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Monitor real-time communications or they will fail

Supporting real-time communications is an ongoing process. Vendors and providers are offering voice and video testing, monitoring tools and services.

Enterprises can't just set and forget UC, especially real-time communications like voice and video. After first ensuring the network is ready to handle demanding, real-time applications, businesses need to guarantee a high-quality user experience with continuous monitoring.

If an enterprise's users are unhappy with the [UC] experience, they failed.

Bill Haskins,
partner and senior analyst, Wainhouse Research

Enterprises typically neglect UC monitoring -- especially for real-time communications, but experts say it is just as important as vendor selection and deployment.

"Don't forget that the work doesn't stop after the assessment or implementation stage. [Enterprises] have to have a good UC-oriented monitoring solution … that lets IT see in real-time if there are any ongoing issues with voice or video traffic," said Bill Haskins, partner and senior analyst of Duxbury, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research LLC.

Monitoring technology for real-time communications

"Stock" monitoring features -- usually provided by networking vendors -- will often provide historical performance data, including call metrics from the day before. But third-party providers that specialize in UC monitoring -- such as Nectar Services Corp. and UnifySquare -- are providing visibility down to the endpoint and user in real time. And they can alert network operations if users are experiencing issues with voice and video, Haskins said.

"[UC monitoring] companies are riding this wave of demand from enterprises, saying that it's not just enough to implement UC -- they need another layer of help with enabling UC at the network layer," he said. "It doesn't matter how well-architected the UC technology is; if an enterprise's users are unhappy with the experience, they failed."

UC players are also getting into the monitoring game, either by offering voice- and video-specific monitoring tools, or even professional services. Polycom offers its Video Network Readiness and Video Network Diagnosis services, as well as its PathView networking testing tool geared towards the monitoring and assessment of the end-user experience, said John Bartlett, senior director of service portfolio management for Polycom.

Video Network Diagnosis pairs a consultant with a business video or network team to find and remediate the problem. The Video Network Readiness service or "best practices assessment" looks at the video deployment a customer may have just put in place and helps the business assess whether or not the right network resources -- like bandwidth and quality of service -- are in place to ensure a successful experience. Lastly, the consultant deploys the PathView networking testing tool and leaves it with the customer for continued daily monitoring, Bartlett said.

As interest in new applications -- such as video conferencing -- grows within the enterprise, so is interest in network monitoring and staying ahead of any problems that could affect adoption, he said.

More on real-time communications

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Using video outside of real-time collaboration

"If you introduce a video service within an organization, and it doesn't behave well, you won't get very good uptake, and it's hard for the organization to justify that investment," Bartlett said.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), like video, also requires the same level of monitoring, and many routers and switches are designed to understand and prioritize voice traffic, said Tej Kohli, senior director of cloud and managed services for Cisco.

Cisco's Prime Collaboration manager provides network and media path visibility, and real-time troubleshooting. "In order to run [Cisco's] Jabber meetings internally, we use Prime and Cisco MediaNet [Cisco's architecture for voice] for service assurance, and we've integrated into network endpoints to make sure they are media-aware," said Brian Christensen, senior director of UC and video services for Cisco IT.

A little help supporting real-time communications

Some enterprises decline to deploy VoIP and video on their networks because they are hesitant to take on the complexity of managing and monitoring it, said Rich Costello, senior research analyst for UC and enterprise communications infrastructure at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

Aside from tapping a third-party monitoring product that may specialize in supporting the big UC players, businesses can also work with a partner or integrator associated with their selected voice or video vendor, Costello said.

Cisco, like some of its competition in the UC space, has a large ecosystem of voice, video- and network quality-certified partners who work with smaller customers on the daily management of UC upkeep. "If and when a customer upgrades their network to handle [voice and video], these partners can help them absorb new technology and behave like large companies," Cisco's Kohli said. Large enterprises also have the option of offloading daily management of Cisco's voice and video offerings onto managed service providers, he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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