What does session management have to do with unified communications (UC)? Craig Mathias explains in this tip on ensuring successful UC deployments with session management features.
Defining unified communications and its benefits
While vendors vary the definition of unified communications (UC), the term typically refers to the integration of multiple communications modalities within a single operational framework and under a single user interface for end users as well as network/service operators. The appeal is to make all voice, presence, conferencing, collaboration, multiple forms of messaging -- and potentially any electronic communications capability -- available across multiple platforms and access networks. The primary goal of UC is productivity and convenience. The wide variety of UC solutions available today from a good number of vendors is a testament to the accelerating role of UC, with more enterprises realizing the power of this strategy on a daily basis.
UC can also improve security, accountability and regulatory compliance. To enable these benefits -- and to ensure a successful UC implementation overall -- is to carefully consider the role that session management can play here. Management systems in general optimize performance of any network or network-based service today, and UC is certainly no exception -- especially given the mission-critical role it can quickly achieve with rapid user adoption.
Most IT professionals are familiar with the concepts and benefits of network management, applications management and even mobile device management. But, currently, session management, despite its benefits, is a bit more obscure and complex.
What is session management?
Loosely defined, a session is the context or abstraction within which a user operates while accomplishing a task on an information system. Network professionals will instantly recognize the value here -- there is, after all, a Session Layer (Layer 5) in the ISO OSI open-systems model of network architectures. A session includes these features and functions, which are vital to UC:
- interprocess communications
- remote procedure calls (RPCs)
- maintaining user context
Depending on the specific protocols and implementations in a given operating and network system, these session features correspond with management and control functions including managing access via permissions, policy compliance, security, integrity and monitoring usage.
In sum, session management is the set of management functions that enable network operations staff and end users (at some level) to set preferences and policies for these important capabilities.
UC as an application can take advantage of all of the session services noted above. Of particular importance is the ability of session management to maintain the state of a given UC session; this is especially important given the wide variety of communications vehicles (including wireless) and devices (including mobile handsets) that can be in use simultaneously. The benefits in ease-of-use alone are more than compelling, but any UC implementation can be significantly enhanced via these common session management functions.
Session management features for UC
We can think of session management with respect to unified communications as the core unifying element in a UC implementation. This is particularly important when multivendor solutions are in place, which is a fairly common occurrence today.
While protocols like SIP (the Session Initiation Protocol) require management all by themselves, consider what these vendors are doing in the session management space and the importance they place on this capability:
- Acme Packet notes that session management improves interoperability in multivendor environments. It simplifies operations, increases reliability and lowers costs via the centralization of session routing and dial-plan management.
- Avaya’s Aura Session Manager platform provides SIP-based session management that includes, among many of the other benefits noted earlier, easier call routing, enhanced scalability and increased agility.
- Cisco offers its Unified Communications Manager Session Management Edition with such benefits as lower costs, reduced complexity, a more efficient path to SIP trunking and simplified deployment of collaborative applications -- even to those on legacy PBXes.
The adoption and broad implementation of unified communications is clearly a trend that will become the norm in enterprise communications over time -- especially for mobile users. Session management provides a broad degree of functionality, plus centralized control and visibility that's required to significantly lower costs. It also improves efficiency and enhances integration and makes the combination of session management and UC a big part of successful enterprise communications.