A New Day Dawns for UC QoS

As many No Jitter readers know all too well, making a network configuration change in a complex UC environment can be a slow, cumbersome, and costly manual process. Avoidance, much as you'd sometimes love it to be, isn't the answer -- especially should voice or video quality be suffering or access control lists need updating.

Traditional processes continue to fail -- as Cisco has found among its customer base, enterprise IT handles 95% of network changes manually, spending 75% of networking operational expenditures on troubleshooting and monitoring, Jeff Reed, SVP of Cisco's Enterprise Infrastructure and Solutions Group, shared yesterday at Cisco Live in Las Vegas. What's more, human errors account for 70% of policy violations.

Cisco has started addressing such challenges with its Digital Network Architecture (DNA), introduced in March and a focal point at Cisco Live this week. As you might recall from No Jitter's previous coverage, DNA is a framework aimed at helping companies go digital. Eliminating the manual processes associated with keeping the network humming along and in tune with quality-of-service (QoS) policies is a central tenet of DNA, for which software programmability is key.

The Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller Enterprise Module, or APIC-EM, is the brains behind software programmability, so to speak, automating network policy enforcement across a company's infrastructure. Open APIs allow third-party solution providers to gain access to the network intelligence; simply put, their business policy commands pass through the APIC-EM, which automatically translates them to network device-level policy.

Nectar Services, which provides monitoring, management, and diagnostics software for Cisco's and other vendors' UC services, has been waiting on this sort of capability for a long time, said Nectar CTO Joseph Fuccillo during a panel discussion on DNA. In that Nectar manages millions of conversations around the world, he said, the company is in the "unique position" of knowing when call quality is good... and when it's not so good. But prior to DNA's arrival, Nectar's ability to address underlying network issues was all but nonexistent, he said.

Doing so would have entailed Cisco "letting us stick our fingers into the network... and you can [imagine] the reaction that would get," he said. But now, with the ability to abstract the underlying infrastructure via the software programmability of APIC-EM, Nectar can take action to ensure QoS for UC.

Toward that end, Nectar yesterday announced an integration with DNA so it can automate QoS, verify best practices, and optimize voice, video, and collaboration sessions across not only Cisco Unified Communications Manager but also Microsoft Skype for Business. The solution, called Evolution, comprises three "genomes," Steven Purcell, senior director of Global Cisco Program Management at Nectar, told me in a product briefing. These genomes are verification, QoS, and security.

Using its rules-based policy engine, Nectar sets pre-determined QoS for UC users, regardless of device. Once that user registers to the network, the policy engine sends the UC QoS data to APIC-EM. From there, the DNA controller sets the QoS policy for the corresponding device type and IP to all required devices in the Cisco wired or wireless infrastructure, Purcell explained. And then, of course, Nectar's traditional real-time UC monitoring and diagnostics carry on as always to ensure end-to-end QoS compliance.

Similarly, IR yesterday announced the integration of its Prognosis UC monitoring and performance management software with APIC-EM. Via this integration, IR will provide centralized automation of policy-based application profiles; maintain QoS by managing delay, packet loss, and other parameters on the network; detect quality problems; and more.

As Jim Lundy, CEO and lead analyst at Aragon Research noted in a prepared statement, businesses today have no choice but to go digital. And, as they "look to digitize their communications efforts, new UC technologies need to have agility in applications and basic infrastructure to allow that to happen successfully," he said. "By integrating Prognosis with Cisco APIC-EM, IR has delivered a UC performance management solution that is reliable. Any underlying network performance issues can be resolved through SDN, leading to a better user experience."

While both the IR and Nectar APIC-EM integrations are specific to UC, overall Cisco has seen rapid third-party uptake across the board. In March, Cisco launched DNA with 100 DNA controller telemetry connections, Cisco's Reed said. As of yesterday, that number had risen to 550 and counting.