VoIP Networking Performance Tools: Awareness is critical

How critical are performance monitoring tools to the success of VoIP?

According to new survey results, VoIP and data applications are competing for precious bandwidth and degrading overall network performance for almost half of the survey respondents.

Enterprise Management Associates polled 100 North American companies on behalf of network analysis and monitoring tool provider Network General. Of those, approximately 50 percent have been using VoIP for more than a year, and nearly 60 percent use VoIP as their primary voice communication technology.

A full 89 percent of respondents rated VoIP analysis, reporting, and performance monitoring capabilities as either very important or critical for optimal enterprise VoIP performance. The survey also revealed that—prior to VoIP deployment—more than two thirds of surveyed IT mangers used VoIP monitoring tools and carried out network capacity planning.

Jim Vale, product manager at Network General, commented that the study revealed no shocking surprises. “The survey confirms our experience with our customer base,” Vale told VoIPplanet.com. “VoIP adoption is widespread throughout the market; however, scaled implementations are limited in part by effective management solutions.”

Vale argues that most enterprises that implement VoIP are ‘aware’ that there are stringent performance requirements for high quality, real-time audio and video transmissions. However, he noted that most are less aware of what impact packet voice and video implementations ultimately have on networks as a whole or on other applications specifically.

“Through the early phase deployments they should learn some of this information after the fact,” Vale explained. “Where they lack awareness is in how they will manage network and application performance across multiple ‘mission critical’ applications over the lifecycle of those applications.”

Fluke Networks, which also provides VoIP analysis tools, agreed that awareness is part of the VoIP challenge. “A challenge hampering VoIP deployment is the notion that VoIP is ‘just another application,'” Lisa Schwartz, solutions marketing manager at Fluke Networks, told VoIPplanet.com. “VoIP has unique transmission requirements for it to be useful to the human ear in real time. VoIP does not run on TCP/IP, and issues such as dropped packets and retransmissions, which are not an issue with TCP/IP, are serious impediments to call quality.”

“There is not sufficient thought given the interaction between data traffic and the high-priority requirements of VoIP,” Schwartz added.

More than just tools
Though network performance tools are helpful, they’re not enough on their own to help solve the major issues hampering VoIP in the enterprise.

“Tools are helpful in the early phases of transformational technology such as VoIP,” Vale said. “However, as the technology adoption becomes more widespread or end-to-end, the value of these tools must—with time—become integrated in network management systems and disciplines.”

“Customers insist that such integration come in the form of ‘solutions’ from a limited number of network infrastructure and network management vendors.”

Two such vendors are, of course, Network General and Fluke Networks.

“Fluke Networks VoIP Lifecycle Solution is unique in the industry with its capacity to manage, monitor, and troubleshoot both VoIP and data traffic, as well as the underlying infrastructure,” Fluke’s Schwartz said.

Network General’s Vale noted that similar to Network General, Fluke Networks has traditionally offered a group of products that attach directly to a network and observe its behavior.

In Vale’s opinion,”unlike Network General, Fluke Networks established itself with handheld cable testers and other, ‘lower layer,’ topology-oriented test tools.” By contrast, Network General established itself as what Vale called “the de facto network analysis vendor,” by focusing on comprehensive L2-L7 protocol analysis; including a real-time expert system that provides application-level analysis.

“VoIP is one of the key applications where performance metrics—for both call control (or ‘signaling’) and audio and video QoS—where Network General is committed to providing customers with key application-level performance metrics, as well as network and packet-level analysis,” Vale said.

The future of VoIP management
As enterprise VoIP adoption grows, the market for VoIP management capabilities will also likely change as well. Vale expects that the market will demand that VoIP management become integrated with existing network management systems and disciplines.

“Over time VoIP specific ‘point products’ will not have sustained value in the converged Enterprise network,” Vale said. “VoIP and other mission-critical data applications’ performance will need to be provided from a common solution.”

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