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VoIP performance management abounds at VoiceCon

VoIP performance management tools were announced at VoiceCon, signaling a shift in focus from infrastructure to end-user experience.

VoIP management and reporting capabilities have eluded many companies and, in some sense, the lack of adequate tools has contributed to a decline in full-VoIP deployments within major enterprises.

At this week's VoiceCon Fall in San Francisco, however, vendors announced tools that help network managers gauge the performance of their VoIP networks and troubleshoot any potential performance issues as they arise.

First, EMC Corp. has announced its EMC Smarts VoIP Performance Manager and VoIP Performance Reporter. Peter Charland, EMC Smart's manager of product marketing, said the tools help users maximize the availability and performance of VoIP services by monitoring, alerting, diagnosing and reporting on aspects of a voice system that may affect IP telephony services.

The Smarts VoIP Performance Manager and VoIP Performance Reporter can be used as standalone products, but Charland said they can be used in concert with EMC's other network management tools to rein in IT infrastructures end-to-end across different technologies.

The VoIP Manager understands and manages the performance of IP PBX solutions from Cisco and Avaya, and Charland said more vendor support will be available soon. The goal, he said, is to maximize end-user service quality while increasing operating efficiency.

The two new VoIP tools are from an OEM deal with Integrated Research's PROGNOSIS VoIP management tools. Charland said they offer centralized monitoring over multi-vendor and geographically dispersed infrastructures.

"Companies need to understand capacity and traffic flows," he said. VoIP Performance Manager looks end-to-end to monitor calls and devices while also examining MOS scores, quality of service (QoS), delay, call progress, call volumes and other metrics. It also looks at trending and utilization for capacity planning.

The VoIP Performance Reporter is an adjunct module for real-time reporting on QoS levels, and it presents a better understanding of the networking infrastructure.

"The end-to-end view is lacking," Charland said, noting that other massive network monitoring vendors such as IBM Tivoli and HP OpenView don't offer VoIP-specific views. Instead, smaller vendors like Viola, Quovia and NetIQ are filling in the gaps.

Charland said that VoIP-specific performance management and reporting tools will create a boom in the market and fuel declining full-fledged VoIP implementations.

"You cannot effectively migrate from TDM unless you have the ability to control the VoIP network," he said.

The EMC Smarts solutions offer a single view across the Avaya and Cisco technologies and scale to manage hundreds of IP PBXs and hundreds of thousands of phones. Charland said they differ from traditional VoIP management tools that offer network-centric and event-based information by providing in-depth, real-time views and reporting on telephone infrastructures while demonstrating how that information relates to the end-user experience.

Yankee Group associate analyst Vanessa Alvarez said that as VoIP adoption becomes more of a necessity for companies, some enterprises are failing to recognize the reduced infrastructure costs and user productivity that VoIP and VoIP applications offer.

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"IP telephony deployments should not be taken lightly, as the challenges associated with managing converged networks and delivering quality of service are many," Alvarez said. "To effectively maximize the value of VoIP deployments, companies need comprehensive solutions with the ability to manage software performance and take corrective action as problems occur."

Another vendor taking note at VoiceCon was NetQoS, which also announced a new VoIP management appliance, VoIP Monitor. According to Jim McQuaid, senior product manager with NetQoS, VoIP Monitor shows how VoIP systems are delivering services and pinpoints network causes of quality problems. The new product wraps call setup and call quality metrics into its existing VoIP capabilities in NetQoS Performance Center.

The network-based appliance links quality of experience to network performance for speedier troubleshooting without agents or probes, and it supports Cisco IP telephone systems that run Cisco Unified CallManager 4.2 or newer versions.

VoIP Monitor gives insight into call setup operations, such as time to dial tone and post-dial delay, and audio quality like MOS and underlying network issues. The tool tracks end-user call quality and provides alerts on call performance issues, and it isolates the cause of VoIP problems to the network source.

VoIP Monitor uses passive, centralized monitoring of signal flows to product metrics such as time to dial tone. It summarizes call quality data for all calls in the system, including calls using a PSTN gateway. It integrates with NetQoS Performance Center for a single, Web-based console for managing converged networks.

In addition, VoIP Monitor uses real-time call watch to monitor quality of in-progress calls from selected phones, and it avoids false alarms by alerting only when call performance problems affect a designated number of call minutes or calls.

For network engineers and operations there are specific views into call quality data, with separate administrator views for configuration.

"Network management comes second in many people's minds … and Voice over IP is no different," McQuaid said, adding that users can't implement all of the tactics without fully understanding the user experience.

McQuaid compared monitoring VoIP performance without measuring actual call quality to "making a complex recipe, following the directions and using the right ingredients without tasting it." VoIP Monitor looks at the VoIP application itself, he said, giving IT an understanding of call quality and how it relates to the network.

Alvarez said the releases from EMC Smarts and NetQoS are moving management tools forward by looking at the end-user experience instead of just the infrastructure.

"It's taking that next step," she said. "Obviously, the quality of a call is very important to organizations. It's necessary to have the quality you expect, and the visibility part is important to them."

Alvarez added that such tools may help increase wide VoIP adoptions, which have reached a plateau over the past two years, with only 7% of organizations having fully deployed VoIP. The others have either not deployed VoIP or started in stages but stopped before full deployment was reached.

One of the main issues that hinder VoIP adoption is lack of visibility, Alvarez said. She noted that many organizations say, "I don't have visibility, so let's stop here," after only partially deploying VoIP.

"Now you have vendors not only looking at the infrastructure but at the endpoint," she said, adding that as the VoIP management market continues to consolidate through acquisition and competition, more and more vendors will follow EMC's and NetQoS's paths. "There will be a chain reaction with different vendors, and in six to 12 months the market will shake out."

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