Good, better best: Unified Communications go virtual

Gavin Hill, Dimension Data’s business development manager for Unified Communications

Until recently, Unified Communications (UC) has been a ‘no fly zone’ in terms of virtualisation. It has been considered just too complex a task to decouple the diverse and fragmented technologies associated with UC from their physical servers. This same complexity drives UC’s hunger for server resources, making it expensive to run in terms of hardware and management.

Recent advancements in technology are starting to strip away the barriers to virtualisation and technology providers such as Cisco and Microsoft are starting to make forays into the virtualisation UC space – a move that is sure to be welcomed by CTOs and CFOs alike. Gavin Hill, Dimension Data’s business development manager for Unified Communications Middle East and Africa, explains the value that the ability to virtualise UC will bring:

* Opex and capex savings:

Because UC is traditionally such a sprawling technology ecosystem, in most instances it requires at least a dedicated server for each application: telephony, voice mail, conferencing, IM, presence, video and so on. By virtualising this environment, a business can effectively stack multiple virtual machines on a single server and shift processing resources to areas in need within this stack.

In the case of a Cisco UCS server, where one server effectively does the job of four non-virtualised servers, the knock -on effect in terms of cost reductions is significant. Expenditure on hardware and software is reduced dramatically, as well as the costs to power, cool and maintain the physical UC server environment.

* Enables better ROI on other investments:

UC is just one of those areas that are inherently complicated to upgrade. With so many elements requiring integration, the capacity for error is high, as is the potential for impact on the business. As a result, organisations may deliberately delay scheduled upgrades in order to avoid disruptions to their operations. But in reality, by adopting this ‘better the devil you know’ mentality they are actually losing out on functionality and may fail to realise the full return on their communication investment.

Virtualisation can play a huge role in containing the risk associated with upgrades by enabling an organisation to replicate the production environment on a virtual machine. This creates a lab environment that is ideal for testing purposes. Any glitches can be identified and ironed out in the lab and then the new image can be reintroduced into the production environment with barely a ripple in terms of productivity.

* Extends the longevity of technology investments:

UC is a sphere where advancements are rapid and on-going. Making provision for these continually shifting requirements can become costly. Virtualisation enables the decoupling of central processing unit (CPU), memory and storage from the application, so instead of having to replace the entire server, just the relevant components can be refreshed to meet evolving demands.

Being able to support incoming UC application requirements through limited hardware upgrades means that the longevity of IT investments can be extended. This lowers the total cost of a UC environment over time.

* Meeting SLA commitments:

The ability to communicate and collaborate is key to business operations. Downtime here can have severe impact on operations. In a physical environment a hardware or system failure can equate to several hours or even days of lost productivity. The ability to replicate and restart a damaged blade on a virtual machine can limit this loss to just thirty minutes or less in most instances.

Sophisticated management tools that incorporate both virtual and physical environments are also introducing enhanced visibility and encouraging business to take a more proactive approach to system management as opposed to reactive crises management.

The nett result is less downtime, improved business continuity and an organisation that is far better positioned to meet its service commitments.