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Checklist: Getting the management dollars for VoIP

Tools for managing VoIP are important to a successful implementation, but investing in management tools outside the ones your VoIP vendor provides may be a tough sell. In this tip, Gary Audin provides a checklist for analyzing the investment to help justify this expense to upper management.

Visibility into the operation of the network components and endpoints for VoIP/IP telephony (IPT) will cost investment dollars and labor time. You can rationalize that management systems will help IT staff to perform their jobs more efficiently. But how do you get the CIO to pay the management bill? What are the arguments for the management investment?

The two major IT-based reasons for the management tool investment are reduction of downtime and improvement of IT staff efficiency. The results of these improvements are higher user productivity and customer satisfaction (internal and external). With the introduction of VoIP/IPT, performance management becomes more critical. The call and voice quality for VoIP requires constant vigilance, in real time, putting greater pressure on the ability of the management solutions to cope with these quality issues.

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Many enterprises expect that management tools that come with the network and endpoint products will be sufficient. For non-critical use of the network and endpoints, these may be enough. As the network and endpoints support functions that cannot afford downtime or poor performance, the management process also becomes more critical. Consider a foreign-currency trader in a financial institution. When there are automated trades programmed into the systems, even a few milliseconds of delay or outage can make or break the trade. How would you feel about the IT environment if it went down during an emergency, all the IPT services disappeared, and 911 calls could not be made?

There are many independent management packages that provide far more capabilities than the original vendor's tools. If the original vendor's management tools were adequate, there would be no market for these third-party management tools. This is especially true for the management of Cisco network and IP telephony products. There are also IP telephony management products for Avaya and Nortel products.

How should the investment be analyzed?

  1. You need to identify the quantity of things you want manage. In the data networking world, there are two choices: devices and interfaces such as LANs, WANs, servers, etc. There will be far more interfaces than devices, and the bill for management will escalate with the increase in interfaces. You must be able to manage each device. If you cannot afford to manage each interface, which is quite common, then the interfaces that connect devices (router-to-router-to-switch) need to be managed, because their failure or poor operation will affect many users. Do not forget to manage the interfaces to the server platforms and the VoIP gateways. Their loss is also critical to successful IT services.
  2. The IP telephony systems are being priced per seat -- i.e., per endpoint. Managing each phone can be costly, so you may want to manage only the mission-critical and executive phones directly. The gateways that connect to the PSTN and groups of legacy phones also need to be managed directly.
  3. In the days of TDM systems, about 10% of the solution price was the recommended investment in the management tools, according to Susan Andersen, director of product marketing at CA. Cisco recommends that about 3% of the solution cost be invested in data network management. I think the Cisco recommendation will rise with the inclusion of more performance tools for IPT.
  4. Terry Slattery, CTO at Netcordia, has observed that as the number of devices and interfaces increases -- especially if that number is in the thousands -- the percentage of the solution management investment will decrease. Once the number of devices and endpoints reaches more than 10,000, distributed management architecture must be considered. The tools usually have a base price, then a per-device or interface price.
  5. Slattery and Andersen both felt that computing an ROI for the management tools will help the CIO understand the value of the tools. Both observed, though, that unless failure or performance problems have already cost the enterprise some financial loss, you will want to create problem scenarios. For example, one scenario might examine how losing a VoIP gateway would affect your business. Then you will need to speak to the owners of the critical application and resources about the problem scenarios so the affected organization can be the source of the financial loss information.
  6. A harder element to quantify is the labor reduction for design engineers and operations staffs. The labor reduction will also be beneficial to your argument, but you will need to document the problems (and their cost to the enterprise) that occurred before the management tools were in use. This can be embarrassing, but the information provided will certainly provide another rationalization for more tools.
  7. Another approach is to pro-rate the management cost over the number of endpoints. Assume, for example, that you have 500 PCs and 500 phones to manage -- 1,000 endpoints. Would you invest $2 per month per endpoint for management tools? Also consider that you will be using the tools for three years. This works out to a budget of $72,000 for the management tools. The bill seems high, but is $2 per month per endpoint that much of an investment? This is equivalent to the loaded cost of an IT staff member saving 10 weeks of work per year, without considering the other financial and business benefits.

In summary, the enterprise is going to be paying a bill for effective management. That bill can include the lost revenue, lost clients and extra IT staff labor. The investment in management tools can never eliminate all the problems, but the tools can resolve issues to acceptable levels for the enterprise.

About the author:
Gary Audin has more than 40 years of computer, communications and security experience. He has planned, designed, specified, implemented and operated data, LAN and telephone networks. These have included local area, national and international networks as well as VoIP and IP convergent networks in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia.

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