Voice Ups the Network-Monitoring Ante

Updated: April 30, 2009

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the initial VoIP offerings for the enterprise were sold as "just another application." Hard-won experience over the last 10 to 15 years has proven that notion flat-out wrong.

VoIP is much more than another application running on the network. Voice is a business-critical service that runs on network technology that was not designed to carry time-sensitive, business-critical services. And unlike other burgeoning technologies, every user — from the lowliest intern to the loftiest executive to salespeople to call-center personnel to the receptionist diverting calls from customers — has very specific expectations of what should happen when he or she picks up the phone.

Add VoIP to your IP network, and data monitoring of the voice traffic quickly becomes a top IT priority. With VoIP data monitoring, you can better meet users' expectations, maximize your organization's investment in IP telephony and even plan out the network as it continues to grow.

"Voice is very sensitive to lost and delayed packets. There is a new paradigm when you put voice on your IP network — you have a real-time application that is very sensitive to packet loss and delay. IP networks have both. So voice needs to be managed more carefully than your typical data application," explained Steve Guthrie, the director of product marketing for voice and network solutions at CA , an IT-management vendor headquartered in Islandia, N.Y.

Avoid Packet Loss

The most important reason to monitor the voice data on your converged network is compelling: Make the voice traffic the network's No. 1 priority, and you're more likely to have toll-quality calls, the kind that callers are used to after more than 100 years of fine-tuning on POTS (plain old telephone service). An IP network drops and delays packets — no big deal to the sort of data applications IP was built to serve. But even a packet loss rate of as low as 1 percent can cause VoIP packet delay and jitter, which leads to callers talking over each other, missing parts of the conversation and getting utterly frustrated.

With a network-management tool geared toward voice traffic, you can keep the VoIP packets moving across the network smoothly, manage the performance of your VoIP devices, troubleshoot VoIP problems and resolve them more quickly and efficiently, manage bandwidth growth, and test your QoS (Quality of Service) configurations. Combined, these tasks will help make sure that the VoIP implementation is aligned with your organization's overall business objectives.

"We're experiencing IT organizations that are less interested in the feeds and speeds that drove day-to-day operations, such as ‘How much bandwidth do we have?' Now, it's ‘Do we have sufficient bandwidth to allow the contact center to do the computer telephony that they need to do?' It's partly business looking at IT to help run business and think more like business people," said Guthrie.

A Multitude of Options

There are many solutions to choose from. When choosing a vendor, your primary considerations should be that it offers a multivendor management solution that performs a variety of tasks via a single interface. For instance, CA offers a set of three management tools in its unified Network and Voice Management solution: eHealth for Voice, which manages Cisco Systems Inc ., Nortel Networks and Avaya Inc . VoIP environments; eHealth, which is a network-performance management tool; and Spectrum, a fault-management tool.

You should also decide on the depth and breadth of functionality you need. For instance, if you're just beginning your VoIP deployment, you may want a vendor that will take you from assessing your network's readiness for VoIP all the way to monitoring day-to-day voice traffic. One such example is Codima Technologies Inc.'s Toolbox, which includes a mapping tool for network discovery, a traffic simulator for testing the nework's capability for handling voice, and tools to troubleshoot problems with voice traffic.

Other VoIP network-monitoring tools include nGenius from NetScout Systems Inc., Network General 's VoIP Intelligence, NetSensory Solution Insight for VoIP from Network Physics, the Brix System from Brix Networks and NetIQ Corp .'s VoIP Solutions.

VoIP is definitely coming back into favor, gaining ground among users as varied as worldwide financial institutions to corporations with large enterprises to homeowners looking to decrease long-distance charges. But, ultimately, widespread acceptance of VoIP will come down to QoS — and that requires robust monitoring tools and diligent troubleshooting.

"We are all used to mobile phones; we all know that they drop calls. Voice over IP has an even worse reputation," said Christer Mattsson, CEO of Codima Technologies Inc., which is based in King of Prussia, Pa. "We need to make sure the quality of service is back up to the level customers are used to [with landline phones]. People won't buy phones if they're not up to scratch."

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