Calling network management vendors: It's time to get on board with VoIP

Zeus Kerravala

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Despite the hype, full-scale VoIP deployments are hard to find. According to our research at Yankee Group, over 80% of U.S. enterprises have VoIP deployed somewhere in their organization in some shape or form. This includes departmental trials and development environments. These kinds of statistics combined with a frenzy of media and vendor hype would leave one with the impression that we're right around the corner from ubiquitous VoIP and if you haven't deployed it yet, you're a luddite and you're putting your business at risk. However, digging a little deeper into our research we discover that a mere 6% of U.S. enterprises have VoIP running throughout their organization and caution is more the norm than the exception.

There are many reasons for this ranging from business justification, network upgrades and user training, but the biggest factor revolves around uncertainty of on going call quality. Almost any decent network manager can take an IP PBX into a lab environment, plug a few IP phones in and start making calls. Moving VoIP into a production environment requires confidence that the system will deliver high quality, reliable voice services and this confidence is often not there. Network managers need to ensure that the voice system not only works today but will work tomorrow, next week, next month and continue to work as the environment changes and as more and more bandwidth intensive applications get rolled out on the same network.

Moving VoIP into a production environment requires confidence that the system will deliver high quality, reliable voice services and this confidence is often not there.

For the most part, the stability and reliability of IP telephony systems available today aren't the issue. Most of the platforms are mature and are relatively bug free. What's missing are the management tools that are required from a credible, experienced management vendor to manage the full lifecycle of VoIP. The suite needs to include tools that can help assess the network in the pre-deployment phase, tools for configuration and change management, planning tools, call-accounting tools and a product that can provide a real time, mean opinion scoring (MOS). MOS is a standard developed by the International Telecom Union (ITU) as a way of measuring call quality. It's basically a method of collecting a bunch of network statistics, correlating the metrics and converting that to a single score that would define what the quality of a call would be like on the network at any particular moment in time.

Of course there are management tools available today, but the majority of them are provided by small, start-up type companies. I think there are some good ones out there, such as Prognosis, Opsware, Qovia, Clarus, Pstechnics, Telchemy, Voyence, Intelliden, Ixia and Brix. Each of these companies has strengths in one or more of the management shortcomings I already highlighted, but they are not household names. I do feel that these vendors provide very good products, but it's hard to find an enterprise that is willing to spends tens of millions in VoIP infrastructure and then put the success or failure of the deployment in the hands of a company they've never heard of before.

The vendors most conspicuous by their absence are the enterprise vendors such as HP (Openview), CA (Unicenter) and IBM (Tivoli) that are already managing many of the mission critical applications that exist today. It's a logical extension of the platforms and HP, CA and IBM need to take action now.

It's time for the incumbent management vendors to step up and either acquire some of these smaller vendors or develop the solutions on your own.

Typically the management of "stuff" tends to trail the "stuff" by about two to three years. For example, network management only became credible about two years after networks had started to be deployed. The same is true for servers, databases, etc., but production ready VoIP systems have been available now for several years. It's time for the incumbent management vendors to step up and either acquire some of these smaller vendors or develop the solutions on your own. My advice would be the quick and efficient solution: acquire. That would provide a well-seasoned product that can be delivered quickly. I will acknowledge that CA did buy Concord, which provides a mediocre MOS scoring tool, but it's one small piece of the puzzle. Organizations have made huge investments historically into Tivoli, Openview and Unicenter. I'm not exactly sure why IBM, HP and CA have avoided a broader offering in VoIP to leverage these investments but they owe it to their customers to provide a comprehensive management solution to help their customers get over the confidence hurdle and move VoIP into production.

Now, years ago I predicted that the merger and acquisition activity in this market would have already occurred so I find that the lack of action to be an indicator that the management platform vendors do not fully understand the challenge of deploying a real time application like VoIP. It requires much more than providing pretty dash boards with flashing icons, which is about the extent of what's available today from the traditional management vendors.

I know most of you reading this column have one or more of these "suites" deployed already and I urge you to continue to call the vendors out regarding their lack of viable products in this space. Perhaps you have but the vendors couldn't hear you because their IP telephony systems were not performing well due to a lack of tools?

About the author
Zeus Kerravala manages Yankee Group's infrastructure research and consulting. His areas of expertise involve working with customers to solve their business issues through the deployment of infrastructure technology solutions, including switching, routing, network management, voice solutions and VPNs.

Before joining Yankee Group, Kerravala was a senior engineer and technical project manager for Greenwich Technology Partners, a leading network infrastructure and engineering consulting firm. Prior to that, he was a vice president of IT for Ferris, Baker Watts, a mid-Atlantic based brokerage firm, acting as both a lead engineer and project manager deploying corporate-wide technical solutions to support the firm's business units. Kerravala's first task at FBW was to roll out a new frame relay infrastructure with connections to branch offices, service providers, vendors and the stock exchange. Kerravala was also an engineer and technical project manager for Alex. Brown & Sons, responsible for the technology related to the equity trading desks.

Kerravala obtained a B.S. degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Victoria (Canada). He is also certified by Citrix and NetScout.

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