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Information Technology Policy Advisory Committee
4-30-03 Update

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TO: Information Technology Policy Advisory Committee

FROM: Ashley Wood, Task Force Chair

SUBJECT: IFAS Future of Interactive Communication Task Force Committee Update

This memo is to provide you with an update on the work of the task force. Our charge was to answer a number of questions, involving a possible move to a new alternative interactive conferencing system. The task force is continuing to move forward with its investigation of the issues that will affect how these questions will be resolved.

Currently, there are issues concerning higher-speed connectivity at all IFAS research centers that are being resolved by IFAS Information Technologies, which will answer several questions for the task force. Next week, we expect to test H.323 equipment at Apopka and Gainesville using the upgraded connectivity between the two locations. With the support of IFAS Information Technologies, committee member Claude King received an advanced five-day training from the PolyCom Company last month in Orlando. The training provided Claude with a number of answers about H.323 connectivity, PolyCom equipment, and the possibilities of converting and upgrading the equipment in our distance education classrooms to H.323.

Members of the task force are fact-finding and moving forward in relation to the questions posed by the deans to the committee. At this time, we are working with IFAS Information Technologies, NERDC, and the UF/IFAS Distance Education Classroom and Network to investigate a number of possibilities for an upgrade to an H.323 conferencing system.

This is where we are so far with the following questions:

  1. What are the expected benefits of an IFAS-wide move to an alternative interactive conferencing system, including H.323 (PolyCom)?
  2. Video conferencing using H.323 technology will provide UF/IFAS with a number of benefits when high-speed connectivity is available. The primary benefits are cost and scheduling. With high-speed connectivity, preferably full T-l or Internet II, it is anticipated that the current quality and reliability of the connection we have with H.320 will continue. The Intranet provides H.323 connectivity, which means that scheduling with telephone companies and commercial bridges for videoconferences will no longer be necessary. We will no longer pay hourly bridging and connectivity fees that run about $60 per hour. (The actual cost for BellSouth bridging is $30 per month per site plus $16.80 per hour per site. The remainder of the $60 is billed for the 1/4 T-1 line charges.)

    Conferencing between and two H.323 systems in classrooms or offices can be made at any time. Classes, lectures, interviews, and training involving three or more conference systems will need some advanced planning and scheduling, all accomplished within UF/IFAS.

  3. What system-wide compatibility issues for IFAS, UF, and external communications partners must be addressed in a move to an alternative interactive conferencing system such as H.323 (PolyCom)? (Note: PolyCom is a company that provides videoconferencing equipment and should not be referenced with the H.323 standard)
  4. A number of universities and colleges are moving to H.323 conferencing with PolyCom systems, as well as other campus units. Support for the H.323 conferencing will be determined by the quality of the high-speed connection and the video-bridge (multi-point control unit or MCU) in place through NERDC/Office of Academic Technology. Although the current bridge/MCU appears to be adequate, as more H.323 conferencing with PolyCom systems come on-line, there may be a large demand for usage, which can cause quality and connectivity problems. The task force is attempting to determine what future issues with current equipment need to be addressed.

    The existing PictureTel/Codec units and other classroom equipment purchased during the past five years are being examined to see if there will be compatibility problems. Recently, PolyCom purchased the PictureTel Company. It appears that by adding a PolyCom multimedia platform (iPower 9000 Codec) to each of our sites, we will have full use of the existing cameras, podiums, control panels, and video projectors.

    After next week's platform demonstration, we should be able to see if this is the case.

  5. What costs would be incurred in an IFAS-wide upgrade?
  6. If we find that the PolyCom multimedia platform provides the expected compatibility, then each site could be upgraded at a cost of slightly less than $10,000 for each multimedia platform. If interoperability is required between the existing H.320 sites and the new H.323 site systems, a gateway card for the bridge/MCU site is required. The cost of the card is about $25,000 and will require the existing ISDN lines of each H.320 site to be moved to NERDC. The gateway card is necessary not only to cover the transition between H.320 and H.323, but also because many systems elsewhere, particularly in the business world, will continue to be H.320, and UF/IFAS will want to connect with them.

    Because PolyCom technology allows freedom to call any IP address from any other PolyCom site, we recommend view station controller software, which will restrict this feature when a scheduled class, lecture, interview, and training is underway. The software is about $4,000. If the current bridge/MCU cannot support the additional traffic from an expanded videoconference schedule, UF/IFAS may want to look into the purchase of bridge/MCU in several years, at a cost of about $75,000. If we upgrade Gainesville and nine sites at Apopka, Bradenton (Balm), Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Pierce, Homestead, Immokalee, Lake Alfred, Milton, and Quincy, purchase the MCU card, view station controller software, and a minimal maintenance contract, costs would be about $117,000. Once in place, there would be no additional hourly or bridge costs. Recurring monthly connectivity charges for dataflow at each center are currently funded through IFAS Information Technologies. Additional connectivity costs for videoconferencing have not yet been determined, nor has the funding for those costs.

    Total annual costs for the use of the current H.320 videoconferencing system is about $124,000, with funding primarily through the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and IFAS Communication Services (ICS). About $20,000 of this amount is billed by ICS on an as-needed basis. ICS pays an additional $16,000 for a maintenance agreement on the equipment.

    With the upgrade to H.323, it would appear that about $61,000 annually would be saved and no longer needed for the telephone lines and bridge time, which would then be available to help with the initial conversion costs. Network site upgrade costs for the new lines would average $4,000.00 per site. NERDC's one-time and reoccurring costs for handling these new lines currently are unknown. The additional funding provided through as-needed billing would need to come from another source.

    Following are the current charges for each of the sites listed, the total of all charges, projected new T-1 connection charges, and new totals for all sites.
    SITE Current ISDN Current DATA New T1 Net +/-
    Ft. Lauderdale $1000 $0. FIRN pays $1200 -$200
    Apopka $1000 $800 $700 +$1100
    Ft. Pierce $1000 $450 $700 +$750
    Milton $1000 $0 Milton College $1200 -$200
    Homestead $1000 $450 $1200 +$250
    Immokalee $1000 $0 FIRN $1200 -$200
    Lake Alfred $1000 $450 Site pays $700 +$750
    Quincy $1000 $1035 $1200 -$835
    Bradenton $1000 $475 $700 +$775
    TOTALS $9000/mo $3660 $8800 $3860/Save mo

    Note: One of the main issues we are facing now is the amount of degradation of other Internet services when videoconferencing is going on. Sites with hight Internet usage may need an additional T-1 line, which will add to the projected costs.

  7. What approach would the Task Force recommend for implementing such an upgrade?
  8. The best approach, once all testing and connectivity upgrades are made, would be an overall system upgrade of Gainesville and the nine research center sites to H.323. Additional sites could be added to the system in Jacksonville, St. Petersburg, Ft. Myers, Daytona Beach, and Palm Beach areas at about $20,000 per site, with recurring monthly high-speed connectivity costs.

    Using the current agreement with the College of Pharmacy's use of the Apopka Center for distance learning as a model, perhaps other University of Florida departments or community colleges could fund equipment purchases or high-speed connectivity costs.

  9. Based on your findings, please formulate a strategy for upgrading the IFAS interactive videoconferencing system.
  10. As you can see from the above information, the task force has yet to determine a final strategy for the future of interactive communication. Once we have observed and tested PolyCom equipment and H.323 high-speed connectivity and have discussed issues with NERDC, other campus units, and vendors, we will schedule a meeting with the IFAS deans to present our findings.

last edited 9 May 2003 by Steve Lasley