In this article Paul Coates, regional vice president of Riverbed Technologies UK, Ireland, South Africa and the Nordics discusses the numerous conversations being had whether or not UC (unified communications) is just another set of enterprise apps managed like any other, or if it requires special handling and custom-tailored tools.
Arguments for UC being just an application
Many believe that UC is in fact a collection of applications that are integrated together to help you drive your business processes. In the old days IT was divided so that the phone people were in one silo and the data people were in another. Importantly, now that the tech infrastructure has converged, we should not make those arbitrary divisions anymore. That’s why UC has become just another application.
UC applications comprise software applications; a datacentre or cloud running standard operating systems like Linux or Windows; a network using standard equipment; and compute-equipped devices such as desktop phones, smartphones, or computers.
By any definition these are applications like any other and can therefore be managed by a standard application-performance management solution.
Arguments against UC being just an application
UC is composed of applications but end-user expectations are different for UC applications, particularly in the realms of voice and video. That is, people view an always-available dial tone as their god-given right. If you pick up the phone and there’s no dial tone you’ll be very put out — much worse than when your email acts a little slow. These are huge productivity issues which are underlying to businesses.
Many UC apps, like voice and video, must operate in real time. If my voice isn’t coming through the phone system near-instantaneously it’s a failed communication. Further, the complexity of UC applications tends to be higher than for many other applications. A large number of moving parts must work together smoothly to orchestrate a successful communication or collaboration session.
So higher end-user expectations and the real-time nature of some UC apps are two major reasons why UC apps, especially real-time apps, require special treatment with specialised management tools.
Does UC require specialised management tools?
One of the major trends in IT over the last decade has been convergence, and by treating UC as “just another set of applications” we continue that trend of deploying common processes, tools, and staff across as much of the IT workload as is feasible. This makes IT’s life easier and reduces the need to invest in custom software and training for a handful of non-standard applications.
While most APM implementations are not geared toward real-time UC applications, they can certainly benefit other UC components like desktop sharing, email, and IM/presence, providing deep visibility and analytics related to application performance and availability. For these applications IT will be able to characterise the end-user experience, analyse network and server performance, identify bottlenecks, and enjoy the multitude of additional information afforded by a typical APM solution.
Certainly some APM is better than none, but some believe that a UC-aware APM solution has plenty of advantages to justify the investment. For example, configuration typos by administrators are a leading cause of UC malfunctions. Standard APM may not find these. But the automated UC testing built into a UC-aware APM package will pick it up, alerting IT before users ever notice a problem.
Then there’s serviceability. Whereas standard APM tools can let you remote control a user’s desktop, only UC-aware APM lets you inspect and control devices like phones and teleconference hardware, greatly aiding IT’s long-distance debugging efforts.
Customer centric UC needs
Opinions and routes of use of UC are totally dependent on the individual customer and organisation. Much of this depends on how far along a given company is in converging its infrastructure and IT group, and how much it values keeping processes standard versus having full-visibility APM. While a typical APM solution will be enough for some organisations, others will benefit from going all in, so to speak.
The copper phone wire that largely led to the two-silo organisation is almost a thing of the past, so with phones and other devices moving onto the network it is understandable that the impetus is to see UC as just another set of applications. But that doesn’t mean that UC applications can’t benefit from special management tools. I think it would really benefit organisations that make heavy use of APM and virtualised UC solutions to look into UC-aware APM as well.
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