Unified Communications Demand Thorough Network Testing

Everyone agrees networking testing is important, but when it comes to enhancing performance, Unified Communications services demand the most meticulous monitoring.

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By Carl Weinschenk, IT Business Edge

Nobody disputes the fact that any telecommunication network or IT infrastructure element should continually be monitored to make sure that any developing issue is caught before it blossoms into a problem that disrupts services to end users. This is vital across the entire network, but nowhere more critical than in networks that support unified communications.

A couple of weeks ago, IT Business Edge posted a feature story looking at the importance of testing, measuring and monitoring UC networks during the pre-planning and deployment phase. The story concluded that it was especially important to ensure that these networks were built on a firm foundation. If they are not, they are likely to become victims of their own success. A well-thought-out UC initiative will be so enticing that a higher than expected volume of impromptu ad hoc meetings will be held, and these will each use multiple communications channels. Such high volume and unpredictable use will stress systems early and often. Evolve IP's Scott Kinka has a great podcast on growth and testing at Unified Communications Edge.

Observers agree on the importance of monitoring and testing systems in an ongoing manner. "I can't emphasize that this is of equal or greater importance than [testing and monitoring at the point of] the initial deployment," says Bob Hockman, the director of Product Marketing at Empirix.

Indeed, pre-deployment and production -- operational -- testing are two sides of the same coin. "My first assertion is that given the dynamic changes [production networks will undergo], the line between deployment and ongoing operations is fading," says Gurmeet Lamba, the senior vice president for Product Development for Clarus Systems. "There is no such thing as saying that a deployment is completed and now the company can move onto ongoing operations. You have to treat every day as an important day, and test and monitor just as you do during deployment."

Lamba suggests what he calls a "four pillar" approach to ongoing testing and monitoring: automation, performance management, configuration management and the use of business intelligence data to avoid potential problems in network operations. Each of these areas has its unique intricacies and each changes in emphasis from the planning/deployment to production network phase, which Lamba shorthands as "day one" and "day two" operations.

In a vast majority of cases, things will be purring along when the vendor, value-added resellers and network integrators shake hands and drive out of the parking lot. "Here's the problem: That is a point in time," says Jim Melvin, the president and CEO of Apparent Networks. "You have no idea what will happen the minute they walk out the door. The only constant in life is change. The company can hire 20 people, sell off a division or want an upgrade for the Christmas rush…[Some] companies are blind to that. They rely on the wall plug for power, and think that it is no different for IP. But it couldn't be more different."

Of course, testing and monitoring are vital elements of any telecom or IT system. They become even more important when a UC layer is placed atop the core Internet protocol (IP) or time-division multiplex (TDM) infrastructure. The fact that virtually all of the organization's ability to communicate is wrapped up in the UC mesh makes a particular problem potentially far more devastating. In other words, in a siloed world, an individual problem may take down the phones or e-mail. As problematic as that is, the same problem in a UC infrastructure could potentially take down the entire network, from voice to e-mail and beyond.

In that context, the dramatic changes that most companies undergo on a regular basis -- adding and subtracting employees, adding new applications and communications conduits, deploying new software revs and otherwise drastically changing the innards of its communications system -- must be managed, tested and monitored in a proactive manner.

This article was originally published on May 10, 2010
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