How to manage IP phone installations

Network and communications spending consumes a large part of IT spending and is constantly under budgetary scrutiny. Our research shows that network spending accounts for between 0.6 and 1.5 per cent of the total annual corporate revenue across all industries. This includes process, people, equipment, and service provider contracts for fixed and mobile voice, data, and Internet services.

Through 2008, we expect network and communications budgets to annually increase by 10 to 15 per cent to meet various corporate demands, fuelled both by organic growth and the push to centralize network spending.

As organizations continue to consider deployment of cost effective communication technologies, IP telephony is moving from early adopters to mainstream users.Many IT professionals view voice over IP (VoIP) and IP telephony as interchangeable. This is not the case. VoIP is undeniably a core building block of IP telephony, but full IP phone services extend far beyond VoIP. Text However, prior to IP telephony deployment, IT organizations must focus on the management aspect; IP telephony management should include the business’s definition of IP telephony-specific quality-of-experience. Business users must also agree to these IT-driven measurements.

During planning phases, intense attention is often directed toward the technology itself. But many organizations risk their services by overlooking the management component. Smart IT managers quickly realize that it’s risky — too risky — to make management an afterthought when it comes to telephony.

Many IT professionals view voice over IP (VoIP) and IP telephony as interchangeable. This is not the case. VoIP is undeniably a core building block of IP telephony, but full IP phone services extend far beyond VoIP. VoIP is merely a protocol, a way to send packetized voice traffic over the network. IP telephony adds services such as call routing, coverage paths, and even music on hold for business applications.

The distinction between VoIP and IP telephony is important. Management solutions for packet-voice services vary: some are limited to VoIP traffic management, while others are complete IP telephony management platforms.

IP telephony brings a new level of complexity to network management. It also brings an important lesson: management consideration from the very conception of the service is imperative. Effective IP telephony management is a matter of visibility. The management system must be able to see routers, switches, call management- and application-servers, desktop phones, “softphones” on users’ PCs, and application traffic flows. Tools limited to just VoIP traffic, though useful and often powerful for targeted needs, cannot provide the deep network scrutiny so crucial to IP telephony.

IP telephony management solutions are aggregations of common management technologies. Accordingly, IP telephony should be viewed as a comprehensive suite, not a siloed technology like network servers and applications.

This is one notable characteristic that makes IP telephony unique among IT services. Although the aggregation of all services is implied and accepted, IP telephony is a package that includes unique infrastructure and requires strict quality-of-service support within the network.

A key aspect of this is to identify how best to baseline and measure the end-user’s quality of experience. However, it’s not always easy to understand what metrics to define and how to interpret IP telephony-specific metrics. And currently IP telephony products and operational tools expose inconsistent and incomplete performance metrics and management capabilities. This is further aggravated by a lack of tools that offer automated end-to-end root-cause analysis.

That should change, however. IT organizations will increasingly gain an understanding of the various aspects of IP telephony quality-of-experience through 2006 and 2007; vendor solutions will support a consistent set of quality-of-experience metrics by 2007 or 2008.

While focus on quality and service-level metrics traditionally has been based on technical metrics, the focus is shifting to define and report on metrics demonstrating business value and end-user experience. META Group recommends that companies divide metrics into three groups: voice quality, performance, and service quality. This is what we mean:

• Voice quality must be demonstrated and measured via specific voice quality predictions and supported by network-specific metrics for trouble identification and location. Collect information from IP phones, voice gateways and other network devices to help measure voice quality.

• Performance is a measure of service availability and responsiveness. Collect information from the call control server and the conferencing server for this one.

• Quality-of-service metrics are demonstrated and measured via help desk data and end-user satisfaction surveys. IT departments should analyze the trouble tickets at the help desk and ask end users what they think of the service.

IP telephony management is viewed as either a radical new application or as yet another application to be plugged into a modular management architecture. In fact, it truly is a new application with special needs, and it also requires multiple management applications that plug into a modular architecture. As the first step to holistic IP telephony management we recommend you carry out performance assessments and capacity planning. This more accurately ensures that the IP telephony service will perform as expected, and it will also point out any pitfalls that could scuttle the service’s success. After deployment, monitoring products measure service performance and availability. Diagnostic tools assist in the response phase of incident management and in problem management.

Management is a must for successful service deployment — a mandate that must be included early in IP telephony service conception.

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Helmer is vice-president, strategic solutions at META Group Canada.

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