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The ultimate guide to Optimizing your Cisco Unified Communications

IR Media

Written by IR Media

info@ir.com

It seems as though change is the only constant in the world of Unified Communications (UC), and worldwide change is happening at break-neck speed. What was considered shiny and new in your UC infrastructure just a couple of years ago, is now most probably approaching its use-before date.

In this  edition of the Cisco UC guide, we show you the best ways to keep your finger on the pulse of all things communication and collaboration, so that you can make informed decisions on which platforms are right for you.

In order to achieve your business goals, stay competitive and maximise ROI on your Cisco UC investment, the pressure’s on. If you want to keep up, then read on.

So What's This Guide All About?

The mind-boggling rise of new technology, from cloud-based connectivity to artificial intelligence, UCaaS and IoT, has caused a seismic shift in the UC landscape.

Communication and collaboration now is far more than picking up a phone or conducting a face-to-face meeting. Every day, there are more effective ways to strengthen connections with colleagues and customers, both globally and locally.

Who's This Guide For?

This guide is geared toward larger enterprises, but by no means limited to the bigger players. After all… almost every organization, large or small, has a bewildered Network Administrator, frustrated UC Ops Manager, overwhelmed CTO or CIO struggling to get a firm grip on their company’s network handle.

Read on, and you’ll find out how to get the very most out of your Cisco unified communications and collaboration (UCC) systems, or if you don’t have the time to read it all, you can even skim-read a specific topic, but be sure to share with your team to keep them informed too. You’ll find info on high-level, detailed UC best practices, and how to keep up to date with the latest UC technology.

IT teams spend a lot of time problem solving, and with a large, complicated network, there are usually plenty of problems to solve. We’ll help you understand your UC needs, reduce complications and decrease your environment’s risk by highlighting the importance of an effective monitoring and troubleshooting solution.

In this guide, you’ll learn about reactive and proactive problem solving, and how to benchmark your network’s performance so that you can see what’s working, what’s not working… and how to plug the hole.

To wrap it up, we’ll take a brief look at market trends (at the time of writing), and share expert insights on what’s to come in the UCC space.

COVID-19: How a Pandemic Has Changed the World of Unified Communications and Collaboration

It would be remiss not conclude the introduction to this guide without acknowledging the driving force behind major changes to impact the global workforce. The unprecedented effects of COVID-19 have shaken the world like no other disaster in modern times, and in business terms, essentially changed the meaning of what will be considered “normal” in the future.

Organizations are now realizing that if they’re to maintain business continuity in times of disaster, they need to enable a sound platform for
remote workforce collaboration. As a result, WFH (or Working From Home) is another ubiquitous acronym that’s now been added to the UCC vernacular.

Before COVID-19, remote working was considered more of a ‘perk of the job’, but with social distancing and forced isolation, it’s become the new standard. And it’s hard to imagine things ever going back to how they used to be.

The strain and pressure on an enterprise’s UCC infrastructure has no doubt been significant. So, in this guide, we’ll cover the steps you should be taking to help build a more solid infrastructure that can withstand any crisis.

Download a PDF copy of the Cisco UC guide


Connecting the World With Cisco | 01

In a relatively young industry like global networking, Cisco’s legacy will always be its stable, reliable products. Most large enterprises worldwide have Cisco hardware and/or software in one form or another. Over the years, Cisco has continued to grow and innovate, and with the UC giant’s seemingly constant acquisition of dominant disrupters, they have a lot to offer. Their powerful Webex suite of collaboration tools is the leading enterprise solution for video and team communication.

Optimizing Your Cisco Environment

Cisco deployments scale from smaller Server Message Block protocol (SMB) environments to multi-site global ecosystems. Regardless of the size of the organization or the number of users, providing a great user experience is the most important goal for UC/IT teams, but achieving that goal can present challenges.

Working with some of the largest Cisco deployments right across the globe, we’ve found that there are critical considerations regarding optimizing your Cisco environment.

Network Bandwidth and Performance

People can’t collaborate if they don’t communicate. From instant messaging to file sharing to video conferencing, recent years have seen companies like Cisco roll out a spate of new collaboration tools such as Webex Meetings and Webex capitalise. Asana, Google Docs, GoToMeeting are other popular collaboration tools. The adoption of these tools means that network requirements change, and this can dramatically affect network performance.

Key takeaway: Setting bandwidth alerts can advise teams when systems are reaching their limits, triggering increased resources to avoid issues. Also, tracking bandwidth growth over time, by location, can help plan for network expansion where it’s needed most.

Maximizing License Usage

Unused software licenses are far more common than you think. If you make IT decisions, you’ll know that enterprise licenses can be costly - with every seat worth anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. We’ve seen organizations with up to 30% of applications going completely unused, due to an office relocating or closing and failing to reassign licenses. Managing endpoints that will never be used wastes valuable resources that could be applied elsewhere. In 2018, Cisco introduced a new way for customers to acquire Cisco collaboration software and associated support. The Cisco Collaboration Flex Plan, which bundles licenses, maintenance and support into a single solution while offering flexible terms and payment options.

Key takeaway: Any organizations using enterprise licensing needs to consider whether the software is being used enough to justify the costs. Perform regular audits to determine how often the applications are being used, and use that data to determine whether to reduce, increase or maintain the level of licenses purchased for the next year.

Migrating From On-Premises To Hybrid To Cloud

As more and more organizations prepare to move all or part of their UC workload to the cloud, it’s vital to have complete visibility across the on-premises and cloud-based solutions. You need to know what on-premises equipment is located where, and who is using it. For example, decommissioning a desk phone that appears to be unused may seem logical, but if this is the handset servicing the CEO’s remote office, it could have major repercussions. If your organization is planning to upgrade mission-critical applications, and cloud migration is part of this process, then compile a checklist. Start by appointing someone as migration architect. In this role, they would consider such factors as the level of cloud integration/single cloud or multi-cloud, establishing your cloud KPIs and performance baselines, refactoring, switch over production, and prioritizing your migration components.

Key takeaway: Complete visibility across all platforms allows organizations to extract maximum return from existing on-premises assets as you migrate to the cloud.

Troubleshooting Cisco

Cisco provides a stable and robust communications infrastructure, but problems can still arise. Changes to the UC environment, like software updates, or the introduction of new hardware, like video endpoints, can break things in your network. The ability to see who made the change, where and when is critical to resolution.

Teams managing a Cisco deployment need to be able to identify where issues are occurring and have the ability to drill down to the root cause. Contextual data on any issues, provided by a performance management tool, empowers teams to quickly troubleshoot those issues. Knowing that a problem exists is only the first step. The contextual data shows why a particular router is down, or why a certain SBC dropped a call, or explains the reason for poor video quality during a conferencing call.

This data is the power that allows L0 and L1 engineers to troubleshoot less complex issues, while freeing up L2, L3 and L4 engineers to focus on more critical issues and business transformation initiatives.

Cisco's Webex Family: An Entire Suite of Collaboration Solutions

In 2018, Cisco announced the convergence of its Cisco Spark and Webex platforms into a new ecosystem of services. The Webex family now includes Webex Teams, Webex Meetings, Webex Room series and Webex Share.

The Webex application is a secure cloud team collaboration platform that allows for continuous teamwork with video meetings, guest access, group messaging, file sharing, white boarding – even your own personal meeting room.

With more and more organizations migrating their operations to the cloud, it’s a total integration of technology complete with a common cloud back end. But for those businesses who still plan on running a hybrid environment for the foreseeable future, Cisco has solutions that connect with Webex Teams for a single integrated user experience.

Complete visibility across all platforms allows organizations to extract maximum return from existing on-premises assets as you migrate to the cloud.

IR's solutions can help you effectively monitor, troubleshoot and optimize your Cisco environment.

Navigating a Multi-Vendor UC World | 02

While Cisco continues to dominate the UC space, every introduction of new technology brings with it some level of risk. Also, each existing technology can pose a threat if not properly maintained. Adding to the risk is a UC environment consisting of multiple vendor hardware and applications. A poorly executed UC strategy can hinder an organization’s ability to function, seriously affecting ROI and impacting its bottom line.

Multi-Vendor UC Visibility

Many organizations have a complex UC ecosystem, using multiple vendors for specific tasks. There are several aspects to consider, like the network itself, video and voice components, security equipment, replacement hardware and more.

One of the challenges with UC systems management is interoperability between these multiple vendors – and the chances of things going wrong can greatly increase.

This is where you need tools that can see the entire picture. You need one window that can give full visibility and the ability to troubleshoot across the entire ecosystem, including all vendors, applications, servers, endpoints and network devices. The ability to resolve issues quickly is essential. But equally important is the ability to pinpoint the reason for the issue, and to predict the likelihood of it happening in the future.

Many IT managers cite limited budget as a primary reason for not investing in UC monitoring and troubleshooting tools. But in fact these tools are vital in thwarting or shortening outages, preventing slowdowns and downtime – and necessary if you want to curtail related problems like lost sales or reduced productivity.

No organisation can afford to be without the necessary tools that will provide reporting, analytics, performance monitoring, problem resolution, root cause analysis and much more.

Key takeaway: Not having monitoring tools in place is like buying an expensive new car, and then driving it around without insurance and  roadside-assistance.

Moving To the UC Cloud

With the UC industry moving inexorably to the cloud, it’s even more important to adopt proactive performance management measures.

Some organizations are still hesitant about cloud migration, mainly due to concerns about network stability, service performance, and an over-reliance on legacy systems. While many CIOs and CTOs are opting for a phased migration, a hybrid approach adds complexity and raises questions about ‘who owns what’. Does a video call fail because of an on-premises application, or is it a cloud issue?

Maintaining a productive workforce and a positive user experience during cloud migration is dependent on being able to see immediately where the problem lies, and acting on it quickly.

Connecting with customers

Most UC platforms work pretty well if they’re operating in a single-vendor environment. But what about when you need to communicate with people outside your organization - specifically, with your customers? Proper monitoring tools should cover not only those UC systems that touch internal employees but also those that you use to communicate with your customers. This is crucial because most UC providers offer one system for the corporate communications environment and a completely separate system for customer engagement. You need a single, end-to-end performance-management solution that bridges the gap in a single solution.

Not having monitoring tools in place is like buying an expensive new car, and then driving it around without insurance and roadside-assistance.

IR's solutions can help you effectively monitor, troubleshoot and optimize your Cisco environment.

Upgrading Cisco | 03

When upgrading and moving Cisco collaboration architecture toward the cloud, many organizations have taken advantage of Cisco’s Flex Licensing. This option makes the most sense from a business value standpoint, and allows a gradual transition to cloud based components. However, for the upgrade to progress as smoothly as possible, the first step is to accurately evaluate your current environment.

Assess the Current Ecosystem

Cisco is regularly adding to its UC offerings, allowing increased flexibility. With tools like Webex Teams, Cisco Meeting Server, Webex Teams, Room Video Conferencing etc., UC has never been more streamlined.

But all these different components and any other vendor components must be accounted for to understand the potential bandwidth, security and server requirements needed in the upgrade. You need to consider where the units are registered, and how they may be used in the cloud.

This is where it’s critical to have a comprehensive view of the current ecosystem from a single dashboard. This will ensure that all parts of implementation and upgrade will happen without glitches. Any potential issues can be proactively identified instead of spending excessive engineering hours after the fact

Determining your Endpoints

As well as establishing requirements for the upgraded architecture, this is the opportunity to look at network endpoints. Upgrades mean new components, which allow for more effective collaboration. Cisco Broadworks is a carrier-grade open-architecture software platform, hosted by service providers to deploy cloud calling over any type of network environment. It’s a single system for all unified communications, including call control, private voice networking and unified messaging.

For interoperability, Cisco Broadworks runs entirely on open standards including Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) with a broad array of network access and back office equipment. But to take full advantage of the multi-platform support and the other parts of the cloud that Cisco offers, you need to know if your endpoint devices will support these features.

Taming a Complex Environment

The majority of IR customers are large enterprises with complex multi-vendor architectures spanning the globe. However, there are smaller companies with mission critical requirements and UC environments with the same need to be monitored, maintained and optimized at all times. When upgrading Cisco, you need to investigate every element in the UC system to ensure that it’s ready to cope with increased demand. The more complicated the collaboration architecture, the greater value IR brings to your UC environment.

It’s critical to completely understand the current state of your environment as you transition through the upgrade process. You need to determine if they can withstand any additional stress, or if your environment is capable of working in a faster, and vastly different upgraded environment.

Not having monitoring tools in place is like buying an expensive new car, and then driving it around without insurance and roadside-assistance.

How IR can help with Cisco Upgrade

Managing UC Cloud Migration Strategy | 04

Statistics are a valuable benchmark on which to base decisions, so let’s take a look at some in relation to cloud adoption. Working in the cloud is what the business world is calling a ‘no-brainer’:

  • 94% of enterprises already use a cloud-based service.
  • At least 83% of enterprise workloads will be in the cloud by the end of 2020 – with 41% on public cloud platforms, 20% private cloud based and 22% relying on hybrid cloud adoption.
  • 30% of all IT budgets are allocated to cloud computing.
  • Currently, organizations leverage almost 5 different cloud platforms on average.

The Growth of the Cloud and Its Challenges

With those statistics in hand, it’s inevitable that the cloud is where the business world is headed. So understandably, many IT teams are somewhat concerned about maintaining the quality of user experience. The success of a cloud migration is vital to achieving an optimized UC environment, and cloud migration is not without its challenges. This is why it’s vital to understand your internal network performance and the network connecting you to your cloud provider (ie the ISP’s network and the public internet, or a dedicated connection), which sits between you and your cloud vendor’s UCaaS.

Managing migration is a huge undertaking for IT departments. They’re switching entire communication and collaboration strategies, so mission-critical communications can’t be allowed to fail. If a user experience is unacceptable, or interferes with productivity and workflow, then businesses will opt to stay with ‘what they know’, delaying ROI, driving up costs and negatively impacting IT operations.

Moving to the cloud doesn’t eliminate the need for proactive performance management. Customers can’t rely on the UCaaS provider for troubleshooting, as they most likely won’t have visibility into the customer network. This means that issues will have to be found, analyzed and fixed by the customer.

Things to Consider

It can be difficult to decipher differences between vendors and solutions. One way to get an objective perspective on your options is to seek analyst opinion. For example, Gartner has evaluated four aspects of cloud migration that will affect its adoption (both positively and negatively) over the next three years.

Each cloud UC solution will have a specific set of trade-offs, so enterprises need to decide which features they are (or aren’t) willing to live without as the market matures.

In the enterprise market, ensure that your chosen cloud UC solution supports important requirements, like survivability in the event of an outage or service interruption. You may have to re-evaluate your options if you have a large existing capital expenditure invested in a telephony system, as cloud solutions may not be the right fit. The wide adoption of UC solutions like Cisco Webex are designed as cloud-only solutions, and may not adequately support a hybrid journey.

Hybrid Cloud Scenarios

  • Dynamic or frequently changing workloads.
    An easily scalable public cloud could be used for your dynamic workloads, while more sensitive or volatile workloads could live on a private cloud or on-premises data center.
  • Separating critical from less sensitive workloads.
    Sensitive financial or customer information could be stored on your private cloud, while a public cloud could run the remainder of your enterprise applications.
  • Big data processing.
    You could run some of your big data analytics using highly scalable public cloud resources, while also using a private cloud to ensure that sensitive data stays securely behind your firewall.
  • Moving at your own pace.
    Try out some workloads on a public cloud or a small-scale private cloud to see what works for your enterprise. Then continue expanding your cloud presence as needed – ie public clouds, private clouds or a mixture of the two.
  • Temporary processing capacity.
    A hybrid cloud allows you to allocate public cloud resources for short term projects at a lower cost than if you used your own data center’s IT infrastructure. This means you won’t have to over-invest in equipment you’ll only need in the short term.
  • Future flexibility.
    Every enterprise has changing needs; no matter how well you plan to meet current needs, they may change in a month or a year. A hybrid cloud approach lets you match your actual data management requirements to the resources best equipped to handle them.
  • The best of both worlds.
    Unless your organization’s needs are clear-cut, and able to be fulfilled by a specific cloud solution, there’s no need to limit your options. A hybrid approach lets you tap the advantages of both worlds simultaneously.

A hybrid approach lets you move gradually to the cloud at a pace that suits your organization, while maximizing your investment in existing on-premises infrastructure.

 

Hybrid Cloud Scenarios

Organizations can choose between various public, private, hybrid or multi-cloud solutions. No matter what migration framework you choose, the steps to achieving the best possible outcome are the same – plan, deploy and operate.

Plan

Even before the planning phase, you should establish a migration architect role to lead the process. Their core responsibility should be to define the necessary refactoring required, as well as designing strategies for data migration and determining migration priorities. This planning phase should take into account what level of cloud integration you’re going to use. This doesn’t just include technology – it also needs to assess people and processes. Once the assessment is complete, you need to set goals and SLAs to measure the success and progress of the migration.

Deploy

The deployment phase is where you track adoption, monitor performance and guide users as the migration rolls out. Whether you planned a gradual move, a lift and shift, or a complete migration solution, communication is key. You need to keep track of timelines, features gained and lost, expectations, success criteria and training. This is where you’ll identify the connections between your services and which services depend on what other services.

In the planning phase you may have defined the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for your applications and services but in the deployment phase, you’ll need to assess if they’re still the right ones once they are in the cloud. To secure end user adoption, it’s essential to have monitoring and troubleshooting tools in place to measure, identify, analyze and resolve issues quickly. This where multi-vendor tools come into their own, as they provide visibility across various different technologies within your UC ecosystem.

Operate

The operations phase is all about ongoing support, refining tools and processes, and gauging the progress of your UC migration. A support model is a must. In conjunction with the monitoring setup in the deployment phase, you’ll have a clear picture of what’s working and what’s not – and if necessary, install additional features for users. Tracking and reporting on SLAs continues during this phase and ongoing testing of your environment ensures it remains healthy. Reporting should also include detailed analytics on the ROI of your migration. This will help determine whether your organization is ready for a full migration, or whether remaining with a hybrid solution is a better option.

IR can help with your UC cloud migration: before, during and after. Just talk to our team today.

UC Cloud Migration Mistakes to Avoid

Migrating UC to the cloud is usually part of a larger digital transformation initiative, so it’s critical to get this process right to see a return on investment. Here are five key mistakes to avoid during your migration project.

DON’T move everything to the cloud purely on principal. This approach means you may fail to recognize the intricacies of individual applications. Adapting a hybrid approach may be a smarter move.

DON’T fail to assess or test your UC environment, which is critical for a successful migration. Testing identifies the quality, availability and readiness of your UC environment. It helps answer important questions like ‘Do we have enough bandwidth at peak load?’ and ‘Can we scale as the business demands?’

DON’T move too fast. Slow and steady is a wiser option. Move team by team, branch by branch so that you can learn what’s working and what’s not. A gradual approach allows users to become familiar with new systems without network disruptions.

DON’T fail to monitor ongoing performance and quality. Even after extensive testing and a seemingly successful deployment, many organizations still encounter issues. Ongoing proactive monitoring and troubleshooting should become part of your day to day UC management for maximum cloud benefits.

DON’T assume all applications are cloud enabled. All UC environments have connected apps, but not all can work in the cloud. For those that are cloud enabled, you generally need to update their settings when migrating to the cloud. 

IRs UC assessor

Endpoint Management | 05

Video conferencing is now the standard way to communicate with colleagues, partners and clients. It boosts team productivity, enables remote working, saves a fortune on travel costs and helps to achieve ROI quickly and efficiently. However, video meetings are also more demanding in that they impose increased requirements for both video conferencing endpoints and digital communication channels. With the growth of huddle rooms and the vast array of multi-vendor collaboration tools now available, UC teams need to master all domains. They also need complete, clear visibility into the UC ecosystem to troubleshoot endpoint problems and prevent issues from negatively impacting the user experience.

Challenges of Video Conferencing

In the not-so-distant past, endpoints were viewed as commodities, organizations devoted minimal time and resources to endpoint selection and management. But in today’s UC world, endpoints become a critical component of the overall solution and significantly impact the project’s success or failure. This is particularly true in multivendor environments where the compatibility and functionality of an endpoint varies greatly based on the platform with which it’s used. Successful UC deployment involves a deep understanding of user populations and the most suitable devices for a specific user profile.

Common Communication Issues
Recurring issues facing video conferencing include:

  • Poor quality video and/or audio
  • An inability to connect at all
  • Confusion over how to use the application
  • Incompatibility between UC applications and devices
  • Disconnected cables
  • Security and encryption concerns
  • Lack of utilization and adoption of metrics and reports
  • Insufficient bandwidth
  • Inability to see where the problem lies

In today’s rapidly evolving world of UC, video communication can take on various different forms, so the range of endpoint devices and applications is extensive. Depending on the specific communication needs, video conferencing systems can include:

  • Telepresence video conferencing
  • Integrated video conferencing
  • Desktop video conferencing
  • Service-based video conferencing
  • Codec

With all these different forms of video communication, users are congregated at boardroom tables, at work stations or office desks, in private meeting rooms, in a home office or even in an airport or a coffee shop. This poses a variety of problems for UC teams managing endpoints, as devices behave differently based on how they interact and are recognized within specific applications.

Monitoring and Troubleshooting Tools
There’s no doubt that successful endpoint management involves the ability to clearly see what’s going on when, where, and with whom. With the different collaboration tools, including video, voice, chat and document sharing, plus the increase in remote working, there are many endpoints and connections involved. This makes it difficult for UC teams to control the user experience.

The good news is that the right troubleshooting tools can quickly help you resolve any disruptions. The best tools will even provide proactive alerting that can alleviate many video conferencing problems, like notifying you when that HDMI cable is disconnected. The benefit of being proactive is that you’re on top of problems before they actually happen, so you can resolve issues before users even know about them.

Key takeaway: Visibility is key in endpoint management. IT and UC teams need to be able to monitor, manage and troubleshoot all collaboration devices and applications proactively as they’re introduced. This is where third-party monitoring and troubleshooting tools come into their own. Tools like IR solutions not only keep track of call quality and multiple endpoint performance, but can identify security breaches, create alerts and vastly improve the user experience.

Complete, clear visibility into the UC ecosystem to troubleshoot problems can prevent endpoint issues from negatively impacting the user experience.

IRs UC assessor

Troubleshooting UC Like a Ninja | 06

Your UC environment can sometimes seem riddled with landmines, where navigating around your network to find problems requires the skill and stealth of an IT ninja. But UC monitoring and troubleshooting needn’t be as daunting as you might think. With the right tools and training, and a problem-solving model, you can effectively combat your issues.

Every troubleshooting initiative needs a starting point from which to identify possible origin of your issue. It might seem ridiculously obvious, but ‘Have you unplugged and plugged it back in?’ Start with checking your endpoint connections, then…

Begin at the Beginning

  • Check your infrastructure
  • Check the call history logs
  • Check real time statistics on calls (if available)
  • Check network (especially QoS setting)
  • Check endpoints, firmware and registration

The Model for UC Problem Solving

The most simple yet effective troubleshooting procedures involve a logical and methodical approach.

Step 1:
Inspect the problem and draft a succinct problem statement. Take note of the symptoms and likely root causes.

Step 2:
Collect the data points and logs required to help isolate potential causes.

Step 3:
Analyze possible root causes based on the data points and facts you collected.

Step 4:
Develop an action plan based on the causes. Start with the most probable cause and create a plan where you can test one variable.

Step 5:
Deploy the action plan, implementing each step carefully while testing to see if the symptoms go away.

Step 6:
Scrutinize the results to determine whether the problem has been resolved. If resolved, accept that the process is finished.

Not resolved? Devise an action plan based on the next most likely cause on your list. Return to Step 4 and repeat the process until it’s resolved.

Advanced UC Troubleshooting

Sometimes, the simple approach requires more in-depth investigation, but often overworked IT teams find it hard to see the forest for the trees – even when they’re in plain sight. Here are 2 factors that should always be top of mind.

Servers Running Hot
It’s a good idea to check the infrastructure metrics such as CPU, or memory, services (if applicable) for your monitored devices. Setting up proactive alerting to let you know via email or SNMP trap (or notification directly into your Ticketing application) when infrastructure metrics are about to hit critical is key for you to proactively monitor your environment.

If your business has heavy call volumes during certain seasons, it is also a good idea to do stress or load testing on your environment prior to that event to ensure your environment can handle the expected call volume.

Voice Quality
All major vendors allow you to report on voice quality metrics from Cisco, Avaya, and Microsoft to SBC vendors like Oracle, AudioCodes and Sonus. Being able to historically search and review troublesome calls is critical for finding out the root cause of voice quality issues. Searching by user or extension in a performance management tool allows you to view calls a user or extension made and diagnose by looking at degradation factors like packet loss, jitter and latency. If you have an SBC in the environment, you can also view the call path from end to end with VQ360 where call quality from UC systems and SBC are stitched together. Some vendors also support streaming live voice quality metrics for calls. This is useful to see real time performance statistics of calls.

Ongoing Testing

Just because a UC or Contact Center system is up, does not mean it can pass calls through. It is always good to have regular outside in testing to ensure your systems can be reached from the outside by your customer or external parties calling in. This could be your IVRs, or your external facing number. A regular test call from the outside can test that your UC or Contact Center system is ready to pass the call through to relevant individuals.

Use a Network Troubleshooting Feature Set Like IR Path Insight

Being able to view the network hops, or “path”, that a call has taken can show the latency between each hop

Using a tool like Path Insight can help. The interactive Network Hop visual diagram allows you to click on router/switches and drill down to get a plain English root cause analysis of that network interface.

For Cisco, even though network hop data is not reported by the vendor, you can use third party tools, like IR’s solutions, to troubleshoot your network and review problematic interfaces which are checked on an ongoing basis.

If you’re having voice quality issues, it is always a good idea to check if QoS (DSCP) is enabled on your network. This indicates whether the voice is being prioritized correctly over other traffic. Path Insight comes built in with a synthetic call simulator that allows you to run a test to indicate exactly which router or switch is stripping or not configured for QoS.

With the right tools and training, and a problem-solving model, you can effectively combat your UC troubleshooting issues.

Network assessment tools can also check if your environment is ready for voice or video by running synthetic transactions in the environment.

These assessments also have the capability to detect if QoS marking are enabled on your network even before you implement your UC application.

IRs UC assessor

Vendor vs Third-Party Monitoring Tools | 07

Imagine the modern business world without UC. Today it’s unheard of to conduct business without access to the tools that universally connect us. Your UC infrastructure directly relates to optimum outcomes for your bottom line, so when your communication systems are underperforming, the negative impact is almost instantaneous.

UC Insurance

Without the right ‘insurance measures’ to optimize your UC investment, you’ll be weakening and jeopardizing your entire communications infrastructure. The right performance management tools ensure that organizations realize maximum ROI, provide a better user experience, and relieve massive pressure on IT teams. Extensive research shows that efficient performance management tools save far more than they cost.

IT leaders rely on UC monitoring and troubleshooting tools for a great many functions:

  • Reporting
  • Performance monitoring
  • Analytics
  • Problem resolution
  • Uptime
  • Event monitoring
  • Auditing
  • Root cause analysis
  • Fault management

Out-of-the-box vs third-party monitoring tools

Many organizations use Cisco, probably the most widely known, reliable and trusted vendor worldwide for UC systems. But no matter what vendor you use, or how many endpoints you have, you still need to know how your UC is performing, when it fails and why, how to fix it and prevent failures from happening in the future.

All vendors provide specific troubleshooting and monitoring tools for their own systems and equipment, but they monitor only the solutions of the supporting vendor. Most organizations have multiple endpoints, and use a variety of devices and applications, where an out-of-the-box monitoring solution simply won’t work. When it comes to third-party monitoring tools, you get much more. Third-party UC monitoring and troubleshooting tools generally have a multi-vendor capability, and provide a wider view of the equipment and environment they monitor and manage.

Eliminating silos and connecting the dots

When troubleshooting, you might have numerous people from various teams unsuccessfully trying to resolve an issue from different areas. These silos slow down the analysis of failure metrics (MTTR, MTBF or MTTF). Only by being able to keep track of these critical KPIs can an enterprise maximize uptime and keep disruptions to a minimum.

This is why it makes much more sense to be able to see into an entire UC ecosystem from one vantage point. Say for example, you need information from other teams, (network, desktop or security) in order to troubleshoot a current issue. Third-party tools provide deep insight across all elements of your UC environment, allowing access to all the information you need to resolve a problem in real time, allowing your teams to work more efficiently and reduce time to resolution.

Certification matters

With third-party performance management tools, it’s vital to have vendor-certified solutions to make sure they will work with the equipment you’re going to monitor.

Differences between third party and vendor UC monitoring and troubleshooting tools

UC Monitoring for Service Providers | 08

As a UC Service Provider (SP), it’s crucial to make sure that your customers have a great user experience every time. After all, they’ve come to you because they don’t want to deal with service issues – that’s your job.

