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5 Criteria to Consider Before Upgrading your Cisco Unified Communications System?

Matthew Balcer
April 22, 2016

Drive to 9… Drive to Collab… Refresh to Collab… If these terms are familiar to you it is probably because you have been contacted by your Cisco account team or your Cisco reseller to upgrade your Cisco Unified Communications (UC) environment. Cisco has facilitated the upgrade process by creating these promotions to reduce the cost of doing an upgrade. In the past, the cost may have been a prohibitive decision criterion in the upgrade process;  although cost is always a consideration, in the case of a Cisco UC upgrade, it may be better as a secondary consideration if only because making the wrong upgrade decision could in fact be even more costly.

So what should be considered? Why should you upgrade? Why should you not upgrade?

There are really five criteria that should be considered when making the decision:

  1. manufacturer support,
  2. compatibility,
  3. infrastructure,
  4. application bug fixes, and
  5. features and functionalities.

Each one of these criteria has equal value in the decision. Now let’s review each one of these more in depth.

1. Manufacturer Support

Let’s begin with the easiest, manufacturer support. At the time of the writing of this blog the last Cisco supported version of CUCM and its associated applications, was version 8.5 with an end of support date of July 31, 2017. That said, the End of Lifecycle for 9.x has already been announced with an end of support in 2018. Manufacturer support is really the base requirement for such business critical applications. Cisco TAC is usually pretty lenient for the sake of good customer service, but their hands get tied for patches and fixes. The argument could never be made that the Cisco applications spontaneously stop working on the last day of support. Yet there is no documented proof of success in using the “let’s hope nothing breaks” strategy. The argument could, however, be made that if you are on version 8.x and haven’t started thinking about an upgrade you should definitely start now. Upgrades take time and strategic planning, waiting until July 1st, 2017 is not a good idea.

 2. Compatability

Compatibility can really be put into two categories: Cisco compatibility and third-party compatibility. Cisco doesn’t always develop with backwards compatibility. In other words, they don’t build new phones and devices and release device for packs for every old version of CUCM. The same could be said for their applications. New applications like Prime and their cloud solutions like CMR require you to be using a recent version. This is also true for the Cisco UC applications themselves which are why the upgrade of the applications must be done in a specific order. The integration will most third party applications follows a similar dependency. Cisco partners like Singlewire and ISI do produce applications that are compatible with multiple version of the Cisco applications, but they are in large part forced to respect the API support which follows the EOL cycle. Therefore, if you want the possibility of using the latest devices, services, and applications, maintaining at a -1 version of the latest release is the way to go.

3. Infrastructure 

Cisco has gone through several mutations of the UC infrastructure: from the Windows server based applications on dedicated hardware to Linux framework on dedicated Cisco hardware to virtualized applications on spec based hardware. The further back you are on that evolution the more complicated the upgrade becomes, but also the greater the advantage to doing an upgrade. The advantages of virtualization are fairly evident at this point for most people. Add to that, the ability to use hosts that already exist in your environment or are a supported corporate standard and the advantages are even more evident. Most have already migrated to a version above 9.x for virtualization support, but for those version 7.x users out there now is the time.

 4. Application Bug Fixes

Getting stuck in the bug fix game is less than desirable. If you look at any given bug on Cisco Support Community, you will see that bugs have been fixed in some versions and reappear in others and in some cases they even skip a version for the fix. Anyone who develops software understands why this happens. Cisco also releases “engineering patches”, these are like special releases of minor releases (ex. that have a very specific bug patch for a small group of customers. So if you call TAC with an issue that they identify as an application bug then recommend an upgrade, it may not be as simple as upgrading to the latest version. There is no doubt that a bug is a good reason to upgrade though consult someone who understands the patch releases and can help point you down the right path is also a good first step.

 5. Features and Functionalities

Upgrading to gain access to new features or functionality is probably to most business justifiable. In fact, this initiative might even come from the business side. We have seen many upgrade initiatives come from the sales group in organizations to benefit from features like “Jabber for everyone” or  “Conference Now”. What is important here is that you don’t paint yourself into a corner for the sake of the shiny new object. Hopefully, the other criteria outlined above have been weighed before upgrading simply for new features. Is the new version compatible with my other applications? Is my infrastructure ready? Am I dependent on a specific bug fix? Once these have been considered it is much easier to give the business the ever desirable new Cisco feature. Cisco continues to develop, acquire, and integrate new elements in their UC solutions which are what makes them the leader in the space. Just keep in mind every new element is something more to manage and maintain. Choose wisely!

Once these criteria have been properly assessed, it is time to go through the standard project questions. Is there a budget? Do we have the skills? Do we have the capacity?

So you might read this and think, we have only discussed reasons to upgrade.  So then let’s look at the flip side, if you are on a version that meets your utilization needs, doesn’t drain your resources operationally in maintenance, is supported by Cisco, and where you aren’t experiencing any bugs, then you can probably wait to upgrade even if you aren’t on the latest and greatest.

Now, if you have decided to upgrade, but the answers to the skills and capacity questions are “no”, then make sure you engage an experienced Cisco Unified Communications service partner.

If you are on a 7.x version of Cisco or even a more recent version and are considering upgrading and need some advice or help, let us know. We would be glad to outline a solution for you.



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