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VoIP management tools: Buy now or pay later

Managing your VoIP systems is essential, yet the tools for doing so have not yet evolved to the point where any one vendor's product can satisfy your needs on its own. In this tip from IP communications guru Gary Audin, find out what your management tools need to cover, and strategies for managing VoIP with the tools available today.

New technologies follow a common pattern. First we get the features and functions. Then performance delivery becomes the visible issue. The next issues are usually the management tools, followed by security controls and enforcement as the final issues. When all of these issues are properly resolved, customers will not only be satisfied, they will see a stable and reliable service such as TDM voice systems deliver today. We are now in the management phase of VoIP and IP telephony maturation.

Major technological innovations are usually created and brought to the market by small and startup companies. We have many of these in the market supporting different aspects of IP network, endpoint and application management. None of the offered products covers the range of management issues and capabilities required by enterprises. Each has a niche that may partly overlap with a competitor's product.

Covering FCAPS

Should the enterprise wait for the big vendors to offer a complete management solution or buy a few VoIP management products, possibly from multiple vendors? You cannot wait. If you wait, you will be paying for the tools later (no savings there), but you will expend a lot of time and labor, and perhaps consultant fees, to fix the problems. Your voice service delivery over an IP network will be directly affected by the use or lack of management tools. Management tools cover:

  • Fault detection and resolution
  • Configuration knowledge and control
  • Accounting for usage and traffic analysis
  • Performance assessment, monitoring, measurement and reporting
  • Security controls and protection

These five areas are known as FCAPS, a model for network management developed by the ITU and later adopted by ISO for the management of data networks. Any enterprise, large or small, must approach management issues with an overall plan, not a piecemeal approach.

At this time, there is no single vendor that covers all of FCAPS management for IP telephony with a single product. You will have to look at the small vendors. You will have to buy multiple products that probably do not integrate together. They may even have overlapping functionality.

Passive and active tools

Passive tools observe the operation of the network and endpoints to determine when they are not operating according to the thresholds set for the observation of the network and endpoints. The passive tools may count events, capture statistical information, and observe usage. Passive tools usually run constantly. Active tools will poll devices to learn their status and configuration, send test traffic to determine (assess) performance, and perform diagnostics. Active tools usually run when needed and are dormant during normal operations.

The active tools should be acquired before you move to VoIP/IPT so that you can determine what changes and improvements will be necessary before you migrate to VoIP/IPT. You should run the active tools after you have made the network changes to ensure that those changes will deliver the necessary performance and operation. The active tools will also be useful when troubleshooting problems. You may even want to run the active tools during low traffic times to perform a health check and to ensure that the configurations are correct. The passive tools should be running constantly during the operation of the network and endpoints.

Vendors such as CA, HP and IBM are attempting to provide a range of tools and integrate them into a single system. These vendors provide both active and passive tools. There are about 40 more vendors that provide a piece of the management puzzle, some offering active tools and others passive ones. The smaller vendors will probably be acquired by the larger ones. Eventually, in perhaps two to three years, there will be fully integrated tool sets. Do not wait until then. Ask these smaller vendors: "What are the long-term plans for your products?" The smaller vendors may be working on integrating their products with the larger vendors' tool sets. The smaller vendors may be integrating their tools into VoIP/IPT systems such as the integration recently announced by Apparent Networks and Nortel.

Do not wait until you have deployed VoIP/IPT to acquire the management tools. The majority of enterprises that have waited have said they wish they had budgeted and installed the tools as part of the migration to VoIP/IPT, not after the deployment.

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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