The network that got away: UC management still an elusive goal

The management of unified communications (UC) systems is already a big enough task for network managers. It’s complicated and unglamorous, and it’s getting tougher all the time as network devices and complexity proliferate.

That’s what Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst of network management consultancy ZK Research, concluded after taking in the recent  Enterprise Connect enterprise communications conference in Orlando. In a post-event wrapup of the conference’s final panel session, Kerravala gave his take on the good-news bad-news dichotomy that is UC management.

“There have been great advancements in UC management,” he wrote. “It’s just that we keep adding stuff to UC to further increase the management challenge.”

On the plus side, UC analytics has made great advances over the last year. As one example, Kerravala points to Unify’s Project Ansible communications platform. One of the features of Ansible is a dashboard that shows usage data of specific users and UC applications. Businesses can map this data to productivity to understand what tools workers are using and how productive they are, Kerravala says. A panel member from VOSS also chimed in about his company’s new UC analytics product, designed to support and simplify large UC migrations.

Self-service tools are improving too. Given the near impossible task of managing system and user issues on complex networks, it makes more and more sense to shift as much of the day-to-day user issues to the users themselves – things like password and PIN resets, changing speed dial settings and find me/follow me settings.

“Ultimately this can’t be the only change companies make to their administrative systems, but self-service should be part of every organization’s UC management strategies,” Kerravala says.

Improved end-to-end solutions have also been a plus. While Kerravala notes that “end-to-end” is hard to define considering the way UC has steadily expanded to cover more applications and more of the network, he believes UC management vendors have done a good job keeping pace. He points to Integrated Research’s single-pane management tool, and products like the NetScout nGenius voice/video manager, which uses flow and other network information to gauge performance and find errors.

On the down side, the rise of cloud UC has made the increased complexity of hybrid environments a real pain point for network managers. “Cloud services can create huge blind spots, as what happens in the cloud is invisible to most management tools,” Kerravala says. “Businesses looking at cloud services should make the management portal one of the most important components of service provider selection.”

The transition to the 802.11ac version of WiFi brings Gigabit speeds to the wireless network, which means network managers now have more voice and video over WiFi to handle. Kerravala says that many traditional UC management tools haven’t had to account for the nuances of WiFi, “which is one of the reasons I’m a fan of flow-based tools. They see all traffic, across all networks.”

And while the shift to virtual servers and clients increases the flexibility and agility of UC, Kerravala says it also increases the management headache, as UC components now become fluid and can be put in motion. Virtualization adds to the burden by allowing for UC infrastructure, like video MCUs, to be spun up on demand. “This is great for performance, but keeping track of and managing all of these servers created ‘on the fly’ will be challenging.”

Kerravala closes by observing how the same panel runs every year but never seems to get any closer to solving the UC management challenge. “Like I said,” he concludes, “two steps forward, one step backwards.”

Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks is managing editor of IT World Canada. He has been a technology journalist and editor for 20 years, including stints at Technology in Government, Computing Canada and other publications.

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