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End-to-end network management enables reliable VoIP, unified communications

Clarus Systems last week announced the addition of a voice-monitoring module to an enhanced version of its IP telephony management package, ClarusIPC, at the Internet Telephony Expo West 2007 in Los Angeles. The new ClarusIPC Plus+ includes a Voice Monitor module to help users monitor voice quality, service availability, and security conditions through the use of a sophisticated rules and policy engine. Clarus Systems provided a demonstration of ClarusIPC Plus+, and sat down with Clarus Systems' vice president of engineering, Gurmeet Lamba, to discuss the product's enhancements and network management in general.

The way I understand it, network management products have not traditionally been designed to handle VoIP implementations, or have not been designed for end-to-end network management. How is yours special?
Things break, so you really need management software that is designed for IP telephony. We decided to address the problem as, bottom up, designed for IPT. We have four pillars in terms of functionality:

1. Automated, active testing -- if you haven't tested it, it's probably broken. (It's a software-only solution.) We exercise all the functionality that you, the user, would use. It also integrates into business processes.

2. Help desk diagnostics and troubleshooting -- we supply enterprise software for IT folks, stuff that is familiar to them.

3. Deep reporting and BI -- we have a goldmine in our database. We extract the information so that IT can make sense of it.

4. We are also expanding into passive monitoring. We truly believe in end-to-end management software, not just a niche play. You've got to have all these components to service all the various phases of your phone system. Passive monitoring we do with the new module. It's a policy-based, very sophisticated engine that can detect problems in voice quality, performance, security. How do you balance using bandwidth for active testing with reserving it for other applications?
The bandwidth we use is nominal. Our product works by making phones call other phones, which a user would do. It actually emulates user behavior. Your network had better be engineered for that, otherwise we're going to find a problem. But you're not going to use active testing when you have staff in the office. You'd do that at night.

A lot of traditional management software sniffs just packets. A lot of problems are caused by configuration errors or routing errors. Voice Monitor module is going to detect problems like overloaded gateways or your PSTN gateway being down, or calls getting routed to the incorrect gateway. Earlier you said that the key phrase here is "Packets are flowing -- can you reach your branch office?" With that in mind, do you think that network managers often become so focused on the technology that they are missing the big picture? What is the big picture?
Here's what's happening in the industry. More and more, IT staff is also managing voice, as a result [of convergence]. This is familiar stuff to them ... this is not some arcane telephony system. We abstract up telephony concepts. I don't think they're missing the big picture, but they sometimes get into trouble because voice is difficult stuff. I was speaking with someone else at this conference who asserted that managing voice is not hard; it's integrating it into legacy systems that's hard. Do you agree or disagree?
It's hard. The reason is that it's more complex. There are more things that break. It's not a locked-down box sitting in a closet with terminals connected to that box; it's voice and data on the same network. And more and more with UC, it's the convergence of communication applications. So obviously it's more complicated. And my point is, that's OK, as long as you have the tools to monitor and manage and maintain it. How does your product map to FCAPS and the OSI model?
We cover all the parts to varying levels of depth. Performance is the area addressed the most in our new release. Most of the solutions in the market deal with security at the system level. ClarusIPC monitors the application layer, where a lot of the problems exist in the market. Do your products work only with Cisco?
Today, yes. Cisco is actually a very strong partner of ours. We do a lot of interaction with Cisco teams; we're part of the Cisco Tech Development Partner program. We're the only solution recommended by Cisco in its Steps to Success program -- its best practices for deploying IP telephony. Do you have any plans to integrate with other companies?
We have a very strong relationship with Cisco and see that getting stronger in the future. Who are your competitors in this space?
We don't believe we have a direct competitor. We do have other companies that tap into the same dollar bucket from the customer.... Just as I mentioned, the packet monitoring or people who deploy hardware probes everywhere.

Our biggest direct competitor is "business as usual." Business as usual is substandard deployments using armies of technicians, resulting in trouble tickets come Monday morning; and deployments that don't scale to large numbers. It's substandard, error-prone and really gives IPT a bad name. Really to empower UC, customers need to use end-to-end management solutions like ours. You have mentioned UC pretty often. Are a lot of people really using unified communications?
We're going to get into a dangerous area, which is "define UC." Applications like find-me-follow-me are getting a lot of traction. Applications like click to dial through Outlook or the Lotus Sametime client are getting more and more popularity. Softphones are finally popping up everywhere. So I think that's good evidence of UC gaining popularity. Voice integrated with IM is getting there in enterprises. In the consumer market, it's there.

Having said all this, I don't know how far you go back, but voicemail started with a very niche segment -- the sales teams. Where is voicemail today? Everywhere. I believe UC may follow a similar path. Based on your job function, you'll use either more or less initially -- but gradually it's going to be everywhere.

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