SurveyWatch: VoIP network monitoring improves VoIP deployment

VoIP network monitoring and pre-deployment analysis are becoming more important as VoIP application overlay becomes denser.

VoIP network analysis and monitoring can no longer be considered luxuries, if Network Instruments' latest survey results are any indication.

VoIP applications change too fast for network hardware to keep up. "People are adopting VoIP before it's maturing," said Charles Thompson, manager of sales engineering for Network Instruments. "And this is why monitoring is now so important and necessary."

Bill Lundgren, lead enterprise network engineer at Aurora Health Care in Wisconsin, said application overlay on the packet is fast becoming one of the biggest issues on a VoIP network. Lundgren began using Network Instruments' Observer and GigaStor products a couple of years back. Three versions and a job change later, he still relies on Network Instruments' products to keep his network and VoIP deployment running smoothly. He said he needs reliable tools to help him track down problems on his VoIP network.

Network Instruments recently released the results of its survey, conducted during its forums across North America. While 45% of organizations surveyed had already implemented VoIP, only 32% felt that they could properly monitor VoIP performance. In addition, 36% of network managers and administrators reported questioning their own personal ability to implement a VoIP system, even though they expected to begin a deployment in the near future.

"Many organizations adopt VoIP to save on telecom costs without realizing how sensitive VoIP performance is to other applications running on the network," Thompson said.

Network Instruments is stressing the importance of a pre-deployment network analysis. In addition to preparing an existing data network for the added weight of a VoIP implementation, the pre-deployment analysis establishes a baseline for a post-deployment comparative analysis. Many enterprises find that after a VoIP deployment has been finalized, usage of one feature or another is greater than originally anticipated -- or more features need to be added. The pre-deployment analysis allows those additional features to be more easily implemented.

The Network Instruments survey also found that network engineers are most concerned with monitoring VoIP quality of service (QoS), the reliability of VoIP applications when traffic is high and the network's ability to handle the added VoIP traffic.

"Network teams frequently rely on default testing tools included with the VoIP equipment, which provide minimal insight into VoIP communication running over the network and fail to compare its performance with overall network performance," said Douglas Smith, president and co-founder of Network Instruments. "Instead, the IT staff should use analysis tools that provide detailed insight into both VoIP and overall network performance."

Given the size of many of today's enterprise-level networks, VoIP can be very delicate to run, with its extreme sensitivity to delay, jitter and packet loss -- especially when compared with other network applications, such as Web and email services, which are not real-time applications. Users are much more likely to complain about delays on their phone conversations than about momentary delays in receiving emails.

Lundgren said he relies on tools such as those from Network Instruments to be able to send a network engineer out into the field to easily determine the problem when users complain. By recapturing the entire call conversation and replaying it with the user listening in, Lundgren and his team save time that might have been spent combing through a multitude of packets, following the trace and rebuilding the conversation themselves.

And Thompson stressed the necessity of network monitoring -- before, during and after a VoIP deployment -- as VoIP on an enterprise network becomes denser.

"Enterprises need to look at the long term," he said, "to be aware of how the network might work post-deployment and what features will be added in the future."

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