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Probes that Make $ense

Managing the network still seems to mean managing more appliances that manage the network. Many IP-PBX manufacturers are deploying their own in-house IPT troubleshooting tools, and what's on the menu doesn't look too much different than what it did 10 years ago.Software that requires a PC at every site to monitor or troubleshoot isn't wise. Health care customers and many other businesses are migrating over to thin clients and the last thing they want is another PC that can do everything, to feed. Reader's Digest even makes the point--in their "Thirteen Things Your Computer Person Won't Tell You." (see #10) Users don't necessarily need Apples (Macs) either; the same is true for some of our other customers in different industries--automotive, manufacturing, repair, service--as many are adopting thin clients and getting away from maintaining costly PCs.

Don't assume that the IT guys will install anything on any server; or make a bigger assumption that all customers have or even want servers. What is your software going to do that other tools don't do already? Will the user of the tools be able to understand and correctly interpret the data being reported?

The probes and tools must make sense. These tools must not add to, take away or distract from troubleshooting the network and gear with other tools embedded in the network. More importantly, convergence, not sprawl, is the juice that will move this market today. More appliances, more gear means less profitability for customers and more headaches for any provider. So factory guys need to wise up and quit singing the tune of interoperability, and hosted providers refrain from bragging about one-stop-shops that do everything. Why does it take so many devices and software solutions attached to service the numerous endpoints in the network? Do a careful inventory and what do you find? Probably a solution that is supported with other solutions to maintain the primary function of the chief solution. Networks are seemingly built on a house of cards while the costs to maintain them and ensure that they are running right all the time with high availability are too high.

Maybe it sounds like I'm splitting hairs but as cool as "converged" networks sounds, really it's more marketing than substance. The "traffic" is converged but the wares are not.

IPT manufacturers must pony up, pay for the licenses of OEM solutions or create worthy tools of your own, and adopt solutions that provide the right fitting tools, and these tools must be onboard with your solutions--you know "converged." IF you don't do it, someone else will--just like ADTRAN. I'm not throwing them out there unknowingly and instead, what I do know is if you want to sell more boxes (IP-PBXs) to the SMBs, then less is better and being able to provide useful tools will go a long way in supporting this market.

The pointed question is who is going to pay for the right tools so that SMBs can effectively adopt more IPT solutions? Assessments, monitoring and maintaining IPT are big-ticket items that cost more than the solutions. This in part, is the overall objection for adopting IPT on the smaller scale. As fragmented the SMB market is, it isn't without consequences when you fail to provide service better than before at a lower cost. The battles continue over who owns the customers and who maintains the highest market share, but without the proper tools and in the right places, simple economics dictate no sale. The other elusive feature of real value is a tool that scales from one to many. Firewalls and other network gear do have software probes, so why not the phones themselves? It's "only" software, right?

In ADTRAN Scnores with MSPs, I also believe that the MSPs stand better chances than most to win over SMB customers. ADTRAN stands to sell more if they scale their Netvanta 450 Server to the VARs and Interconnects. Even if they won't, someone will come along and offer a "hosted solution" for VARs and Interconnects to leverage better, faster, cheaper and simpler support. Virtual Interconnects make sense, but getting through the fluff, executing a slam-dunk installation and then providing high-end effective support are the ingredients missing today. The hosted guys still need someone to set up infrastructure and whether or not you buy a legacy product, hosted services, roll the "it's only a phone" into the server or a hardware IP solution; infrastructure won't go away even with wireless solutions. Whatever is adopted likely needs watching and someone will have to roll the truck sometime. Whatever is implemented to do the monitoring and maintenance routines must be effective and they must make sense. Better yet is less, because no one can afford "more" today, tomorrow and in the foreseeable future.