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What You Need To Know To Be A Successful UC Engineer

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Introduction

For a while now, I have been thinking of writing something completely different from a technical document. An article that focuses more on you as an aspiring UC engineer, rather than the how of the technologies in this huge space. 
Have you ever wondered what skill sets you need to thrive in this ever changing, fast paced, complex and dynamic world of UC collaboration. Then if you have and is still wondering, this article is for you. The goal is to give a holistic picture or a bird's eye view into this space of ours based on my personal experiences and interactions with other players in this industry. I have divided this discussion into the following key areas
 
  • Technology
  • Tools/Troubleshooting
  • 3rd Party Vendor Integrations
  • Self Development
  • References ( useful links for documents that will help you in your UC Journey)

Excited? Let's go.

 

Technology

I guess there is no better place to start than the heart of what drives collaboration across the world: Technology.

What core technologies skill sets do you need to know to thrive as a Cisco collaboration consultant/engineer?

CUCM

CUCM is the core of it all. I don't need to say much here.  You need to know it inside out and to do that there are key things/core component of CUCM that you must spend time knowing. They are a must. Did I say must? Yes I mean you must know them, otherwise you would be like a trades man going for a job without his tools, or a soldier going to war without being battle ready. Okay so maybe we should not associate CUCM with war and battles and soldiers, but indulge me...

The CUCM must knows are:

  • Dial Plan: CSS, Partitions, Translation Patterns, Route Patterns, SLRG, etc
  • E164 Dial Plan: Globalisation, Normalisation, transformation pattern
  • SIP URI Routing, ILS, GDPR ( Notice that ILS came before GDPR)
  • Basic CUCM SQL queries
  • CUCM Database Architecture ( Publisher/Subscriber model. Repairing broken db replication)
  • CUCM PKI infrastructure, Certificates, SBD(ITL,CTL Operation), encryption, CAPF, LSC, SIPOAuth: 

You cannot survive without understanding CUCM SBD and PKI infrastructure. This is made more critical as customers embrace the evolution of edge solutions, cloud solutions, hybrid based solutions and integration with other vendors eg Microsoft (Skype or Teams). You are going to need to deploy TLS at some point and TLS means certificates. Certificates means something probably outside of your comfort zones. CSRs, CAs, CRLs,  CDPs. 

In addition securing media as well as signalling is becoming a critical factor in enterprise solution deployments, hence you must understand CUCM encryption options: CAPF, LSC, SIPOauth.

  • CUCM API Schema.  

Yes. another uncomfortable thing for legacy UC engineers. The advent of automation, the efficiency that it offers means that we need to automate some of our tasks and to do that we need to know the APIs to leverage for this. You must challenge yourself even if you do not have a programming back ground to. understand the CUCM AXL schema reference. Its much simpler than you think

  • SIP

I don't think I need to say too much on this as well. SIP is just so critical to everything today and not just CUCM. It is the number one VOIP protocol today. What is your SIP knowledge like? Do you understand in detail SIP architecture? You cant go far without it, it's as simple as that.

  • H323. You probably can survive without knowing H323. A lot of legacy solutions still deploy it though, so if you need to interact with these, then you need go down history path and develop some skills around the protocol.

 

IM&P, Unity Connection

From my experience, I am yet to see a CUCM deployment without one of these two. CUCM IM&P is so popular now that it's becoming a core skill to have. The drive to collaborate more makes business embrace solutions that meet those needs. So time to fire up a lab if you have not already interacted with Jabber and IM&P.

Voice Gateways and Protocols:

 

  • CUBE
  • ISR 3Gs, ISR 4Ks, CSR 1K
  • ISDN, SIP, H323, SCCP
  • Voice gateway PKI infrastructure 
  • Dial-peers and call routing optimisation ( dial-peer provisioning policy, dial-peer groups, E164 patterns, server groups, voice class tenants
  • Normalisation: SIP Profiles, Voice translation rules

Cisco voice gateways are so feature rich and as such I get a little unhappy when I see deployments that do not leverage the best of the feature sets available. Its not just enough to be able to configure dial-peers but you should be able to leverage server groups, E164 pattern maps,SIP uri routing, dial-peer provisioning policies to provide a scalable and elegant solution.

With webex new offerings such as webex calling, it is. also. imperative to understand CUBE PKI deployments. As more cloud solution evolve, you will need. to integrate CUBE using TLS, so this is critical. 

SIP Profiles are so important today to handle all of the SIP interoperability challenges arising with multiple ITSPs.

Expressway Solutions: 

Expressway is built on the legacy VCS/E solutions. Video centric guys were familiar with VCS/E solutions. Today expressway is the de facto standard for Cisco edge solutions including WebRTC edge solution.

