New Tools for Managing the Multimedia Network

Greek mythology gives us the Lernaean Hydra, a sea-dwelling snake creature. Nine heads and hard to keep track of: Pin one down, two more emerge. (Yes, we’re going somewhere with this.)

In the good old days, managing a network—whether it was telephonic or data-centric—had a certain simplicity: a single channel to supervise. With voice and data and video all running through the same pipes, performance management starts to seem a lot like mythological snake-wrangling.

Walnut Creek, Calif-based WildPackets, Inc. says it has a workable solution with its latest iteration, version 6 of its OmniPeek Distributed Analysis Suite. Built to respond to the complexities of VoIP and the resource-heavy demands of video, this newest OmniPeek professes to tame the beast by wrapping together all aspects of a converged network into a single view.

“There are a lot of tools out there that do one thing well: Tools that do Voice over IP monitoring, tools that monitor your data network. We think we are unique in that we can monitor all the protocols that go over a converged network with a single product,” said Tony Barbagallo, vice president of marketing at Wildpackets.

Founded in 1990, the company has 75 employees. Barbagallo said it took two years to develop the latest version of OmniPeek. The product costs $5,000 for a local real-time analysis solution, or $10,000 and up for a distributed solution running on a dedicated Windows server.

The biggest advance in version 6 comes in the area of video, where specialized tools are needed to ensure peak performance. “To get the most efficient deployment of video, your switches and routers need to have certain settings enabled. There are packet switching protocols that allow video to be distributed around an organization more efficiently” Barbagallo said.

Monitoring is a key piece of the puzzle here. “If not everyone is conforming, then you want to quickly spot those issues. Otherwise you are flying blind,” he said.

The OmniPeek dashboard offers green-yellow-red feedback for all streams within the network. Potential problems ring a bell at headquarters, where engineers can drill down into the data and push out solutions both locally and to remote locations.

The advent of video has put new pressures on engineers to keep traffic flowing freely. It’s not just because of the added demands on bandwidth, although video can increase the load by 50 to 60 percent depending on circumstance. The real issue here lies in the business case. As video become ever more prevalent, the performance of other vital business functions can be compromised.

“Now the IT department gets a phone call because the CEO’s e-mail is not being downloaded. Or if you are an e-commerce organization, people might come to your web site and feel that things aren’t happening fast enough, and they will go to a competitor’s organization,” Barbagallo said.

Convergence likewise weighs heavy, as telephony and video find themselves treading common ground. “If you get enough people downloading movies, if there are too many WebEx conferences, people are suddenly not going to be able to hear each other.”

To interoperate among the various vendors in the convergence space, WildPackets has formed a number of key technology relationships. Its partners include Avaya DevConnect, Mitel, Nortel, and Cisco Systems.

“If we want to understand a problem between two extensions, we need to understand each of those vendors that are involved and be able to do a whole collection of analyses based on what we know about those vendors,” Barbagallo said.

At the same time, these vendors are to some extent WildPackets’ competitors. Most bring to the table some form of network monitoring and analysis capability. WildPackets hopes to stand out by its ability to offer a single image of all traffic on a converged network.

“Many organizations monitor their networks, but with VoIP and video and all these converged networks, many organizations are just starting to understand the implications of all that,” Barbagallo said.

The implication is that it’s better to wrestle with just one serpent at a time.

“You really don’t want to have a bunch of different pieces of software that you have to look at to monitor things,” Barbagallo said. “The beauty of a converged product like this is that you can quickly see correlations between data and voice and other protocols. You can see what is going on in a unified view.”

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