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By Paula Musich  |  Posted 2007-08-24 Print this article Print

Although the big four enterprise management vendors—Hewlett-Packard, IBM Tivoli, BMC Software and CA—have some VOIP management capabilities, they are decidedly underwhelming, according to Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with Yankee Group. "The investments HP, CA and the others have made in VOIP management are pretty small," Kerravala said. "I think it frustrates users to not have a viable company to go to." Those vendors have yet to step up because they dont see sufficient demand, which creates a chicken-and-egg problem, Kerravala said.
"Management vendors wont really develop robust management solutions until the implementation rates of VOIP increase," he said. "But without the management tools, I dont believe well see it being deployed [on a larger scale]."
For enterprises that are beginning to scale up the size of their deployments, the lack of credible tools from the bigger management vendors has not gone unnoticed, said Fred Knight, general manager of VoiceCon. Still, not all network engineers think theres a lack of good tools to manage VOIP. "There are a lot of great tools out there, but nobody uses 20 tools a day," said a NetQoS customer who asked not to be identified. "You want one or two tools you can rely on 80 percent of the time. When you have a specific problem, then go to a tool kit to get what you need." But theres always room for improvement, and a little extra diagnostic help would go a long way for the NetQoS user. "What Im looking for is to include some kind of correlation or logic in the product to point the finger at the problem and give you the reason for it," the customer said. "A good network engineer can pinpoint a problem quickly, but if you have a tool that tells you exactly what the problem is, thats great—especially when you have something major happening." In the meantime, whats key for ensuring good voice quality and performance is to understand whats happening on the network. "You want to see whats happening real time in your network; you want to get a good feel about capacity [at both the gateway and LAN level]," said the NetQoS customer. But what company is in the best position to provide that kind of visibility? "I think the best-positioned in terms of being most effective are the Net­QoSes, Network Generals—the guys who are very good at analyzing and understanding network traffic—because [voice] is so latency-sensitive," said Tracy Corbo, an analyst at IDC. Beyond the challenges of spotty tool coverage and gaining visibility into traffic flows and performance, IT faces other issues in managing VOIP. Among those is the issue of software patches, which contributed to the widespread Skype outage in mid-August. "The industry needs to be responsive in deploying and testing patches that truly function and guarantee operation," said Jim Boulter, national voice technology manager for the USDA Forest Service in southern Oregon. "I dont think the VOIP industry has been quite as quick to latch onto that need." Security is another issue. "VOIP call controllers are running on commodity operating systems," said Grant Dekker, chief technology officer for the Forest Service, in Washington, D.C., which has a sizable VOIP deployment. "They are under attack more often, so they need to be locked down tightly." Click here to read more about VOIP security issues. And outside of technology issues, skills specific to telephony and organizational issues will challenge IT to think outside the data-networking box. "We recognize we need to develop that skill set in-house," said Black & Deckers Dean. "Finding people with [the right skills] is difficult." "The technical skill set to support this is different from the PBX environment," said the Forest Services Boulter. "You need to be well-rounded and -versed in the applications and telecom to sustain it in a reliable fashion." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.


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