Packet Island Brings SaaS to Network Monitoring

Healthy VoIP Networks - Part LVIX: Packet Island's network management platform is built to keep costs down for widely dispersed and distributed networks.

By Mark A. Miller | Posted Jan 12, 2009
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Packet Island, headquartered in Cupertino, California, is a 2004 startup created with the vision of creating robust networks with carrier-class voice/video quality through a massively scalable Software as a Service (SaaS)-based lifecycle management platform. In a SaaS model, an application, such as remote network monitoring in this case, is hosted by the application provider, and then offered as a service to customers across the Internet. This form of software delivery removes the customer’s requirements for software downloads, installation and maintenance; but changes the financial structure of the transaction from that of a one-time only (i.e. first-cost) expense to an subscription or usage-based (recurring) expense. Drawing from their experience with Hewlett-Packard’s OpenView network management platform, Packet Island’s founders have endeavored to replicate the success of that product within the realm of distributed, converged media networks. Their customers include companies who deliver application services that contain voice and video, including IT departments at multi-site enterprises that use VoIP and video across a large number of branch offices, VoIP service providers, and video telepresence providers. Packet Island has a subsidiary in Chennai, India, and is backed by prominent U.S.-based venture capital firms, including Garage Tech Ventures and Startup Capital.

Packet Island’s architecture is designed to support IT managers who are responsible for widely dispersed and distributed networks, but under increasing pressure to control the associated support costs. Recognizing that traditional SNMP polling-based network management platforms may not have the granularity, speed and breadth to quickly identify QoS degradations, and transient WAN or LAN congestion events that can impair real time traffic, the company designed a faster-responding, distributed system, named PacketSmart to complement these platforms. This solution is based on three key elements: a hardware appliance that installs at the remote network, the hosted software that manages the system, plus a Java-based GUI that can be accessed from any Internet-connected terminal, allowing remote analysis of data streams, call flows, real time troubleshooting, and the generation of comprehensive pre-assessment and Service Level Agreement (SLA) reports.

The first element is the hardware appliance, which is provided in two form factors. The PI-100 Micro-Appliance is provided in a portable (4 inch by 5 inch) unit that can easily be attached to a remote network via a simple 10/100 Ethernet connection. The appliance functions as both a call generator and a packet analyzer. The Micro-Appliance can support the real-time monitoring of up to 20 concurrent calls, generate up to 25 concurrent voice calls, or generate video traffic up to 25 Mbps. In addition, the appliance can provide stateful deep packet inspection of VoIP traffic, and also capture that traffic in an Ethereal- or Wireshark-compatible format for further analysis. For larger installations, such as call centers, the PI-1000 Appliance provides the same features, but in a 19-inch rack-mounted unit, capable of the real time monitoring of 150 concurrent calls. The appliances can be deployed in either distributed enterprise networks, with one appliance per LAN or location, or deployed by service providers at each VoIP customer site. Each appliance allows visibility into individual calls from the Java-based GUI, and responds to commands generated from with the GUI for packet capture, report generation, and other functions.

The data from these appliances is then aggregated and fed to the centralized server for display through the Java-based GUI, and the generation of automated reports. The only requirement for the Internet terminal used to view the data is that it have Java installed. For example, SIP, Cisco SCCP (Skinny) and MGCP signaling information can be captured and viewed on a call-by-call basis, including ladder graphs that illustrate the protocol interactions, pinpointing any signaling interactions that go awry or equipment mis-configurations. Performance and QoS parameters, such as the Type of Service (ToS) or Differentiated Services (DiffServ) settings are then clearly visible, as well as key voice and data metrics including MOS, jitter levels, packet loss, WAN Round Trip Times per hop, the top ten data users, plus other key indicators.

Packet Island offers several SaaS-based service models. These include: the PacketPro FSK, a field services kit that allows unlimited report generation and is designed to be a pre-assessment and troubleshooting tool; IT-911, in which a Micro-Appliance is permanently deployed in an end-customer’s network and only turned on when necessary (one low license fee covers seven days of usage per year); and VoIPCarePlus, which provides 24 x 7 ongoing monitoring and support with permanently deployed micro appliances. The company also sells complete platforms directly to enterprise customers. The entry level version, called PacketSmart-Lite, is a bundle including a server with PacketSmart installed and five microappliances (four provisioned for VoIP analysis and one for both VoIP and data analysis capabilities).

Further details on the Packet Island architecture and products can be found at http://www.packetisland.com/. Our next tutorial will continue our examination of vendors’ network management architectures.

Article ©2009 DigiNet Corporation, All Rights Reserved

Author's Biography
Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet Corporation, a Denver-based consulting engineering firm. He is the author of many books on networking technologies, including Voice over IP Technologies, and Internet Technologies Handbook, both published by John Wiley & Sons.

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