Enterprise IT managers who are considering a VOIP rollout, especially one based on Cisco Systems Inc.s network gear, should consider using NetIQ Corp.s Vivinet Assessor 2.0 to weed out network weaknesses.
As eWeek Labs pointed out in the Oct. 21 voice-over-IP analysis (see www.eweek.com/links), a complete data network assessment is an absolute prerequisite for a successful VOIP rollout. This version of Vivinet makes it even easier than the previous version (called Chariot VOIP Assessor 1.0) to prepare for a Cisco VOIP deployment.
In tests, we found NetIQs focus on supporting VOIP heavyweight Cisco has paid off because we got detailed reports on our Cisco 3600- and 1700-series routers. However, our experience also showed that it will take at least one more iteration before NetIQ supports other vendors at the same level as Cisco.
Beyond the name change, several other significant modifications have been made to Vivinet Assessor, which started shipping last month. Network device discovery has been added to the product, a huge improvement over the first version, which eWeek Labs evaluated last year (see www.eweek.com/links). We saved time and improved the accuracy of VOIP support tests by using Vivinet Assessor to gather information such as the number and capabilities of routers and switches in our network.
Another important new feature in this version is Vivinet Assessors ability to determine the operating system running in Cisco infrastructure devices. It found, for example, that our 1720-series router was running Ciscos IOS (Internet Operating System) Version 12.0, not the best platform for supporting voice applications. Because we didnt have to enter this information by hand, implementation time was significantly reduced. We got not only reports that showed us where problems were likely to occur with our VOIP project but also rudimentary suggestions for solutions.
NetIQ has done away with the tiered price structure of the first version. Now everyone gets a 2,500-call license for the price of $4,500 for the assessment (one-time use) license or $12,000 for the perpetual license. The perpetual license costs $2,000 less than the introductory price of a year ago.
The product is well-suited to large multisite VOIP implementations, where contract costs for the bill of goods are likely to be in the multimillion-dollar range, so we consider it to be reasonably priced. However, there are lower or no-cost piecemeal alternatives to Vivinet. Finisar Corp.s Surveyor Multi-QOS plug-in can monitor the performance of a deployed VOIP network, although it isnt built for pre-deployment assessments. The same goes for Concord Communications Inc.s eHealth product family.
The Internet is also loaded with "free" bandwidth calculators, such as at Voip-calculator.com, that provide a rough idea of the capacity needed to carry voice traffic on a data network.
In tests, Vivinet Assessor was able to take our inventory and also an SNMP-based use assessment of our infrastructure equipment, then do calculations based on these factors to predict real call performance. For example, by factoring the CPU utilization, interface congestion and RAM on the Cisco routers and switches, Vivinet Assessor offered far more accurate predictions than other products about the call quality we might expect from our currently configured network.
Vivinets reports also made it easy for us to see which equipment needed an updated IOS version to support the advanced quality-of-service features required for VOIP. It didnt say much about our Extreme Networks Inc. Summit 48 switch, except to acknowledge its presence.
Vivinet Assessors reports are impressive. A relatively simple report called the "Go/no-go" analysis told us if a VOIP implementation was possible, given the network equipment and configuration. Vivinet Assessor also called out areas where the test network was deficient. We could also define metrics for Mean Opinion Score, a measure of perceived voice call quality, along with delay-sensitive voice and video traffic, jitter, data loss, and latency. There, reports were broken down by day, hour and location.
We would like to see NetIQ adopt more of the concepts and terminology of traditional telephony and focus on statistics such as drops, completions and accommodations for busy-hour statistics—which any PBX can provide.
Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant is at firstname.lastname@example.org.