Top UC Management Sinkholes and How to Avoid Them

Scott Gode
With the advent of unified communications (UC), email is no longer a standalone application. UC has become a catch-all category that comprises email, document management, instant messaging, audio and videoconferencing, VoIP telephony and other collaboration and social media systems. In knowledge-based industries, there's no denying that UC is the backbone that keeps business humming.

Despite all the hype about the cloud these days, more than 95 percent of the world's businesses still use on-premise systems for email and UC. These integrated systems have created an infrastructure that is large, complex and relies on supporting platforms and technologies, including security, storage, archiving and more, to operate smoothly. Managing UC environments has become a major undertaking, especially when you don't plan for and around the following 'sinkholes':

Cloud: There's a long list of reasons why email in the cloud is not yet "enterprise ready," including lack of appropriate security, add-ons, integration with other systems and control/customization. While cost and simplicity are often the top priorities for moving to the cloud, it's important to evaluate current and future expenditures to be certain that the savings are really there. In addition, there are still a number of IT management tasks required once services have been migrated to the cloud.

Hybrid: As an alternative to jumping into the cloud with both feet, many analysts and vendors are promoting the notion of a hybrid environment where some end users are connected to a cloud email service, while others remain connected to an on-premise system. This concept is sound in theory, but in reality maintaining a single sign-on architecture that integrates on premise and in cloud directories remains a very confusing and complex task.

Security: Managing UC security runs the gamut from perimeter protection, network security, email encryption, AV/AS filtering, content and image control, data access and leak prevention. These challenges are often compounded by regulatory mandates, which create a never-ending puzzle.

Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery: BC and DR are often used interchangeably by vendors to describe overlapping offerings. BC and DR are a form of 'insurance policy' taken out by IT against the risk of downtime. Similar to AV/AS, trying to determine which offerings provide the necessary features, correct Recovery Time Objective/Recovery Point Objective and are most in line with corporate objectives is no easy task.

Compliance: Understanding and achieving compliance with shifting regulatory mandates can be a maze. The increased push to create compliance or archiving systems which are not just limited to email, but which can scale to different data types and application servers is creating more instead of less confusion. Finally, the scope of compliance for many enterprises remains undefined. Does it encompass eDiscovery, legal hold, etc., and how searchable and discoverable do the archives need to be for IT and possibly for legal officers?

Geography: Large enterprises often operate multiple geographically distributed data centers to optimize performance and meet local legal requirements. These topologies add complexity to the UC system.

Management: As the breadth of UC systems increases along with their strategic importance to the business, it becomes more important and challenging to find the right tools for granular control and reporting. The richer the management console, the more control, but with this comes increased complexity. IT must consider whether management of certain systems should be maintained in-house or pushed to a managed services company in order to better optimize existing resources.


Mobility: As smartphones become more widely supported by IT and the platforms (iPhone, Windows Phone, Droid and RIM) proliferate, management and security demands can escalate rapidly. Meanwhile, as mobile devices get 'smarter' end users will expect full support for all UC applications and functionality including out-of-the-box and home-grown apps that have been developed on top of platforms like SharePoint or Dynamics.

Virtualization: The advantages (green, cost, flexibility, etc.) of virtualization for UC are well understood. The challenge lies in managing the integration of VMware and HyperV with your platform of choice to optimize efficiency and performance. Equally important: Are the savings earned by moving to virtualization offset by higher than necessary licensing costs?

Storage: As the breadth and complexity of the UC platform increases, so does its overall storage requirements. Cost-effective storage depends on tight integration between hardware and the various UC components in use, so that the storage space can be optimized across as many applications as possible. As the systems are used to store larger and larger files, the challenge of keeping pace with growth demands increases in IT time and budget.

Everything but Email: Microsoft Lync and similar UC offerings from Cisco and others create a lot of uncertainty as to how these apps will be integrated with the email platform. Many companies can get overwhelmed by trying to deploy a completely new email and UC platform at the same time. Others may become confused at the prospect of trying to stitch together heterogeneous apps and systems from different vendors.

Voice & Unified Messaging: The notion of the universal inbox that integrates voice on the PC infrastructure continues to gain momentum, particularly with the introduction of Microsoft Lync. However, the complexities of switching to a pure UC system, which may include replacing the corporate PBX, are significant.

Applications: Many companies have made large investments in either SharePoint apps, Exchange public folders, Notes Applications or other applications that integrate with the UC infrastructure.   These investments can present significant compatibility hurdles as UC systems evolve.

Migration: The simple act of migrating a platform -  either from on-premise to the cloud, from one system to a competitive system, or from a down-level version-is far from straightforward and requires tools, planning, end user training, etc. Designing a great new UC architecture and underinvesting on the migration can have dire consequences.

Conclusion

Some of these UC management sinkholes are avoidable, while others are not. Being aware of them and planning accordingly can make the difference between success, delay and disaster. Take the time to evaluate each one and map them to your enterprise when planning your next UC project.
 



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 22, 2011 7:04 PM Sarah Carter Sarah Carter  says:
Don't forget Education - UC is a great productivity enhancer, but remember not all your team are 2.0 and often need some guidance on not just how to use these tools, but how to use them appropriately. Reply
Jun 7, 2011 6:06 AM Office 2007 Office 2007  says:
However, the complexities of switching to a pure UC system, which may include replacing the corporate PBX, are significant. Reply

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