains, lower OPEX and better data recovery provision," said Neil

Neil said that there was no particular advice for companies looking to go down the same path. "It's just the same as for any other deployment - plan carefully, test before go live. There really is no difference between a traditional VoIp deployment and a virtualised one in our experience, the virtual one is just quicker!" he said.