UC Implementation Strategies

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1 UC Implementation Strategies By Robin Gareiss, Executive VP & Senior Founding Partner, and Irwin Lazar, VP and Service Director, Nemertes Research Executive Summary Organizations increasingly are adopting unified communications in the form of complex projects that involve multiple IT and business-unit leaders. In order to increase the chances of success, it s imperative for IT staffs to adhere to implementation best practices. This paper examines common characteristics of successful unified-communications implementations based on Nemertes research data and experience with enterprise clients. The Issue As IT staffs forge ahead on UC projects, many users and buyers ironically do not fully understand what UC is. Nemertes received various responses from IT leaders who responded to an open-ended question: How do you define unified communications? One common factor is presence, which defines the ability for applications to exchange information about the availability of individuals, groups, or roles, to communicate. Presence status may be as simple as on a call, or as complex as on my cell phone with a client; will be off by 2:30 pm; IM if urgent. The senior IT manager for a global manufacturing company sums it up best when he says UC is asynchronous communications and synchronous communications converging into a single integrated tool set to deliver voice, video, and data with presence and unified messaging. Delivering a communication and collaboration environment in which applications are integrated to share presence, enable users to initiate multiple forms of communication through a common dashboard, and let users control their own availability for communications requires careful attention to both integration and policy management. In addition, those responsible for operational support must ensure that they create the ability for proactive performance and availability management, while paying attention to implementation best practice that get the project off on the right foot. 1

2 Integration & Interoperability Interoperability is the biggest challenge in achieving a successful UC deployment, according to 58% of IT professionals who participated in Nemertes research benchmark. Getting various legacy and new systems to share presence information, support click-to-call or click-to-conference, and enable easy management is a difficultto-overcome challenge. To mitigate integration and interoperability challenges, Nemertes recommends companies standardize on SIP for system-to-system connectivity. Doing so reduces integration complexity by creating a single communications protocol layer for all UC elements. Enterprise IT architects can simplify deployment and management by managing one suite of protocols rather than separate protocols for each type of UC application. IT managers also can take advantage of emerging SIP-based services for extranet connectivity to support communications and collaboration sessions across company or network boundaries. Integrating SIP with legacy systems such as TDM or video-conferencing platforms based on the ITU H.323 protocol often requires gateways. An alternative approach melds the two islands into a single unified infrastructure, with a shared service server at the core. Examples include SIP session border controllers capable of transcoding between SIP and non-sip protocols. For video, one may deploy a server capable of supporting both H.323 and SIP. This server functions as both a H.323 MCU, as well as a SIP proxy server, enabling architects to connect either H.323 or SIP endpoints to a single set of core controllers. In this approach, feature transparency is maintained. The core server (or servers) can provide presence information to other UC applications, while supporting the ability of UC dashboards to initiate conferences regardless of endpoint signaling protocol. This later approach offers a lower total cost of operation, reduced architectural complexity, and elimination of feature disparities. Additional interoperability requirements for a successful implementation include: Validate interoperability of existing directories: Multiple directories must be consolidated into a single directory infrastructure to avoid overlap. Lack of usable fax services: Fax over IP has always been the thorn in the side of VOIP. While most VOIP vendors support International Telecommunications Union T.38 enable fax over IP between IP-enabled fax machines and PSTN gateways, support for fax has not yet materialized in the SIP-trunking market, and interoperability among T.38-based solutions is problematic. Even though fax volumes continue to decline, fax is still a key requirement for contracts. Companies often address fax over IP by deploying fax-to- solutions for in-bound reception, or by using scanners, or fax machines connected to POTS lines for 0utbound faxing, the later resulting in additional cost and complexity. E-911: While some SIP-trunking providers support E-911 services, passing location information on to local PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points), IT executives tell face significant challenges in integrating SIP trunking with 2

3 Security their E-911 architectures. Key issues include the inability for SIP-trunking providers to pass location information to E-911 call routing services. Most SIP providers are limited in their service areas, meaning that they can t route E- 911 calls to local emergency services offices out of their operating locations. IT architects often rely on local POTS lines for 911 access, as with fax, adding additional cost and complexity. Often, companies implement their UC strategies without the involvement of the security team, or with involvement that comes far too late in the implementation. IT leaders must consider the following security issues when implementing a UC strategy: Security: SIP trunking creates a new vector for attacking enterprise phone systems. In most VOIP architectures, the PSTN serves as a firebreak between the enterprise phone system and the rest of the world. Risk of attack from the Internet is low as the VOIP system is physically and potentially logically isolated from the outside. Introducing SIP trunking changes this, as the enterprise phone system is now vulnerable to IP-based attacks via the SIP trunk. Session border controllers or SIP-aware firewalls can mitigate security concerns. Eavesdropping: VOIP traffic carried via SIP trunk across a service provider network is often not encrypted, meaning that the opportunity exists for a rogue person to listen in on private conversations via comprise of service provider networks. However, this threat is no different than the risk of unauthorized interception of any unencrypted IP traffic carried across a service provider network. Address security: Implementing UC creates new threats toward enterprise voice systems, such as data loss and fraud, as well as attacks against the underlying data-network resources. Until now, network managers have primarily worried about these latter threats, such as Denial of Service (DoS) attacks that disrupt not only voice, but other application services, as well. As VOIP and UC systems increasingly peer with external networks via SIPtrunking services and direct voice-to-voice peering services, they face new threats to their VOIP systems. In addition, mobile and wireless services create new vectors that external attackers can use to target business VOIP networks. IT decision-makers should take advantage of security architectures that adequately assess risk and implement mitigation techniques to protect against attacks on UC equipment and the underlying network elements. Investigate UC security platforms and services as part of your deployment. 3

