VOIPs Missing Link

Microsoft, EMC and others are rushing in to close a hole in voice traffic management.

So youve done your planning and predeployment testing, and now youve rolled out your new VOIP system into production. Now, how are you going to manage it?

While market forces push up adoption rates and enterprises scale their voice-over-IP deployments, more and more IT managers will be faced with that question. The answer may very likely be, "I have no idea."

As with any new technology, management of VOIP appears to be an afterthought.

In a survey of 273 network engineers conducted by Network Instruments this spring, almost half of respondents said they had deployed VOIP, and another 30 percent planned to implement VOIP in the next year.

However, the respondents confidence in their ability to manage the VOIP deployments didnt appear to be very strong: Almost half were concerned with their ability to monitor the quality of the VOIP service; 41 percent didnt know whether their network could handle the extra bandwidth consumption from VOIP calls; 36 percent worried about the reliability of their VOIP application during heavy usage; and almost half said the main challenge was in guaranteeing the quality of the VOIP calls on their networks.

At the same time, 36 percent of the engineers surveyed said existing monitoring systems were not adequate for monitoring VOIP performance.

Karen Dean, director of telecommunications at Black & Decker, in Towson, Md., agreed that VOIP management is an area where more attention needs to be paid. "One of the most underestimated elements of [VOIP deployments] is how you manage it," Dean said. "With IP telephony, theres a whole other list of tasks you have to do to manage it, including server management, anti-virus, patching. Phone people never had to do that [before.]"

Despite vendors claims that voice is becoming just another application on the network, it is anything but that. It is the first real-time, person-to-person application to hit the network. As such, it does not tolerate network problems such as jitter, latency, delay or out-of-packet sequencing the same way that other types of application traffic does.

"IT is in the mind-set of slow-moving, careful changes to support basic document-based applications. To have real-time communications collide with that puts everyone on the back foot," said Kerry Shih, chief strategist and founder of Communicado, a Costa Mesa, Calif., maker of management tools for VOIP.

But both small and large vendors alike are beginning to address the challenge of managing VOIP traffic in the network.

For example, at the late August VoiceCon conference in San Francisco, Microsoft acknowledged the need to provide more fine-tuned monitoring of VOIP call quality when it launched its Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 Quality of Experience Monitoring Server.

And smaller management tool providers are stepping up to the plate to deliver greater visibility into the performance of VOIP traffic on the network, as well as its impact on existing applications traffic. At VoiceCon, a handful of companies—including Communicado, NetQoS, Keynote Systems and Netcordia—launched new or enhanced management tools and services for VOIP.


Click here to read more about VOIP offerings from smaller vendors.

EMC also added its voice to the chorus with the announcement of new VOIP performance monitoring and reporting tools that it will resell from Integrated Research. The EMC Smarts VOIP Performance Manager and EMC Smarts VOIP Performance Reporter monitor quality of experience, mean opinion scores, jitter, packet delay, and real-time utilization and call volumes.

With the exception of Microsofts early foray and EMCs expanding effort, it is primarily smaller vendors that are leading the charge to arm enterprises with more sophisticated VOIP management tools.

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