UC services require performance tools

The current economic climate has pushed enterprises to look at how the complex web of business communications can be simplified to enhance productivity and reduce costs. Unified communications and collaborations (UC&C) offers the potential to deliver efficiencies that improve bottom-line growth by eliminating boundaries between fixed-line phones, mobile devices and messaging systems.
UC involves the integration of an enterprise’s multiple and disparate communications modes into a unified and cohesive communications experience.
Data from Infonetics Research show that the overall Asia-Pacific business VoIP market is expected to grow by 12.6% through 2014, with the greatest revenue growth coming from hosted VoIP/UC at 10.4%.
This can offer revenue opportunities for service providers by building and incorporating UC offerings into their portfolios, especially on a hosted platform. But regardless of the manner of deployment and the technology used, effective ongoing service management is key to achieving the business objectives of UC.
One of the most important issues providers and enterprises face is keeping the quality of end-user experience high, and maintaining each customer’s expected service levels. Since UC involves many real-time applications, a service performance issue may not merely slow these applications but it can make them unusable. An IP telephony call with poor quality or an inferior web/video conferencing experience will be met with little tolerance by users relying on these for critical business interactions.
Providers must have the means to monitor the quality of the user experience to meet their customers' service-level expectations. Failure to do so can mean lost revenue due to customer churn or penalties for providers of managed and hosted service (MSPs and HSPs), and -- for enterprise IT staff -- the risk that UC services management will be outsourced.
But the complexity of the UC infrastructure environment poses a challenge to effective monitoring. Unifying voice, email, messaging and conferencing requires integrating multiple applications -- each with different hardware, software, operating systems and network elements. All of these elements have disparate performance and capacity indicators that need to be cohesively monitored for their contribution and impact on service quality. Physical and/or virtual servers must also be managed for optimized data center performance.
The multi-tenant nature of the UC environment also presents difficulties for managing and reporting. MSPs and HSPs and the enterprises they serve operate in a hierarchical environment. Multiple customers will be the service recipients, each with additional layers of end-users, business units, and locations. 
As a result, providers and their customers need the ability to segregate and view UC service performance data by customer and its specific organizational groupings. This capability, along with the ability to set and monitor key performance indicator thresholds for each grouping, provides the means to uphold varying service-level agreement commitments among specific customers, divisions or locations.
Without tools inherently designed to manage an infrastructure environment with multiple tiers of “tenants,” providers will not have an adequate degree of visibility to do service-level monitoring and troubleshooting. Otherwise, they will need to resort to time-consuming, individualized performance management deployments which increase the cost of management for the UC services.
Finally, it is important for service providers to understand changing service usage patterns for UC components because a UC service can be adversely affected if the underlying resources are over-utilized. Service usage monitoring is needed to ensure that such services stay at optimum performance levels. Proactively monitoring traffic growth and utilization for all UC components allows for effective service growth, resource planning and quality of experience assurance.
For these reasons, having the right performance management solution is critical for delivering quality UC services. Service providers and enterprises need a performance management solution that will provide a carrier-class, multi-tenant, holistic and cross-silo approach to UC&C service assurance.
With a solution meeting these criteria, providers and enterprises will benefit from faster time to market and increased ease of deployment and management of UC services. Likewise, a single, unified toolset offers a cohesive view of the entire UC services environment and reduces monitoring costs. Other benefits include effective monitoring of service performance to assure a quality end-user experience, and expedited troubleshooting and resolution of performance issues.
Such a solution will fully equip managed and hosted service providers and enterprise IT alike with the information needed to effectively manage the performance of UC.
Kathleen Ayres is product marketing manager for InfoVista