Matt Brunk
Matt Brunk has worked in past roles as director of IT for a multisite health care firm; president of Telecomworx,...
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Matt Brunk | December 01, 2011 |



Intermopability To appreciate interoperability you must understand how to swab a deck.

To appreciate interoperability you must understand how to swab a deck.

It's been awhile since I've seen my buddy Fred and whenever he comes out with a post on NoJitter, it stirs things up and gets folks into a frame of mind that makes them think about what it is he is bringing to the table for discussion, as he did recently.

I told Fred long ago that I thought VoIP and IP-PBXs are akin to operations on a submarine and I still believe that. "Flooding" is always a negative connotation or alert, as is "fire," and then knowing when to use the words "ballast" and "away" in lieu of the former is pretty important for bubbleheads. It's all about choice and the right choice for the right reason. Use of each of those words nets you different responses and actions so long as you are onboard a submarine. Throw it all out when you board a surface vessel, walk down the hall of your office or enter an Army base. Tell your IT guy you've got flooding and you will get a different reaction than you would from your plumber. In the same way, standards simply don’t always apply or fit at different times and situations, let alone glue what it is that you want glued together.

To appreciate interoperability you must understand how to swab a deck. First, there's willingness alongside desire, then there's the muscle and some capability, although not much is required for this menial task. When you want the deck safe you simply remove water. When you want the deck to glisten, haul out the battleship gray approved paint for surface vessels and for submarines simply refer to the military "standard" specifications found in Submarine Maintenance Standard MS NO. 6310-081-015 "Submarine Preservation."

By the way, there are only two kinds of ships--submarines and targets. Both vessels are in water yet the standards and applications of paint are notably different and for different reasons. Running out of one type of paint from one manufacturer doesn't mean you wait for a new shipment, but it also doesn't mean using the ship's paint on a submarine. At home you try to match the paint? For those that try but don't have the same batch of paint to use, either a good painter or a stiff drink may be the better alternative.

In the military, and I'm looking back before divestiture time, everything was interoperable. For un-believers, maybe you just need an attitude adjustment followed by some task assigned to you so that the next time you question interoperability or anything above your rank (or pay grade) you will remember that you can make it work with available resources. No it's not democratic, but it serves to convince anyone with doubts.

I have no doubt that another market fracturing is taking place and will continue. I've pondered over the future of SBCs ever since Sorell Slaymaker started posting about them. Recently, Mykola Konrad posted what I've been suspecting, in, "Looking Ahead: The Evolution of Services in SBCs." I know that SBCs do that wonderful protocol conversion and soft demarc sniffing and handling to ensure that the right packet gets to the right place at the right time. Mykola writes about the integration possibilities that immediately get my attention--PBX services and Call Recording.

I didn't miss Kevin Kieller's post either that sums up the state of affairs when he wrote: "In a perfect world, vendors might get together, sing Kumbaya, work out their differences and agree to common standards. This isn't going to happen."

Admittedly, we've all been using work-arounds, band-aids and having customers and ourselves live with nuances. IT doesn't own this, they just expound upon it and monetize on it better than most. Interoperability isn't an expectation or some natural born right like dial tone appears to be. Understanding or at least appreciating the reality of how things work and are going to work means an acceptance of making do with the best available resources you have or can afford. There is no perfection or perfect deck. Decks aren't static in their uses and besides you wouldn't be swabbing the deck during a dive or when trolling the surface at high seas: Each situation requires specific application and then situations and needs can change just as fast that render static solutions not too friendly. Making those choices usually involves tradeoffs somewhere in between security, speed, quality and cost. You could even argue that user experience plays into the equation too.

Now it's time for a sea story. Long ago before PBXs and ACDs would communicate with one another or even do the same tasks in one platform (many still don't), companies needed a way to communicate with users who were often in the same building but were wired to a different platform--the PBX or the ACD. What would your solution be? Many initially elected POTS and used lines to call each other and incurred the monthly charges. Wireless wasn’t a possibility and line of sight microwave was, but that's for two buildings. The simple solution: tie-lines. At best, if we could pull off laying 25-pair cables under the raised floor and within reasonable distance, connect to the other switch; we may end up having a solution. The kicker was which tie-line type to use? E&M was the option but how many wires for each circuit? Then, what about the signaling and timing parameters? You would think it would be "standard" but it wasn't. Another glaring issue: you didn't dare ground these circuits or switches separately because doing so created a ground loop and would crash one of the switches. So much for standards and this included using the same manufacturer for both PBX and ACD, it really didn't matter and still doesn't today. QSIG came along decades later and it isn't perfect either, nothing is.

The art of this industry lies within what I'll call, how well we can mop up what we decide to do and implement, and then go on supporting it. It is a balancing act that requires more than just an attitude adjustment. The art comes in the form of how well we pull off what it is we are attempting to do while keeping users, customers and bosses consistently relatively happy. Success is when you don't get them all turning against you at the same time. This can be more difficult than you think or want to admit.

While my post is intended for Fred, I hope that INTERMOPABILITY is your reality. It's always showing up on our sonar because we live with these decisions daily no matter how small or far reaching they are. What's important to me in this discussion almost always goes back to management and tools. How can we effectively manage this solution and what tools we're equipped with to support what it is that we are implementing. Please don't misread this as bad, negative or a problem to keep you late at nights because INTERMOPABILITY is simply opportunity that never goes away no matter how much lip service and advertising goes into print about interoperability.


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