Telephony pros have plenty of VoIP monitoring tools for troubleshooting an IP phone with no dial tone. But when a multi-point, multi-vendor video conferencing call gets buggy, those tools are useless. Independent monitoring vendors aren't ready to fully support unified communications (UC), and many enterprise UC deployments are still too immature to need them. However, classic VoIP monitoring tools are slowly evolving to support unified communications management.
"Right now, companies are focusing on simply getting a lot of [UC] technologies to work together from a technical perspective," said Hyoun Park, research analyst at Aberdeen Group. "Once you get past that initial step, [attention to] the ongoing support issues and quality of [experience] -- and not simply the technical ability to connect all of these technologies together -- will follow."
We have to find out who needs what tools [because] these are tools, right? Not toys.
Telecommunications Specialist, Kirkwood Community College
Investing in unified communications management tools would be premature for Mark Zuber, telecommunications specialist at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He is focused on building and readying a converged network for voice, video and data. He doesn't expect to deploy new UC applications for at least a year after that project is complete and after careful evaluation of user needs.
"We haven't evolved our VoIP platform enough to really make [UC monitoring and management] a priority," Zuber said. "We have to find out who needs what tools [because] these are tools, right? Not toys."
Converged networks, interoperability pose UC management challenges
Before the emergence of converged networks, IP telephony pros usually depended on the proprietary monitoring and management tools their vendors sold with the equipment, Park said. Now those IT pros are managing messaging, presence and video conferencing platforms from multiple vendors, and they face a plethora of service quality requirements.
Visibility into UC applications and sessions has also been complicated by enterprises' continued push to converge corporate communications traffic onto the same network as corporate data and applications, Park said.
As their UC deployments mature, IT pros will need unified communications management tools to see the whole picture, he said. Beyond monitoring video conferencing appliances for uptime, they must also watch the traffic from server to client, analyze the mean opinion score (MOS) for sessions and understand what other network activity could be affecting video performance.
"Admittedly, presence and messaging are going to be much lower bandwidth [consumers]. They're not going to task the network," Park said. "But the ability to see all of the quality … in one source is going to be important, especially as the telecom manager [role] shifts into a communications or network data manager responsible for all of those technologies."
Enterprises should also look for unified communications management and monitoring tools that can work in a multi-vendor environment, especially enterprises that have inherited complex UC environments through mergers and acquisitions, Park said. But this is where many monitoring and management vendors fail to deliver, he said.
"We talk about interoperability a lot in UC, but we don't often talk about how important that is from an infrastructure monitoring and quality of [experience] monitoring perspective," Park said. "The work there is still very embryonic, and … that dialogue isn't really going on."
Unified communications management still a work in progress for vendors
Longtime VoIP monitoring and management vendor Clarus Systems recently updated its ClarusIPC Plus+ software to support Cisco Systems' Unity Connection, Unified Presence and Contact Center Express servers. The update, v. 4, also supports the latest version of Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM), v. 8.5.
Monitoring and management for video applications are absent from the update -- a point not lost on John McCaffrey, Clarus' vice president of sales and marketing. Clarus is working on adding support for telepresence.
"You don't want your 10 senior executives sitting around at the beginning of a telepresence session waiting for the technician to get there to figure out why [the system] is not working," McCaffrey said. "What you want … is a test system that can simulate that call an hour beforehand and make sure everything's working."
Empirix Inc., a VoIP service quality assurance vendor, has spent about a year on its "UC assurance" strategy. The company is incorporating the video and mobile UC monitoring capabilities it gained with its acquisition of Mutina Technology last year, according to Bob Hockman, director of product marketing.
Unified communications management and monitoring products also need to support social media -- especially in contact centers -- and develop more advanced metrics beyond MOS, Hockman said. Empirix will announce its first product from its "UC assurance" project in the "next month or so," but he declined to offer details.
"The traditional methods of validation no longer work in UC," Hockman said. "You can no longer test and monitor in the same way. It's got to be very comprehensive and it's got to come from the [user] experience."
WildPackets Inc., a network and application performance monitoring vendor, can support video conferencing and telepresence monitoring on its OmniPeek platform, but enterprises aren't buying into it yet, according to Jay Botelho, director of product management at WildPackets. IT organizations, particularly at universities, seem more interested in monitoring tools for streaming Internet protocol television (IPTV).
"We're asked a lot about it, and while there are some customer deployments we have where people are actively monitoring telepresence, it seems like there's a lot more talk about it than actual deployments," Botelho said. "We're trying to get ready [for more demand]."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer.