Are you—like many large enterprises—currently in the planning stages of a Unified Communications (UC) infrastructure? To be sure, the technology has gone mainstream. Companies are putting tens of thousands of devices into UC environments around the world. But if you're one of those companies, are you using the right software to properly manage that environment?

I spoke with two representatives of Clarus Systems—Brendan Reidy, president and CEO, and Gurmeet Lamba, senior vice president of product development—about the state of the UC market and the unique challenges UC brings to the enterprise.

According to Reidy, what makes UC tricky is that most people are coming from a legacy telephony world—a highly stable, closed environment. The average customer was touching his or her private branch exchange (PBX) only every two years to install updates. Today, with UC, we're looking at an IP world full of open architectures, and we're touching that PBX nearly every day to install Wintel patches, install security upgrades, establish new interfaces, and install periodic vendor upgrades.

It's a whole new mindset.

"The primary challenges to UC or even basic IP telephony," said Lamba, "are openness and drastic increases in complexity. However, the expectation from enterprise customers is still that a dial-tone is a God-given right. So the expectation is high reliability and high quality for the devices in the UC environment."

Reidy added, "The key component of UC is voice, so that has to be bulletproof."

I asked about how a good piece of UC management software should ideally tackle that all-important aspect of UC.

Reidy answered, "Well, I like to tell people, 'We've found the killer app—and it is 'voice.' Just look at how 'voice' has evolved! Historically, there was no doubt that networking was part of IT, and networking was just about data. So, we had all these sophisticated network-management tools—like IBM Tivoli, HP OpenView, Netcore, HP Network Node Manager—and the ability to do deep dives into network outages on the data network … and then there was telephony. I don't know of any company in which telephony reported to IT. It was never looked at strategically. Then we had the emergence of IP and VoIP, and people started saying 'Hey, my data network can also handle my voice traffic. I'm going to share all these communications over the same pipe.' But the traditional tools on the market were completely inadequate to manage a voice network."

"Voice and UC should be just another app on your network," Lamba added. "In reality, it's intricate. It's a complex, large, interconnected set of apps that breaks easily unless you have the right management software. We're in the business of making voice and UC just another aspect of your network."

One important aspect of a good UC management product is its ability to constantly ensure that communications are precise and available.

"In the investment banking world," Reidy said, "there's something called a Ready for Business check. At 6am every morning, the brokerage goes through a checklist—sort of like a jet at the airport before takeoff. They go through a checklist before saying, 'OK, we're ready for business today.' So, throughout the day, that brokerage's Ready for Business check is confirming that it's continually ready for business. Even this call we're on, there's a constant check to confirm that the call is satisfactory. It's taking the equivalent of a Mean Opinion Score (MOS) score—developed in the early days of telephony—through several metrics every 8 seconds, looking for peaks and lows, and packet loss and jitter, then combining all those metrics into a database for the purpose of comparison, trending, and troubleshooting. Over the course of a day, we've caught things like loss of long-distance calling before end-users even notice. We're constantly testing and monitoring networks."

"One of our approaches is automated testing," said Lamba. "We can have our product actually sitting in a datacenter and exercising all system functionality at night, making calls to a conference bridge, validating that everything is working correctly. After all, the best way to find problems is to actually try out the system. Everything we do takes an end-user perspective. If it's not working for the user at a certain level of satisfaction, the system isn't adequate. We literally see phones as network endpoints rather than just telephones."

"With ClarusIPC+, we focus on what we refer to as the four pillars of UC," Reidy said. "Those are testing, monitoring and management, configuration management, and business intelligence. In other words, how can I use the information gathered from my UC system and better run my business with that information?"

You can view information about Clarus Systems' ClarusIPC+ product here. The product maximizes UC system availability and performance through automated, end-to-end testing, monitoring, reporting, troubleshooting, and operations management