I still remember when I started learning expressway. I deployed it in my lab and then came the community to answer questions so as to develop my expertise much further.

You cannot exist in the Cisco's UC space without knowing expressway solution. Today expressway has evolved from just being used as MRA solution into a more rounded and one stop shop for all edge solutions. Here are some of the solutions that expressway is used for. Can you see why this is a critical solution to know?

  • MRA
  • B2B
  • XMPP and SIP Federation
  • Webex ( Webex Edge Audio, CMR)
  • WebRTC (replacing CMS edge)
  • Endpoint Registrations
  • Hybrid solution:
    • Calendar connectors (Webex hybrid calendar service)
    • Message connectors (Jabber Team messaging mode)
    • Call connectors (Webex Hybrid Call)
  • Jabber Guest
  • Skype for Business Online (O365) Integration

 

Telepresence/Webex Cloud Solutions

Webex is where its at! Telepresence and conference solutions are key for any UC engineer. I remember a few years back when the video/telepresence estate within an enterprise was managed by only "video guys". The land scape has changed significantly and you need a grasp of these technologies to be be able to work effectively in this space. Some of the core technologies in this space driving enterprise collaboration are:

  • Webex teams
  • Webex CMR
  • Telepresence Endpoints
  • CMS
  • TMS
  • TMSXE
  • Expressway

 

Windows Server Infrastructure:

You just cant survive here without touching windows server offerings. Here are some that are a must:

  • AD
  • Windows PKI (CA, CRL, CDP)
  • DHCP
  • DNS(A, SRV records, PTR records)

 

Tools/Troubleshooting:

There are tons of tools you need to be efficient as a UC engineer. I am sure you are already using some of them, you may need to explore more of the ones mentioned on this list. 

  • Wireshark: The ultimate packet capture software. Tons of documentation and books books available on it.
  • Understanding CUCM traces
    • Simply put, you cant get far without knowing how decipher CUCM traces. This is by far the best skill set I have acquired over the years. This is one of the most important artillery in your 
  • Understanding SIP/Traces
    • This is another key skill set to have. Similar to CUCM traces. In fact knowing this helps you troubleshoot multiple vendor solutions since most providers speak SIP, it easily empowers you to be able to work across multiple UC space.
  • Understanding Expressway Traces (CSA Tool), Jabber PRT log files
    • As we have covered, expressway is at heart of a lot of Cisco UC offerings. Almost every single deployment has expressway deployed. Imagine having the ability to be able to troubleshoot this, reduces your MTTR and the amount of TAC cases you open.
    • Cisco TAC guys have gone a step further in. developing CSA tool to help you analyse expressway traces. Personally though nothing beats you been able to dissect this your self
    • Jabber PRT log files are very critical in troubleshooting any jabber related solution. So get in on it.
  • TranslatorX
    • One of the very best troubleshooting tool for SIP, and other CUCM and expressway related core components.
  • CVP Log parser:
    • For UCCE centric deployments. Great tool by Ricardo Mancera.
  • UCCX MIVR Logs:
    • You should be able to understand basic MIVR logs for UCCX if you work in that space. Its not so hard to read and it provides a ton of great insight into why things break down.
  • SIP Profiles on CUBE
    • Absolute critical feature that helps with interoperability issues when deploying CUBE. Don't just copy sip profiles from the internet, understand how it works, what it's doing in your configuration. There are so many irrelevant sip profiles added to cube configurations because most people do not know what their purpose is.
  • Postman skills (exploring APIs):
    • With the introduction of the CMS solution, I have found that postman has become so invaluable for any engineer today.
  • Automation/Scripting/Python/Perl/Java
    • Yes you need to have tools for automating UC tasks. BAT is very limited and so you need to develop skills to help you here. Python is easy to learn. Without any shadow of a doubt you will need to have some form of programming knowledge to excel in today's UC space
  • Normalisation scripts (Lua)
    • Slightly on a more advanced level. But if you have some programming knowledge this becomes a whole lot easier. Lua is a powerful tool required for a lot of SIP interoperability with other vendors.

