The Path to UC Management Remains Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
There have been great advancements in UC management; it's just that we keep adding stuff to UC to further increase the management challenge.
The final day of the 2014 edition of Enterprise Connect kicked off with a panel on the topic of UC Management. Given that the show floor closes the night before, I'm never quite sure how well Thursday sessions will be attended, particularly for a topic like network management, which is viewed by many to be a necessary evil.
This year's session, though, was packed, which is kind of a good news/bad news thing. It's great to see this many people come out to the session, but it's a sign of how much of a struggle managing UC is after all these years. The fact is, despite great advancements in UC management tools, there is no holistic, single pane of glass that organizations can use for the end-to-end UC environment.
One of the questions I asked of the panelists was what's changed over the past year to close this management gap, and it does appear that we've made some progress in being able to better manage UC environments. Below are some of the reasons why.
• Emergence of UC analytics. Big data and analytics has been a hot theme for business leaders over the past few years as companies look to make better decisions based on the analysis of corporate data. The same trend has emerged with UC.
At the show, Unify was doing demos of Ansible in the booth, and one of the features of Ansible is a dashboard that shows usage data of specific users and UC applications. Businesses could map this data to productivity and understand what tools workers are using and how productive they are.
Additionally, one of the panelists on our Thursday session, Jim Ortbals, VP of Partner Sales from VOSS, discussed the UC analytics product that the company announced at the conference. The solution is designed specifically for large-scale UC migrations. The product not only collects data from different systems (including legacy), but also cleans it and normalizes it to make it useful for companies to plan out a migration strategy.
• Better self service tools. In the complex world of UC, it's nearly impossible for administrators to keep up with managing the system issues as well as the user issues. Another panelist, Unimax CEO Phil Moen, talked about the value of shifting to the user many of the day-to-day tasks, such as password and PIN resets, changing speed dial settings and find me/follow me settings, so administrators can focus on system issues. Ultimately this can't be the only change companies make to their administrative systems, but self-service should be part of every organization's UC management strategies.
• Improved "end to end" solutions. The term "end to end" is a bit fuzzy. Over the years, UC has continued to expand to include more applications and more of the network. Well, the good news is that this is an area in which the UC management vendors have kept up.
At the conference, UC management panelist, Integrated Research, was demonstrating their single-pane-of-glass management tool, which now includes Avaya SBCs. John Dunne, the company's GM of product and alliances, talked about the importance of periodic synthetic testing to ensure all of the components are operating as expected.
The other way of handling the end-to-end issue is to use a tool such as Netscout nGenius voice/video manager. This product uses flow and other network information to infer performance and find errors. Ray Krug, Technology Director at Netscout, talked about watching UC through the lens of the network, and how that can give a view across the UC system.
I called this blog "two steps forward and one step back" because despite the advancements in UC management, there are other factors coming that further complicate the environment. This would include:
• The rise of cloud UC. Co-moderator Eric Krapf asked the panel about the impact of cloud, and all the panelists chimed in about the increased complexity of hybrid environments. Cloud services can create huge blind spots, as what happens in the cloud is invisible to most management tools. Businesses looking at cloud services should make the management portal one of the most important components of service provider selection. You can't manage what you can't see, so make sure the cloud provider gives you the visibility you need.
• Transition to 802.11ac WiFi. This newest version of WiFi brings Gigabit speeds to the wireless network. This means more voice and video over WiFi for network managers to deal with. Many of the traditional UC management tools haven't had to account for the nuances of WiFi, which is one of the reasons I'm a fan of flow-based tools. They see all traffic, across all networks.
• Virtualization of UC. The shift to virtual servers and clients increases the flexibility and agility of UC. However, it also increases the management challenge, as UC components now become fluid and can be put in motion. Additionally, virtualization allows for UC infrastructure, like video MCUs, to be spun up "on demand". Again, this is great for performance, but keeping track of and managing all of these servers created "on the fly" will be challenging.
When we started the panel, I joked about how we run this panel every year and it seems like we're never closer to solving the UC management challenge. I said this a little tongue in cheek, as there indeed have been great advancements in UC management over the past few years; it's just that we keep adding stuff to UC to further increase the management challenge. Like I said, two steps forward, one step backwards.