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VoIP maintenance: Creating a schedule for patches and upgrades

VoIP systems fall under the same type of maintenance guidelines as other networking equipment. In this tip, learn guidelines and best practices for scheduling your VoIP systems maintenance.

You've successfully implemented VoIP at your company and you're feeling pretty good. The project work is done,...

and your system is in production. You are now in operations mode. As the functional manager for the group, you must ensure that the system is stable, updated with the latest patches, and properly supported.

The work that will be done at this point depends largely on the type of solution that you chose to implement. Did you go with a premise-based or hosted PBX solution? In a hosted solution, the vendor is responsible for all patches, upgrades service and, usually, support. A premise-based solution means that the equipment is on your premises, and you must support it. In a hosted solution, you have to wait for the service provider to do the upgrades. When the equipment is yours, you have the flexibility of creating your own maintenance schedule.

Patches and upgrades

When communications equipment is not properly maintained, you can encounter unscheduled downtime caused by bugs or glitches. As a systems manager, you want scheduled -- not unscheduled -- downtime. If you maintain your equipment properly and implement patches and upgrades accordingly, you are maintaining your system in a responsible manner. This holds true for all types of networks and systems. Gone are the days (if they ever really existed) when you could just install something and forget about it until it broke. A well-drafted plan that deals with patches, upgrades and downtime will help keep your systems and end users happy.

More on scheduling maintenance
Techniques for making changes

Policy and process

Staging labs for network engineering
From an operational standpoint, you will find that traditional PBX systems require more care and feeding than VoIP systems. Remember the days when you had a dedicated person sit in your telecom room just doing all sorts of nasty stuff behind closed doors? Now that the telecom equipment is back in the data center, VoIP systems fall under the same type of maintenance guidelines as other networking equipment, including power and HVAC requirements.

You may find that patches and upgrades are frequently issued by your vendor, but that does not mean you must constantly install them. Read up on exactly what fixes are provided on the patches. If they are security-based, I generally like to install them during my next window of opportunity. As a rule of thumb, I like to do maintenance upgrades on systems twice a year.

Change management

You should make sure there is a system in place to track all changes and notify the customer before the change is performed. This type of system should really be no different from systems you already have for your data network and/or midrange systems.

Don't forget proper training for whomever is tasked with taking care of this system. That person should take a class to learn the operational steps necessary to maintain the system. Depending on the size of your company, he or she does not have to be dedicated to VoIP but certainly needs to know how to troubleshoot problems and take care of day-to-day maintenance. The users should also know either whom to call for help (in a small company) or the appropriate procedures to follow in seeking assistance (larger companies).

Best practices

  • Windows and SLAs
    Unless there is a code-red security patch that must be installed, there is usually no reason to throw on a patch, particularly one that will be disruptive to your users. Along these lines, make sure you have a clearly defined window in which to perform your maintenance. If everyone knows that the system is yours to do with as you wish every Sunday from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., you won't have to fight for a window, unless you determine that you need more time. Make sure the information is communicated to everyone who needs to know, including the phone company, if necessary. Err on the side of over-communication.
  • Backup
    Prior to any upgrade or patch, make sure you have a backup of whatever it is you are upgrading. Make sure you do a test restore every quarter, just to be sure you can readily recover from a disaster.
  • More training
    What happens if the person who has been given responsibility to support the system goes on vacation, is sick, or is inexplicably AWOL? Have the primary person train a secondary. You won't regret it.
  • Testing
    If you have a test environment for your VoIP system, you can test all your firmware and software updates before scheduling a live update to production. Don't minimize the importance of test environments.
  • Spares
    You do have spare parts for your critical hardware, right? If not, make sure you get them. Every piece of hardware, whether it is a TV or a computer, will eventually stop working. Do you want to wait 24 hours to receive an essential part for your system so that the senior partner can make a phone call? You should also make sure that you have a service contract in place with your vendor and that it covers areas such as on-site hardware replacement of essential parts.

About the author:
Ken Milberg is the founder of Unix-Linux Solutions. He is also a board member of Unigroup of NY, the oldest Unix user group in NYC. Ken regularly answers user questions on Unix and Linux interoperability issues as a site expert on SearchOpenSource.com.

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