How IR can help Service Providers

SPs can reduce their time to deploy and activate new managed customers faster with IR. Our solutions can also give SPs access to new, innovative revenue streams by providing value-added services for customers. Flexible deployment and operation models support many SP business models including private cloud hosting, premise remote managed, single and multi-tenant, SaaS, storage etc.

But as an SP, employing separate tools for various vendor systems to gain visibility and insight is costly and inefficient. IR’s SP solutions reduce costs and improve service delivery efficiency across multi-vendor UC and CC services, by offering a centralized view across customers in one operator experience; from a single solution to multi-tenant deployment architecture.

IR is a long standing Cisco Preferred Solution Partner and Prognosis has undergone interoperability verification testing (IVT) for many years.

IR Service Provider Solutions for Cisco HCS

IR’s service assurance, performance analytics and experience testing solutions are widely adopted by Cisco-focused cloud and UC managed service providers worldwide. Cloud, managed and outsourcing services are all supported from our market leading, multi-tenant and highly scalable solutions that manage millions of endpoints for SPs globally.

Meet SLAs and deliver customer satisfaction

The monetary penalties resulting from not meeting service level agreements (SLAs) hurt revenue and margin. IR’s solutions provide deep domain experience with service provider expertise built in, plus customer access to view performance reports and validate service delivery.

Get a simple view across your Cisco and multi-vendor UCaaS and CCaaS platforms, accelerate time to revenue, reduce service delivery costs and be enabled to exceed your SLAs.

IR is a long-standing Cisco Preferred Solution Partner and has undergone interoperability verification testing (IVT) for many years.

UC Trends | 09

Even in the last two years, UC has come a long way. Businesses now solely depend on interconnectedness and the sharing of information, which in turn depends on UC to operate at maximum efficiency. Let’s look at the top three developments that look set to dramatically impact the UC sector in the next couple of years.

UCaaS is on the Rise

Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) continues to shape the way we work, with innovations and pioneering new technologies appearing every few weeks. Moving to the cloud has been one of the most talked-about business innovations for years. Industry researchers report that approximately 30% of enterprises are already actively using full cloud collaboration services and the remaining 70% are planning to use services that can only be offered from the cloud. This is less of a “future trend” discussion, and more the reality of collaboration today. Enterprises are no longer filling their offices with hardware to support their UC needs, but instead are connecting their telephony and video endpoints to their preferred services. Even the office space ‘as a place’ is disappearing in favour of remote working.

Multi-Platform Environments are the Norm

Currently, organizations average 3.8 platform vendors for their collaboration and communication needs. This number will continue to trend upward in the near future. In the past, enterprises would have to use ‘Brand X’ endpoints with ‘Brand X’ services, effectively ‘locking in’ a business to a specific provider. With the mass move into the cloud, more endpoint manufacturers are making their systems fully agnostic, allowing a greater choice of telephone handsets, video-conferencing equipment and other integrated endpoints that run on whatever cloud an enterprise chooses. This will make providers more competitive on service and price, improving ROI and user experience for their customers.

Systems are Becoming Smarter

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are becoming the engines behind new technology. While AI and ML are somewhat new to the UC environment, they’re helping organizations to streamline their operations with systems that are much smarter and easier to use. They will know your calendar and allow you to connect to your meetings with a single button – no matter which platform it’s held on. Adjusting a camera will be a thing of the past, as AI will know just the right shot and allow for close-ups of a speaker, wide shots of multiple speakers, automatic reframes as people enter or leave the room etc. AI processing will actively filter out background noises while allowing speakers’ voices to make or complete a call. AI can improve employee productivity and collaboration with voice analytics providing speech-to-text capabilities. Virtual assistants or bots can replace remote controls, man your messaging apps, and enable meetings using voice commands. The creation of these new systems will streamline communication in the workplace and lead to better customer interaction.

Conclusion

Delivering a great user experience across your UC environment is no small task. With new technologies, more vendors, different platforms, evolving business needs and increasing end user expectations all contributing to greater UC complexity, it seems the work of IT teams is never done.

But with careful planning and the right technology partners, you can optimize your UC management in a way that improves business outcomes and enhances the communications experience for your customers and colleagues alike.

Download a PDF copy of the Cisco UC guide

Topics: Communications Performance management Proactive troubleshooting UCaaS management High availability Migration, deployment and adoption Operational costs Cisco

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