4 Provisioning, Monitoring, Management IT architects cite the need to deploy tools that let them manage and troubleshoot performance of UC applications. In many cases, engineers still rely on packet capture and manual examination of flows to determine problems, a long and arduous task that requires technicians to possesses not only a solid understanding of SIP message flows, but also vendor proprietary extensions to SIP. In some cases, engineers may need to understand proprietary protocols, as well. To address these concerns, many companies turn to Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to assist with developing a management strategy, as well as assisting with implementation. More than half of IT leaders say UC-professional services are vitally important. Similar to VOIP, many factors influence the level of interest in professional services and which services are required, including the number of trained IT staff and the complexity of the products they re deploying. A lot of this (UC) isn't in our core competency, says the CIO of a healthcare facility. So it's very important that we utilize professional services. Figure 1: Monitoring & Management Lifecycle 4

5 Key requirements for a successful management strategy include: Make sure you or the MSP have administrative tools assisting the implementation from Day 0. These tools help with planning and implementation, as indicated in Figure 1. Conduct a pre-deployment test. Run simulated traffic prior to implementation to ensure the WAN is properly sized to handle new real-time applications. You may need to add more bandwidth, for example. Validate that the LAN has Power Over Ethernet, and that LAN switches will are appropriate for the functions of the UC applications you plan to deploy. Consider Application Delivery Optimization tools to help improve performance of applications by reducing latency and compressing traffic. o In a one-for-one replacement of TDM PSTN trunks with SIP trunks, bandwidth costs for SIP trunking can exceed TDM costs due to the additional overhead required for SIP compared with 64 Kbps channels for TDM voice. Growing use of high-quality compression algorithms such as ITU G.722 and G.729 will allow SIP trunking adopters to reduce bandwidth requirements. Managed what you have. Make sure you have tools in place for asset management. Simplify provisioning. Consider tools that will assist with automated account/voic /unified-messaging provisioning using a consistent employee directory. Discuss with the WAN team how to best leverage Class of Service/Quality of Service with each real-time and non-real-time application to achieve predictable performance on all applications. Test: Test interoperability of existing contact-center solutions with IP PBXs. Plan for disaster recovery. Run trials to determine recovery time in the event of an outage. You may find your disaster-recovery strategy does not meet your stated requirements, and resolving that will take some planning and effort up front which is much easier than retrofitting on the back-end. Organizational and Business Strategies Addressing integration, security, and management aren t the only requirements for a successful UC implementation. IT architects and buyers need to pay attention to the business and organizational sides of the project, as well. Key best practices include: Build the business case: Prior to implementation, make sure you have buy-in from the business-unit leaders, and make sure they understand the benefit of the new technologies. Align business priorities to technical capabilities desired in the UC project. Define success: Before any implementation starts, define your success metrics. What are you measuring today (from technology, operations, finance, and productivity perspectives)? What will you compare those to tomorrow 5

6 when the implementation is complete? You want to document success using these metrics. Plan the project. If multiple vendors and providers are involved in the implementation, hold initial implementation meeting to discuss timetables, interoperability, and to set expectations. One of the biggest downfalls of UC implementations is vendors not working well together because they don t have clear direction or expectations from the customer. Manage the outsourcer. Outsourcing doesn t mean out of mind. You need a team of internal IT staff members to manage the relationship with the outsourcer. Make sure those people are adequately trained in managing such relationships. For example, make sure you: o Have a clearly defined escalation procedure with home, mobile, and work numbers, as well as addresses for all on the list. o Clearly establish at what points you will escalate (and always follow through so the vendor knows you mean business). o Document regularly scheduled status meetings throughout the implementation and once operational, and identify the information that should come out of those meetings. o Make sure you have input into product upgrades and feature improvements. o Make sure you have input in any account team changes, and that you have early warning when a key person is leaving (so you can offer the person a position at your company, if it makes sense). o Ask SI or MSP how they address the following during implementation: Incorrect device setup Incorrect gateway configurations Mis-configured dial plans Mis-configured voic /um box setups Resolve voice-quality issues Address vendor interoperability issues o Establish Service Level Agreements and associated penalties for the following metrics: Uptime Latency Jitter Mean Opinion Score Mean Time to Repair Recognize the need for adequate training. IT executives are experiencing challenges in finding those well trained in UC and SIP implementation and management. Concerns extend beyond hiring their own staff to finding qualified VARs, consultants, and even vendor engineers. Successful UC and SIP implementations require cross training between telecom and network 6

7 Conclusion teams to understand the inner-workings of the technologies and the interworkings between them. o Plan for both IT and end-user training. Though IT training doesn t have to be as intense if you use a hosted or managed service, your team must know enough to challenge vendors and make sure the technology is doing all it should be doing. Developing a business case for SIP and UC. Those who have quantified UC benefits point to tangible returns on investment from deployments of onpremise applications, UC in the contact center, UC for field workers, reduced phone bills, travel reductions, and increases in productivity. The SIP-trunking business case typically focuses on straightforward cost reduction when compared to ISDN PRI lines. Clearly define and test trouble-ticket escalation to ensure quick response to your problems. UC implementations are multi-faceted and require careful planning to prevent problems with interoperability, management, security, and organizational strategies. Keep in mind that deploying a UC solution isn t a one-time exercise. Make sure you re appropriately prepared for future technologies, such as: Virtualization of the UC server Desktop virtualization of your employees Fixed-mobile convergence Moving to hosted/cloud and software-based solutions Make sure your project plan includes regular refresh cycles based on vendor upgrades, user changes, and new technology development. About Nemertes Research: Nemertes Research is a research-advisory firm that specializes in analyzing and quantifying the business value of emerging technologies. You can learn more about Nemertes Research at our Website, or contact us directly at 7

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