Is unified communications just another app?

Taj El Khayat, general manager, Middle East and North Africa at Riverbed, a high performance networks solutions vendor, discusses unified communications (UC) and whether or not it is just another set of enterprise applications.

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Is unified communications just another app? El Khayat says application performance management implementations are not geared towards real-time UC apps.
By  Taj Elkhayat Published  October 1, 2013

Taj El Khayat, general manager, Middle East and North Africa at Riverbed, a high performance networks solutions vendor, discusses unified communications (UC) and whether or not it is just another set of enterprise applications.

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 data centre 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.

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 right. If you pick up the phone and there’s no dial tone you’ll be very put off — much worse than when your email acts a little slow. Suppose you’re ready for a big call at 9am but find the phone’s offline? Or what if the teleconferencing is down for the board meeting? These are huge productivity issues.

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 session.

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 application performance management (APM) implementations are not geared toward real-time UC apps, 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 apps 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 professionals believe that a UC-aware APM solution has plenty of advantages to justify the investment.

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.
Most importantly, UC-aware APM understands how to work with real-time UC components like voice and video streaming, giving IT the same APM tools and end-to-end quality monitoring it enjoys with more typical apps.

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. With phones and the like moving onto the network, it is understandable that the impetus to see UC as just another set of apps has gained momentum. But that doesn’t mean that UC apps can’t benefit from special management firms that make heavy use of APM and virtualised UC solutions to look into UC-aware APM as well.

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