New Management Module for Microsoft OCS

Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) dominated telecommunications news back in October of last year when it was launched with much fanfare and pageantry, but things have been fairly quiet on the OCS front since then.

Yesterday, Houston, Texas-based NetIQ stirred things up a bit when they announced what is, as far as Enterprise VoIPplanet knows, the first comprehensive management tool for the Microsoft UC offering: NetIQ AppManager for Microsoft Office Communications Server.

NetIQ is perhaps uniquely qualified to take on this task. Here’s why. Unified communications, Microsoft style, involves numerous Microsoft components—Microsoft Exchange, as one notable example—in addition to the Office Communication Server itself.

As it happens, NetIQ got its start in life as a developer of management tools for Microsoft systems—starting with Windows NT servers, and moving on to Exchange, Active Directory, SQL Server, and more. So it already has this product landscape covered.

Moreover (as you’ll understand if you’ve “gotten” the Microsoft VoIP ads that run on this site and elsewhere), Microsoft anticipates that most of its OCS customers will retain and continue to use existing PBXs from other vendors. NetIQ already has AppManager modules for PBX vendors Cisco, Nortel, and Avaya, which account for a very large percentage of the enterprise installed base.

So, NetIQ’s got that flank covered as well.

“We’ve introduced this module because we anticipate strong adoption of Microsoft OCS,” NetIQ director of product management Todd Tucker told VoIPplanet. “Our enterprise customers are starting to take serious looks at it—deploy pilots and so forth. It’s a natural extension of their current deployments of Microsoft Exchange,” he said.

“In general, we’ll see OCS added as a complement to an existing IP telephony deployment,” Tucker continued. “It won’t replace it; most likely it will be used for nomadic workers, remote workers. And we expect to see it being used as a broad conferencing platform for a lot of enterprises—a way to have training and other meetings over the Web. That’s a natural fit for this offering right now. It’s not natural for people to get rid of the phones on their desk,” he said.

According to Tucker, NetIQ sees its customer’s goals as reducing costs, boosting performance and productivity, and maximizing their return on their investment in Microsoft technology. Naturally, he sees NetIQ AppManager for OCS as able to help in all these areas.

One aspect of the RoI piece, interestingly, has to do with end-user adoption.

“To be successful with OCS, given the high cost of implementing—it requires a lot to be implemented—a lot of server technology, a lot of applications and services to be rolled out—given the high costs, you have to have your end-users adopting the platform,” Tucker pointed out. “Our customers are facing the challenge of overcoming both the learning curve and what we call the comfort curve.”

So, in addition to the things you would expect a communications-centric network management system to do—real-time performance monitoring, tracking quality of experience, issuing alerts when baseline response thresholds are crossed—AppManager for OCS also provides a wealth of call session data collection and analysis.

In addition to providing trend and capacity planning information, session data can identify and highlight adoption rates and usage patterns. Low or slow adoption by the workforce can trigger management steps to provide additional training and otherwise promote up-take.

Another aspect of RoI that NetIQ has identified, is server-use optimization. Simply put, you want communications servers fully utilized, but not over-utilized. “Make sure you’re utilizing them, but at the same time know when to upgrade, so you’re adjusting for capacity constraints,” as Tucker put it. “We can help on both sides.”

Tucker stressed AppManager’s role in what the company calls unified communications Lifecycle management.

First of all, the tool has an important role to play in initial assessments of network readiness for VoIP or unified communications. It can inventory and assess network devices, stress-test the network for voice and other IP traffic by emulating that traffic on the network, model and predict quality of experience (QoE), and establish baseline performance metrics.

Once a deployment is up and running AppManager fulfills its primary monitoring role: providing visibility of all the significant UC elements—in a single graphical interface; monitoring QoE in real time, tracking network response times; and passing alerts to IT staff when problems begin to show up.

AppManager’s intelligent diagnostics and service-level reporting and analysis help keep the network running smoothly and proactively improving QoE. And, as mentioned, its trend analysis capabilities contribute to capacity planning.

NetIQ AppManager for Microsoft OCS is available immediately. List pricing starts at $1,500 per managed server.

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