UC Management: Moving Toward One Pane, No Pain
From adding rich sets of configuration templates to building process wizards, UC management vendors are working to address their tool shortcomings.
The promises of UC management platforms are lower operating costs and reduced complexity through a single pane of glass -- a theme we hear over and over again when it comes to managing almost any part of the IT ecosystem. However, I've heard from many enterprise IT managers who say the more accurate description is "single pain of glass."
Single pane of glass management solutions rarely fit a company's operational processes -- a situation that only becomes apparent after procurement. Unfortunately, this means the operations team either has to change its management processes to fit the static workflows and features that the management system supports, or, worse, manually support missing but necessary features and processes.
An alternative would be to change the management tool's fixed workflows, but this is often difficult, if not impossible, to do. Such changes, if possible, typically require custom development and long lead times. I've talked to some enterprises that say the customization process can take a year or longer.
Another challenge comes up with many of the business portals. You might be able to customize the portal with your own branding, but the information exposed is static. This means you can't hide what you don't need front and center or expose the fields or settings important for your purposes. The portals only expose those fields and settings that the UC management vendor has deemed important.
In fairness to the UC management vendors, the single pain of glass comes from the ad hoc nature of the operational processes required to run large-scale UC environments. Processes can't be automated or even standardized if they involve a high degree of flexibility. Because of this, vendors often have to make compromises when it comes to UC management. Standardizing on processes leads to faster, easier and repeatable workflows but it limits features. On the other hand, a more flexible workflow leads to ad hoc management but increases the range of features. As my wife is so fond of telling me, you can't have everything. Prior to becoming a nurse she must have worked in UC operations.
In the small and medium-sized business segment, a standardized process with limited features might work fine as SMBs typically don't require a wide variety of features. Basic services keep users happy and modifying workflow around a small set of features is easy to do. However, standardized management processes wouldn't necessarily fit the operational requirements at larger organizations, leaving big gaps that can cause downtime and frustration for users. The net result is that unless the business can operate on completely out-of-the-box features and processes, which is rare, it has to make compromises.
For example, almost all management solutions can do PIN and password resets-- this is a simple task, the problem has been around for years and the process is well suited to automation. But more complex tasks, such as adding a user and all his or her services, features and devices, can only be partially automated. You can easily on-board devices and set up some accounts, but will have to take care of many of the advanced settings manually.
Hunt groups provide another example. UC management tools can automate the provisioning of hunt groups but only within a site. If you want a hunt group that spans regional sites, the UC management tool might get you about 80% of the way, but then you've got to handle the rest of the process manually.
Showing Their Age
The age of many of these management tools is a major contributor to this problem. If you've followed this space at all, then you'll know that the majority of these tools were built more than 10 years ago. Back then, when UC was so new, the only real requirement was to automate telephony and voice mail and we didn't see nearly the number of advanced features and settings as we do today. The UC vendors have done a great job of continually adding new features but many of the management tool vendors have been struggling to keep up.
The good news is that a number of management system vendors have re-architected their solutions for the exacting UC requirements of today. This means the ability to support feature parity for a broad range of applications with thousands of settings and the ability to support business environments in which use of multiple devices per individual is the norm. Keys to enabling this type of support are:
• A rich set of UC configuration templates abstracted from the core software, such as the service profiles in Cisco UCS Manager. The service profiles provide a template for configuring a complex system for specific workloads.
• Workflows abstracted from the core software, such as found in VMware's vCenter Server. With this virtual machine management capability, workflows can be customized to the process instead of the other way around.
• Advanced REST APIs, which can better support feature parity and speed the addition of new services.
• Rich service management and entitlements capabilities to provide user profiles that support all features and settings. The mobile device management vendors have done a good job of this in automating the device on-boarding process.
• Process wizards that can simplify complex end-to-end processes and provide highly intuitive business-focused methodologies.
• Support for hybrid environments, including multivendor deployments as well as cloud and premises-based implementations.
Only when UC management solutions are architected to support all UC features and enable flexibility of workflow will the pain of the single pane of glass go away.
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