As more companies, large and small, deploy UC solutions, they are looking for ways to effectively test, monitor and manage these mission-critical applications. Riverbed Technology has been talking for some time about the four pillars of unified communications management. The topic came up again when my colleague Kevin Gulley met with some Riverbed execs at the recent Enterprise Connect event, so we thought it worthwhile to explore just where the concept came from and why they believe it vital to long-term UC success.
First, the pillars. They are:
- Automated testing
- Configuration management
- Performance management
- Remote troubleshooting
To learn more about where they came from, I talked with David Roberts, Product Management Director at Riverbed who came to the company when Riverbed acquired Opnet in October 2012. Opnet had just a few months prior acquired Clarus Systems, which is where the four pillars story begins.
Automated Testing: A Time Saving Tool for VoIP and UC System Integrators
Back around 2002, Clarus was a startup that worked closely with systems integrators who were deploying voice over IP technology (VoIP) when it was just getting off the ground.
“When we partnered with them we asked, ‘How can we help you do your job better?’” Roberts says. They learned that VoIP deployments were complicated, far more so than deploying a PBX. It required knowledge of IP networks, servers and the call control applications that ran on top of them.
Integrators had to put it all together and then conduct acceptance testing and produce documentation detailing how the system was built, known as “as-built” documentation. That was a painful part of the process, Roberts says.
Clarus succeeded in building some software that would automate the testing process, by controlling the IP phones and running them through test scenarios.
Step 2 in UC Management: Configuration Reporting
Over time the company added tools that helped integrators perform regression testing to find the source of any problems the tests turned up. That morphed into a configuration management tool that help systems integrators produce as-built documentation.
The configuration management tools also helped integrators identify problems before they even started testing. If a customer wanted to upgrade a Cisco implementation that was installed years earlier by someone else, the integrator could use the configuration management tool to identify any potential issues.
“It would help them fix ‘dirty’ configurations that resulted from the number of hands involved over time and any undisciplined actions,” Roberts says.
Similarly, if an integrator was called back in to help fix a problem six months after an initial install, the tool helped identify any changes that took place since that initial installation – and whether the integrator was indeed responsible for the current problem.
Around that time, some of Clarus’ larger customers got wind of the tools the company was building for systems integrators and wanted to use them as well, for somewhat different purposes. One such customer was a large financial services firm that wanted to use it to test after making any changes to the system as well as to run tests regularly, every night, just to make sure the phones were working properly.
“They had people manually making calls to test the system because the cost of an outage, even for 10 minutes, was too great,” Roberts says.
Rounding out Unified Communications Management: Performance Management, Remote Troubleshooting
With the testing and configuration management tools in hand, another large customer had a suggestion: if Clarus could add performance management, the platform would be the only management tool the customer needed, not just another point product.
At that point, the company added performance monitoring tools, with the ability to look at utilization, faults, alarms, call quality and do some reporting.
The last pain point to be addressed had to do with the help desk. The large customer would have young, inexperienced interns on its help desk simply taking calls, filling out trouble tickets and escalating them up the chain.
“They had about three people who would just stare at screens working on those trouble tickets all day,” he says. “Their time could be better used. They were more experienced than that.”
So Clarus set to work on creating a user interface that was simple enough to use that even inexperienced users could perform simple tasks: look up a user, understand their phone configuration, take control of the phone remotely and be able to compare phones. So if John on the third floor is having a problem with his phone, the help desk staffer could compare his phone configuration to that of a neighbor who is not having a problem and identify any difference in configuration that may be causing the problem.
“If they have to escalate, it’s a meatier ticket, with more useful information,” Roberts says.
It wasn’t until far later that the company started calling each of the disciplines the four pillars. And Roberts notes they can apply to far more than UC implementations. “We don’t see how you could manage any complex application without these pillars,” he says.