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July 30, 2010

An Interview with Amit Kapoor on Tone Software’s new RelaTel-Streamline Operational Knowledge Base


Amit KapoorEnterprises spent $1,500 to $2,000 per employee on telecom services in 2008. In a 2,000-employee company, that equates to $4 million. Business thus aiming to decrease telecom spending have decided to transition to VoIP. By doing so, however, savings are often offset by a lack of knowledge of how to support VoIP. Indeed, getting an advanced phone system up to speed and handling any problems that may occur can lead to some considerable expense.

The fact is, many enterprise telecom teams don’t know how to support VoIP. What they need is a tool that provides information to them quickly so phone service doesn’t degrade and/or die. Fortunately, Tone Software has launched the ReliaTel-Streamline Operational Knowledge Base to provide the kind of expertise that telecom teams need to quickly and competently handle the inevitable issues that come with supporting VoIP and IP telephony communications.

As it happens, Tone Software Corporation can help in this regard. It is a global provider of comprehensive network monitoring and management solutions for converged telecommunications and IT infrastructures. Tone’s ReliaTel and Streamline solutions provide managed service providers, value added resellers (VARs) and enterprises with a unified approach for managing and monitoring their entire converged voice communications infrastructure, supporting the industry’s leading devices, networks and environments from multiple vendors on multiple platforms. By unifying network management and monitoring in one solution, Tone Software eliminates the need for expensive, equipment-specific management hardware, software tools or vendor-specific monitoring services. The combination of ReliaTel and Streamline provide the ideal platform for managed service providers, VARs and enterprises who today must control the overall costs of managing their current voice and data infrastructure, and who also require a comprehensive management platform to fully support their communications technology evolution.

To see how Tone’s new enhanced ReliaTel-Streamline software with its Operational Knowledge Base can greatly improve VoIP/data network convergence, support efficiency and drive down costs, Yours Truly spoke with Amit Kapoor, Tone Software’s director of strategic technology advancement.

Grigonis: What led you guys at Tone to develop this Operational Knowledge Base?

Kapoor: Tone Software has been around for about 35 years. We’re based out on the west coast in Anaheim, California. We build a platform called ReliaTel that focuses on the converged communications market.

We serve a couple of main target markets:  one is the large enterprise, and the second consists of managed services companies or organizations that are getting into managed services, which are the integrators, VARs, channel partners, and so forth.

We’ve really expanded our international footprint through a series of distributors. One is in Latin America, one is in Europe, and another is in Australia to cover Southeast Asia. We’ve see a lot of great feedback coming in from these markets because of our expansion in the enterprise and the fact is that managed services as a business is taking off in Europe and in Asia, and is doing much better than it was even just a year ago. It’s really creating some new opportunities for us.

Our solution, ReliaTel is a platform that does everything on the converged communications side, which gives you a multi-vendor, multi-technology view of what’s happening with fault performance, for capacity analysis, full VoIP analytics, in this case both active and passive analysis. It also provides you, depending on whether you’re an enterprise or you rely on managed services, with a solution set that yields a comprehensive, 360-degree view of what’s happening with your communications environment.

What we’ve done since then actually is the result of feedback we were receiving not just from our clients from different parts of the industry, whether it be analysts or whether it be just from talking to different enterprises and managed services. This has to do with operational efficiency. The scenario that I’m talking about specifically really led us along a path toward what we just announced, which is the Operational Knowledge Base or in this case, the ReliaTel-Streamline 2.6 version.

The Operational Knowledge Base really goes about addressing a very specific business problem, though that problem varies depending on whether you’re a managed services organization or an enterprise. We can solve the problem of how to make efficient use of both the operational staff that you have and the tools that you have in your organization—all in a managed convergence scenario.

In looking at the operational staff, we know that there are such organizations wherein Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 staff are set up in a traditional organizational structure. You generally have the group that knows your system—they’re at Tier 3. But there are never enough of them to spread around. How do you spread that expertise, that ‘intelligence’ around the other tiers of an organization so they can address issues and resolve them in a more efficient manner, but also provide sufficient information so that as the problems escalate, there is sufficient information so that all of that basic troubleshooting stuff has already been performed.

In the case of the enterprises, it’s a matter of, “How do I actually make use of this operational staff so that I can reduce my operational risk in managing this converged infrastructure? We know, as you do, that there are many tools in the industry, but if you can’t really provide the expertise and augment the expertise of your staff with those tools, then it’s just another tool. This is really the focus of what our Operational Knowledge Base is. It provides a singular, comprehensive view that’s based on six customizable ‘portlets’ that is going to provide information to that operations person when a problem occurs in their system. This operational portal allows them to either have information that’s generated from the manufacturer’s own system, so for example, you might have a problem emanating from an Avaya Aura system, such as an alarm. Our system will pop up recommended actions by Avaya itself, and based on all the knowledge we’ve gathered over time working with our clients. It also allows the organization itself to use that exact same tool to build their own database of installation-specific knowledge as well.

