The automated testing and management tools included in emerging IP telephony management software packages are essential to a complex IP telephony deployment. A manual approach in an enterprise deployment could lead to disaster.
"When you're deploying large-scale IP telephony, IT … throws people at the problem," said Gurmeet Lamba, senior vice president of product development for IP telephony management vendor Clarus Systems. "You hire an army of technicians. They go around doing spot testing. They create some reports doing screen scrapings of the vendor's phone system. It's very manual, expensive and does not scale. It's highly error prone and leads to Monday morning problems."
Lamba said simple packet-sniffing network management products aren't enough, however. Packets may be flowing, but that doesn't tell a network manager what's happening at the application and configuration level.
"They use that to try to infer application-level problems that happen," he said. "More and more companies are realizing that just looking at packets doesn't tell you whether you can make a phone call."
Companies such as Clarus, NetQoS, NetIQ, Integrated Research (the developer of Prognosis), InfoVista, and Fluke Networks all offer software products that specifically manage IP telephony systems throughout their lifecycle.
Joe Basili, vice president of research at AOTMP, said his firm's research has found that companies that actively manage their IP telephony systems tend to resolve problems significantly faster. Companies that actively track IP telephony performance tend to resolve problems within a median of 25 minutes, he said. Companies that try to resolve problems retroactively tend to take up to a median of 54 minutes. These findings were based on a survey of more than 200 organizations.
"With real-time systems, you're measuring and looking at charts, and you have alarms that say, 'Hey, there's a problem with voice quality,' " Basili said.
Clarus IPCPlus 2.4, for instance, manages several phases of the IP telephony lifecycle. It begins with automated testing before the system goes into production.
"Our software takes over control of an IP telephony system and does what an end user would do," Lamba said. "It makes calls, puts calls on hold, transfers calls, and launches a conference bridge. And not just on one phone but on hundreds of thousands of phones. By the time you're done with it, you really know whether [or not] users are going to have all the capabilities of the system available to them."
Clarus and other vendors also track IP telephony performance management and configuration management with real-time monitoring and alerting.
Lamba said his company also provides some business intelligence into an IP telephony system.
"We look at trends on stuff like capacity utilization, degradation of service," Lamba said. "That's huge in provisioning and capacity planning, so you know you'll run out of trunks, for instance, if your call rate continues to grow at a certain rate for three months."
BlueWater Communications Group, an IT consulting firm, uses Clarus's platform to power its lifecycle management services for the IP telephony deployments it sells to clients.
"Clarus fits into the testing, deployment and support phases of our lifecycle services," said John Marchese, vice president of engineering for BlueWater. "We found that traditional methods of deploying and testing involved creating customized test plans and leveraging manual testing of IP phones. So we actually had to have someone go up to each phone or subset of phones and test features."
Marchese said Clarus allows his firm to automate that testing. "It basically reduces our cost because we don't need as many resources to walk out to each phone," he said, "especially when there are remote site deployments where we don't necessarily have to have an engineer at each site."
Before using Clarus, BlueWater manually tested its VoIP deployments, sending technicians from phone to phone to run through a time-consuming manual test plan, followed by another time-consuming documentation process to show the results of those tests, Marchese said. His company wasn't able to do as much testing as it wanted. Clarus has automated the entire process.
Clarus's remote phone management capabilities also allow Marchese's engineers to resolve problems quickly as they arise.
"They allow our engineers to bring up a phone on their desktop via the Clarus application," he said. "And they can control the phone remotely to run some tests, to actually place a call. They're not physically with the phone, but they have a view of that phone through the application. They can perform a test on the physical device itself, but the engineers would be remote."