 

3rd Party Vendor Integrations 

  • Understand the various Integration points with MS Teams, Skype for Business and O365
  • Develop skills on Other SBC(s) apart from CUBE: Oracle SBC, Audio codes, Ribbon SBC etc
    • These are all very similar, once you know one it will be easy to pick up the others. Ensure you know atleast one of these. You may be wondering why. Well we have to co exist with Microsoft and these as of today are the certified SBCs that work with Microsoft for PSTN routing (Skype/O365) and dynamic routing (MS Teams)
  • Azzure, AD Integration
  • SSO IdP, OKTA, ADFS
  • Integration with multiple vendors (SIP centric)

 

Self Development 

This is a very challenging career path. Changes, upgrades, features, deprecation, troubleshooting, innovations are all very synonymous with the UC world. I do not think I read as much as I am doing now even when I was in an educational institution. To help yourself keep tabs with all the changes, innovations, developments you need to adopt a self motivational, self developmental paradigm. Here are some of the ways you can achieve this:

  • Be on the Cisco Support Community
    • This is by far the the best place on earth to hone your skill sets, bridge gaps your core fundamentals, collaborate with peers, gain insights into new and emerging technologies etc
  • Own a Lab
  •  Use Cisco dcloud
    • Cisco dcloud is a fantastic place to do demos, learn new technologies, test new feature sets as well as deliver prototypes to prospective customers. Use it you will be better of for it
  • Sandbox
  • Read wide: Understand the industry. Know the key players and other vendors in this space: Zoom/Google Meet/Webex/skype/MS Teams
    MS is key player. Understand the integration points between Cisco and MS.
  • Certifications
    • This is by far my in my opinion the least of all the discussions here in terms of how it impacts your career. I have been a CCIE since 2014 and I have to say I am yet to see the benefit of achieving the certification. Before you invest heavily on this, ensure you know why you are doing it. Understand how it impacts your development where you live or where you potentially want to live. Certifications can be good, they can be overrated, they might just be done to tick a box. Make sure you understand fully why you are investing in them and how to get the best out of them
  • Stay connected on social media to UC feeds(twitter).
    • Often times new features are announced and you also get to see see what others are doing as well as issues and challenges they are facing

 

References

Here are some links to some of the tools you can use to help you develop your skill sets as mentioned in this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Cisco-Live ( Troubleshooting-SIP-BRKUCC-2932)

 

Summary

I am sure you are wondering wao! do I need to know all of this stuff? The simple answer is YES! Did I hear you asking, Deji are you saying you know all of this stuff here? Can I plead the 5th here? 

Truth be told, I know 96% of these technologies. I have had to develop skills around MS solution, Oracle SBC, Python, Windows server etc. I had to evolve from a Cisco centric UC engineer into a more rounded solution consultant. I have also had to learn a lot of the Cisco cloud offerings.

So there you have it, a blue print to help you in your journey.  Lets get the conversation going. Are there any other skill sets you think are critical that I have missed out. Feel free to leave comments below. 

Comments
Contributor

@Ayodeji Okanlawon  so you are becoming INFLUENCER now from SIP EXPERT?  lol. ;) :)

Keep up the good work. You influenced people with your SIP SKILLS and now guiding to become good engineer with necessary skills. That's great.

 

regards,

Ritesh Desai

Always amazed by your sheer interest in inspiring others and sharing good info like this, nice document !

I still remember I struggled a lot in getting a document like this when I started my UC journey.

Today however few ground realities have changed urging towards being vendor neutral and cloud centric.

 

-Mat

Beginner

This is very insightful, I’m looking to becoming a CCIE collab and articles like this shows you a clear path on what is expected! Kudos Ayo!

Beginner

It's a good post. Really helpful for engineers who are stating their career in Voip . Often newbies get lost as they think it's so vast and from where to start.

This will really help engineers looking for a career in Voip .

Beginner

Insightful Post, this covers major knowledge/concepts around Cisco UC and for other OEMs. Thanks for this post.


 

I just read this and feel like I got slapped in my face, there are many things about UC that I haven't explored yet.


If I may ask you a favor, I wonder what you thought about Collaboration trends we need to watch and be prepared?.

 

Thanks Deji, you're inspiring.

Beginner

@Ayodeji Okanlawon thank's for your amazing advice to improve our goals, it's a very helpful article.

 

During my last five years as a UC engineer, In addition to your advice, I consider it important to have a little bit knowledge of VMware because it's important during implementation or set up of UC cluster, also a basic or strong knowledge of routing and switching technologies and finally basic or strong knowledge of UCCX (depends on where the does you work or the country that do you live).

 

Regards!

-Jostein

VIP Mentor

Hi @gilang ramadhan 

The collaboration trend are pretty much cloud offerings. WebEx Teams, MS teams. Webex calling offerings as well as MS team direct routing. You should also if you can keep an eye on things evolving with Zoom. Due to Covid19 it's incredibly popular and enterprises seem to want to deploy it.

In line with that any automation tool like programming skills will also be a great need to have...So start early and learn a programming language...

VIP Mentor

@suarezj_ 

Thank you. Yes VMware is a must! I totally forgot to include it.