In a single platform, not only will we provide them with what the vendor recommends, but they can augment our system’s knowledge with their own internal intelligence. The advantage of this that we are allowing the organization to build that database, but it’s still very nice and segmented out. So let’s just say that a new release of Avaya’s Aura appears and this system produces new alarms or new messages. We can go ahead and update our Knowledge Base system with new Avaya recommended actions, and still have complete confidence that all of the intelligence that the user has built internally isn’t going to be interfered with and they’ll continue to have that, even though they can get updates to the manufacturer information from Tone.

The ‘portlets’ themselves are all designed in order to provide an operations person—for example, a Tier-1 person—to not just troubleshoot a problem, but also have the visibility into any documentation that’s relevant to either part of their network, or that specific customer, or certainly global to the entire organization. That ‘segmentation’ can exist within this portal to actually give you that ability. If you’re a managed services provider and you’re managing a specific customer network and a problem pops up, you might say, ‘I have some documentation, contract information, or whatever, that is very specific information and I want certain people to have access to this information.’ With our system they can indeed access this information, and in a nice segmented view such that they can say, ‘This problem occurred on this particular device—router, server, or whatever—and when I pull up the Knowledge Base documentation portlet, I have all the information about that specific customer that owns that device.’

There are a combination of factors to consider when one devised a large platform such as ours. Certainly we’ve added additional functionality as part of these portals as well. We have trend metrics, so that the person accessing the system has a very good idea what’s actually happening with this device, how often a problem occurs, and it’s all done in a very nice, efficient manner, at the click of a button. Do that and it may tell you, ‘This is a recurring problem that you need to address at this point.’

Or it can done via actions. Let’s say that you’ve got a problem with a router. You just want to do a trace drop from that device. Well, we always know that sometimes giving operations personnel access to a device in itself may create a certain risk. So one of the things that customers want to do is to run some pre-canned action so that the user can just click a button and the system will go off and run the test and they get the results back.

A combination of all of these techniques are being provided as a single operational portal that the operations person can actually access and address the problem and resolve right then and there, or run the specific steps that have been outlined through either what the manufacturer recommends or what the internal organization’s technology experts recommend, or they can actually escalate the situation up to a higher level and say, ‘Here is a problem. I ran these steps.’ And everything is all integrated into essentially one portal wherein information can be fed ‘upstream’ as well.

Grigonis: So it’s more than a Knowledge Base, it’s practically an expert system or an intelligent network assistant.

Kapoor: I’m not saying it’s going to solve every possible problem, but what we’re trying to do is actually what you said appropriately—taking that knowledge and providing it intelligently and in such a manner so that you can augment operations with that knowledge and essentially build a sort of customized expert system over time.

We’ve been pretty excited about our Operational Knowledge Base, not just from the initial feedback that led to the design of it. But we did receive feedback from some of our clients, who said, ‘We actually have knowledge base tools in-house, but we don’t use them.’ As it turns out, these tools were not being used because they weren’t really integrated into their other toolsets. They said that because of that ‘disconnect,’ it was as if there were two different systems with which their users had to deal, and it made no sense for them to use them. Now, however, with our technology, you have an integrated tool. This is the overall capability that we are making available to the public with the 2.6 release for our Operational Knowledge Base.

Grigonis: Sounds like a considerable amount of effort went into it.

Kapoor: Yes, and certainly we’ll be doing more things with it as time goes on. Whenever one builds something like this that is so dependent on user interaction, one of the things we want to do is ensure that organizations are going to get the true benefit of this once we make it public and deploy it in customer environments. At that point we will really be able to see how organizations utilize it. Anytime you work with an information system such as ours, the operational use and benefits play a big role in how a solution like this can be grown over time.

Grigonis: Since this Operational Knowledge Base is so well integrated with your system, it all must run onsite?

Kapoor: Yes, it runs onsite. So these are some of the things we’ve been up to lately.

Grigonis: We’re slowly evolving toward a truly intelligent network that may not quite be self-healing, will certainly take much of the burden off of today’s technicians by telling them what to do. By the way, how many different kinds of systems can your platform handle? Does it have a certain repertoire of expertise?

Kapoor: The way we built it is as an add-on module to our ReliaTel platform. All the analytics and so on are modules to the main platform. We are essentially doing a lot of legwork so that if you purchase our solution that comes with a knowledge base, then if you plug it into say, and Avaya system, and you encounter that first Avaya ‘event,’ you won’t encounter a blank database that you have create from Day One. It will already have information that’s available to you from Day One.

Grigonis: And it updates easily over the net?

Kapoor: It’s a simple module. When we have updates available, we’ll can email them to you or just post it either through the partner portal on our website, or through some other means, such as through a support staff and then they will just be able to update their system with the new information. The whole system is very modular in nature. But ultimately the Knowledge Base will become a standardized feature in the platform as we move forward.

Grigonis: You sell this in North America, or worldwide?

Kapoor: We do sell it worldwide, actually. We sell it predominantly in North America but for our worldwide base, we sell it through a network of distributors. We have a company called Intersel, a leader in the call accounting solutions, that deals in the Latin American market. In Europe there is a company called NuPsoft based in Austria and Germany that focuses on the European marketbase. Our newest distributor is a company in Australia called Vectra, which handles Australia, New Zealand and I believe Southeast Asia.

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