Citygate car dealership ditches legacy telephony for cloud

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Volkswagen car dealership Citygate decided to ditch its legacy infrastructure and move to the cloud, as it sought to expand to new sites at speed.

Citygate has 11 locations around west London, and wanted to make sure they were all connected, to exchange car photos, large files and more.

It also wanted to centralise some of its business functions like bookkeeping, administration and call centre activity.

However, as commercial director Peter Dickey explains, back in 2011 its telephony infrastructure was not fit for purpose, lacking the necessary bandwidth to support its ambitions.

Insufficient bandwidth

“We had a virtual private network [VPN] across the group which was carrying voice and data,” he says.

“With the growth in our business volumes, the growth in application and showrooms that relied on connection to various web portals, the growth in photography and moving images in and out of the business meant that [our] bandwidth was just hopeless.”

“You would end up with, typically, voice priority over data so you'd have applications locking up; just the whole thing was grinding to a halt.”

One possibility was to increase the bandwidth with the current vendor, but when the dealership weighed up the cost of doing that as opposed to replacing it entirely, it didn't make sense.

Dickey says: “It just wasn't worth doing anything with that old network. It was at the end of its economic life really.”

Instead, he decided that a cloud-based network would be the best way to go in terms of both flexibility and cost efficiencies.

Dickey decided to start by contacting other Volkswagen dealers to see if any had done such a project already. As it happens, he learned that one based in Derby had been through a similar transition.

That dealership recommended its own IT partner, Node4, to Dickey, but the commercial director still wanted to evaluate potential suppliers for himself.

His dealership also wanted to make use of the latest fibre technology available, as it was beginning to come down to a reasonable price.

Both Node4 and another vendor came in with similar quotes for the job, but it was Node4’s motor trade experience at the Derby dealership that swung it.

The implementation

The project kicked into gear at the start of 2011, with the plan drawn up and the design agreed.

The first priority was centralising Citygate's many telephony systems. Each dealership branch had its own phone switches, leading to lots of issues with maintenance, upkeep and programming.

Dickey says this made it very hard to deploy a centralised call centre.

“One strand of this stage was to move to a hosted telephony switch, hosted by Node4, based on a Cisco platform,” he explains. “This was a complete replacement and then moved to IP phones across the group.”

The next step was to put in place the physical network infrastructure to support the telephony, before replacing the existing infrastructure with a central hosted switch at Node4’s Northampton data centre.

This finally took place in September 2011, with the rollout taking three to four months as they moved from site to site.

Most of the implementation problems were down to civil engineering works carried out by BT Openreach and Virgin. The main issue here was getting fibre into buildings.

“For the lead time and cost, dependent on where and how close you are to a cabinet, you could be talking about anything from a few hundred pounds to nine or ten thousand pounds to run fibre into the building,” he says.

“There wasn't a fixed price per site for civil engineering sites. That was a bit of an eye-opener on a project like this, to be honest,” he adds. “How much that work costs is dependent on where you are physically located.”

Another issue came about when trying to connect with Volkswagen. “There were a lot of issues in terms of the network design and the configuration of the IP ranges,” Dickey admits.

While Volkswagen wanted the dealership and Node4 to work on a given range of IP 172.x.x.x addresses, the new network was set up with a 10.x.x.x IP range.

“We ended up with quite some issues in terms of translation,” he says.

Unfortunately, certain wall sockets only supported certain devices as a consequence of this IP translation issue.

“I think that was a complexity that was probably underestimated at the start of the project,” Dickey admits.

In order to rectify things, Citygate moved its branches to one standard IP range that fully integrates with the Volkswagen range.

Dickey adds: “That then solves the problems. In the buildings, I now get the complete flexibility I want in terms of being able to plug any device into any socket.”

Implementing the cloud-based management layer on top of the hosted telephony was easy in comparison.

“Node4 configured a phone system, we had our own project team that specified the locations, the users, what functionality they needed. This led to the deployment of two different types of handsets; a basic and a more functional handset,” says Dickey.

The dealership has also installed call management software at its call centre site to aid inbound and outbound customer contact.


With telephony systems having been replaced by the central hosted switch at Node4’s Northampton data centre, Citygate’s email server and all other critical equipment have also been relocated, streamlining IT management.

“We are really leveraging the fact that the systems and the switches are hosted, it's remote, it's easy to add users, change things, configure things and manage the call traffic how we want to manage it,” Dickey says.

“We get centralised billing off our switch, which is also very useful. The administration of that is quite easy, we get the call analysis that we need, which enables us to monitor our call volumes out to mobiles, landlines, all the other things that we need to manage our costs.”

He says the cloud-based system from Node4 has resulted in more usage than before, meaning the dealership has had to open up bandwidth at some sites to accommodate the higher volumes of traffic.

Since putting the infrastructure in, Citygate has added two new sites, but Dickey says it’s easy to get them up and running – it’s “almost plug and play”.

“The first job is to get the fibre cable into the site, get a switch on the site and just buy a number of Cisco IP phones,” he says. “You don't have to worry about another hundred grand's worth of investment in a telephone switch; we're just buying more licences on our existing system or switch.”

Due to the fact Node4 manages the infrastructure, the minute something falls over they tackle it immediately, he adds.

“The only outages that we really have with it have been due to network providers.”

Cost savings

While cost savings on the new cloud infrastructure are hard to measure due to increased call volumes, Dickey plans to renegotiate tariffs with his network provider due to an increasing number of mobile calls, which are more expensive than landline calls.

Next steps

The Cisco switches and routers were a big upfront investment, making Citygate keen to keep that infrastructure in place for the next two years.

That saves some money over the next 24 months until another refresh project on those routers can happen, says Dickey.

Citygate is now looking at rolling out a fully cloud-based solution for its email and business applications to further enhance its IT service delivery and flexibility.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.