Avaya Aura System Manager – Can it really replace ASA???

by David Lover | Arrow Systems Integration

This week, I was teaching our Advanced Converged Administration class with Prism Learning Servicess3. We had a great group, consisting of solution engineers, technicians, and customers. Besides the official course content, we had a lot of side conversations. One such conversation was about System Manager and its role going forward in typical, day to day Communication Manager administration. These are very consistent with conversations I’m having with every Avaya customer that I talk to. Avaya is very much pushing and promoting the use of System Manager as the sole point of administration for Avaya Aura. But every customer I talk to definitely have reservations about discontinuing their use of their old school command line access via tools such as Avaya Site Administration. The good news is that they all have the very same “issues” (ie excuses) with System Manager that make them want to steer clear. But once I show customers the latest capabilities, they seem to be quickly changing their position. So, I thought I’d talk about those issues they tell me about and what the reality is with System Manager.

User Provisioning Rules
The first item I hear is that it takes too much time to add a user in System Manager. Even if you do it manually, there iss still huge benefits by consolidating all the admin of the various user services (Communication Manager, Voicemail, Presence, SIP, Aura Conferencing, etc) into a single screen for each end-user. But to make it even better, Avaya introduced the concept of a “User Provisioning Rule” that you can apply to a new user that you are creating. The User Provisioning Rule identifies all the default information that you’d want to have for a user, and tells System Manage how to create the user. It picks an available extension from a defined range and knows how to use that extension to do everything else. It builds a voicemail account, it builds a conference bridge, it adds presence, it assigns a default phone template, etc. Not exaggerating at all, I can set up a provisioning rule where the ONLY thing that needs to provided is the name of the user. That’s it. Internally, we have User Provisioning Rules for each of our main locations. Our guys simply click on “New” user, pick the “Bloomington DID” if they’re getting a Bloomington number and tell SMGR the user’s name. And they can hit “Commit”. Done. I can certainly tweak things before I press Commit, but for most of the users, they fit perfectly with the default rules. The only thing that could make it easier would be to have System Manager automatically build users based on their existence in an LDAP directory, such as Active Directory. With SMGR’s LDAP Directory Sync capability, once IT adds the user to AD, System Manager could map the relevant LDAP fields over to SMGR fields, can apply a User Provisioning Rule, and fully creates the user in Aura. We can even push the E.164 phone number back into the telephoneNumber field in the directory. So, does it takes longer to build a user in SMGR? No chance.

“List Trace” Commands
Every Communication Manager administrator uses a set of “List Trace” commands as the ultimate litmus test as to whether an admin tool is worthy of their time. Commands like “list trace station 4563507” or “list trace tac *82” are real time commands that keep showing what is happening to the thing you are tracing. List trace station tells you EVERYTHING a phone is doing. From going off hook, pushing buttons, choosing a route pattern, going out a trunk, being answered, hanging up, etc. It’s all in there. But even Avaya Site Administration’s GEDI tools don’t do this. You always have to go back to “terminal emulation” to perform these commands. Believe it or not, System Manager does “list trace” commands better than terminal emulation. Through the Element Cut-Through tools in SMGR, I can issue any command that I could enter from the command line. And what makes System Manager better for List Trace commands is that it doesn’t paginate them. With old Command Line, once you go to the next page of a trace, it doesn’t let you back. You have to reissue the command to see it again. With SMGR, it’s one long, continual trace, that you can simply scroll up to see what you missed. You can even easily select all the text and copy it over to a file to review offline. VERY cool.

CM Notify
A concern everyone had in the early days of System Manager was with needing to switch over to 100% admin via System Manager. It was a big jump. But if you don’t fully commit, and you administer CM both via SMGR and CM, you run a risk of corrupting the database, or even just not having recent changes in both places. If you configure it via System Manager, it is obviously stored the change in its database, and it immediately updates Communication Manager. BUT, if you administer Communication Manager directly, it does NOT update to System Manager until the nightly sync. This can cause big issues. So, we always told customers to stay out of CM and do it all via SMGR. Well, Avaya fixed that a few releases ago. They introduced a feature called CM Notify. If configured correctly, any change that is made directly in Communication Manager gets pushed via rsyslog, which is an open source protocol for forwarding log messages in an IP network, in real time. Now, changes are pushed up to System Manager within a minute or two after it is submitted in CM. We configured this in our Advanced Converged Admin class this week. Students loved it! It’s a little bit of work, since you have to exchange SMGR’s and CM’s security certificates with each other and change some settings files. But it is definitely worth the 15 minutes of setup.

Announcement Management
I hear all the time that customers miss the ability to backup all of the system’s voice announcements at once. It was a feature in VAM (Voice Announcement Manager). But apparently didn’t get ported over when the functionality got merged into Avaya Site Administration. Well, it’s back with System Manager! System Manager lets you manage all of the system’s Announcement files that are located across the entire system. Whether it’s in a TN2501 VAL or as an embedded resource in a Media Gateway, I can back them all up. One button backs them up to a single ZIP file, stored locally in System Manager’s database (this can also be scheduled as a one-time or recurring event). Another button allows me to download that ZIP file to my computer. DEFINITELY better than existing administration tools.

The last big topic I hear about is System Manager’s lack of reports as compared to what I could do in Avaya Site Administration. Fair enough. This is actually a very recent enhancement. As of System Manager 6.3.8, which came out a couple of months ago, all of the reporting that was in Avaya Site Administration is now in System Manager. It has all of the previous capabilities, but has even added the ability to output the reports in new formats. ASA just had text based, character-delimited files. Now, SMGR adds PDF and HTML formats. You can even automate where they go. You can save them to your PC, as with ASA. But you can also copy them to a remote server or have them automatically emailed to you. And since you can schedule these to be recurring reports, you could schedule these to create daily reports that automatically get posted to a web server for management review.

There is no question that as these new modern communication systems get more complex, administration could become more difficult. But it doesn’t have to. Avaya is providing some very powerful tools to help simplify things. System Manager has absolutely become one of the greatest administration platforms in Avaya’s portfolio. Make sure you talk to your customers about how they can be using it for more of their day to day administration. It doesn’t have to be just for SIP trunks. It can do a whole lot more!

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