The Importance of IT Pro Tools for Ongoing Operations of A Microsoft UC Deployment
June 26, 2015
Office Communication Server 2007 (OCS 2007) represented Microsoft’s first significant step toward offering enterprise-grade, software-powered voice. During those early years in the Unified Communications (UC) market, Microsoft’s focus was purely on deployment. Considering the dichotomy between licenses sold and licenses deployed, some might assume Microsoft’s true focus was actually on sales rather than deployment, but that’s a debate for another day.
Microsoft needed customers to leverage OCS as an enterprise voice solution in order to establish credibility with analysts and with the market. Microsoft used metrics and funding levers to drive partner behavior and “encourage” deployments. In Microsoft’s FY09, I helped lead Nortel to the most Voice Pilot deployments of any Microsoft partner, globally. A Voice Pilot was 25 users replacing their legacy telephone set and utilizing OCS as their sole telephony endpoint.
At 25 users, a focus on deployment is sufficient. As the product improved with each release (OCS R2, Lync 2010) and Microsoft gained credibility and market momentum, the number of users deployed began to grow. As the load on the platform grew, Microsoft faced the harsh reality that you could not just deploy OCS, you had to plan for OCS, from a both a server perspective and a network perspective. With this realization came a focus on planning. Microsoft developed tools to help partners and enterprises architect a robust OCS infrastructure. Where Microsoft previously downplayed network assessments because they delayed the deployment process, they began to heavily emphasize the importance of ensuring the enterprise’s network infrastructure could properly support and route Microsoft UC traffic for a broader production deployment.
The October 2012 release of Lync 2013 represented Microsoft’s full capability as a PBX-replacement solution. With better planning and fewer product gaps, larger global enterprises began to trust Microsoft as their voice platform and rolled out the full capabilities of Microsoft UC to a broader proportion of their user base.
Now that Lync had proper planning and reliable partners it became a part of enterprises’ production environments. At the same time, Microsoft began announcing plans to offer hosted voice. There were tools to plan and deploy, but no one had yet put a strong focus on operating Lync and the challenges of this void were becoming more and more apparent.
At Ignite 2015, Microsoft announced the IT Pro Tools program. With this program, Microsoft publically acknowledged that enterprises and partners should focus on the ongoing operations of Lync/Skype for Business. To help ensure quality controls, Microsoft has thus far limited the program to 3 IT Pro Tools partners: Event Zero, Unify Square, and Nectar. Each partner brings a different perspective and set of strengths to any given category and to the program as a whole.
In order to successfully plan and operate a Lync/Skype for Business deployment, Microsoft recommends tools in each of these seven categories:
Successful and cost effective operations is largely dependent on Lync/Skype for Business running on a properly-sized, properly configured network infrastructure. The Pre-Assessment category offers tools that can assess the ability of an enterprise’s network to handle the projected voice, video, and collaboration traffic. The pre-assessment also tests to ensure all of the Quality of Service (QoS) functionality is properly configured to ensure UC traffic gets the highest priority and delivers the optimal user experience.
With our legacy of monitoring, troubleshooting, and reporting on VoIP systems, Nectar has long understood the value of ensuring a properly configured network. We developed our Perspective product to ensure that not only could the network support the expected volume, but that it was maintaining appropriate QoS settings throughout to ensure every voice/video call received the proper priority treatment.
Planning & Deployment
Beyond the network infrastructure, it is important to ensure the Microsoft UC environment is properly sized from a server, licensing, and trunking perspective. Tools that can inventory an enterprise’s existing telephony environment and provide recommendations for the Lync/Skype for Business architecture ensure the deployment is properly sized to deliver on the requirements of any customer’s user population.
Since Nectar already monitors Cisco and Avaya systems, we already have Vendor Knowledge Modules (VKM’s) to auto-discover the incumbent environment and provide enterprises with the information they need to properly architect and plan for their Lync/Skype for Business deployment. A properly configured system ensures there are enough resources (servers, services, bandwidth, trunks, etc.) to ensure a quality experience for every user.
Once the network has been assessed and optimized and the architecture has been planned and implemented, system administrators must start adding users. User and device provisioning can be complicated, repetitive tasks that are often prone to user error. Tools that automate provisioning help insure users are added with the proper policies and devices and that phone numbers are properly managed and assigned. Proper provisioning can help the deployment get off on the right foot.
The old business adage, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” certainly holds true in a Lync/Skype for Business deployment. There are lot of moving parts from servers, to gateways, to network infrastructure in a successful UC deployment and you must monitor all of them to ensure optimal system performance. Proactive monitoring helps system administrators identify and remedy minor anomalies before they become major, user-impacting outages.
Nectar’s UC Foundation proactively monitors server and service health and availability and alerts system administrators if any system key health indicators (KHI’s) are outside acceptable levels. This ensures all components are working at optimal levels to maximize user experience. In addition to its pre-assessment value proposition, many organizations keep Perspective in place to proactively monitor network availability and QoS settings.
Even with a perfectly-assessed network and a diligently-monitored UC environment, voice quality issues occur. Monitoring seeks to minimize how often system administrators have to react to user calls about poor audio quality. Troubleshooting aims to minimize the time to identify the source of the problem, isolate the root cause of the issue and remediate with the problem. User dissatisfaction can be mitigated by a rapid response to, and resolution of, a support ticket.
With its UC Diagnostics module, Nectar empowers system administrators with the information they need to identify any network issues that impacted a particular user and how these issues may have impacted other users passing through the same network path. With a combination of the Lync SDN API, strategically-placed analyzers and visibility to, and monitoring of, 3rd-party equipment required to enable the UC experience, like SBCs and gateways, Nectar can correlate the data to determine where to look in the network to address the issue.
Without a formal reporting module, the only way to measure the success of a Lync/Skype for Business deployment is the quantity (or lack thereof) of user support calls. It does not paint a rosy picture when reporting comes down to how much users did or did not like a given deployment. It is important that enterprises leverage reporting to track trends around voice quality and user adoption. Reporting should be customizable to bring value to each audience. The data and detail that matters to a CIO is very different than the data and detail that matter to the system admin, even if the data sets are highly correlated.
Nectar’s Advanced Analytics gathers data from a variety of sources, including the Lync CDR/QoE databases, the Lync SDN API, and other network components and renders that data into dynamic dashboards that can be manipulated and customized by each user. Particular views can be “bookmarked” by specific users and/or automatically generated and distributed.
The harsh reality is that the success of a deployment is not measured by MOS scores, jitter, or latency: It is measured by user satisfaction. In the end, more than the projected hard dollar savings, it is the collective voice of a user population that determines the perceived success of a project. Fortunately, user satisfaction typically drives adoption and usage will helps drive the expected ROI. Network challenges affect voice quality which impacts user satisfaction, but is difficult to create an algorithm that correlates a MOS score to user satisfaction across every deployment across the globe. To truly understand the value of a Lync/Skype for Business deployment, you have to ask the users. Satisfied users are more likely to use the system and extract the full value that UC and collaboration brings. Effective polling of user satisfaction will also help identify areas of improvement, whether they be network infrastructure, device selection, or user training.
Even with proper planning, enterprises cannot simply deploy Lync/Skype for Business and assume it will run seamlessly. Lync/Skype for Business leverages a myriad of moving parts and it must be constantly monitored, maintained, and measured. With Microsoft’s IT Pro Tools programs, enterprises can begin to identify the proper tools that have been certified to bring value to the ongoing operations of a Microsoft UC deployment.