Some UC enterprise deployments don’t make it past the pilot phase because once companies move to a larger rollout and begin to deploy enterprise voice for phone calls, the network becomes bogged down and users experience problems that “halt the deployment in its tracks.”
So says Tom Tuttle, Vice President of the Microsoft Practice at Nectar Services Corp., which makes tools for monitoring, managing and troubleshooting unified communications deployments – tools that he says can help users avoid such a fate.
While Nectar has years of experience in the UC management space, with its roots in Avaya, Tuttle says Microsoft Skype for Business presents some unique challenges because both its media traffic as well as signaling is encrypted, which makes it tricky to troubleshoot any problems. About 3 years ago Microsoft took steps to address the issue, coming up with an API that gives third party developers a window into the communications streams so they can apply management tools. Now known as the Skype for Business SDN API, it provides basic signaling information for a call, which tools like Nectar’s can use to gain insights into how calls get from point A to point B – and to troubleshoot any problems in between.
To succeed with a Skype for Business rollout, Tuttle says users need to address three main areas:
- Conduct a pre-deployment network assessment
- Analyze traffic at the network border
- Take steps to monitor and report on the UC environment on an ongoing basis
Conducting a Pre-Deployment Network Assessment for UC
For the pre-deployment assessment, companies should conduct tests with the type of traffic that the UC environment will be generating to ensure the network can handle it. Test to determine if the network is stripping DHCP tags, whether packets are being received in the proper sequence and for other factors that can make UC traffic suffer.
It is also a good idea to test the network and server architecture, in terms of how components interact with one another, including the session border controllers (SBCs), gateway switches and the like.
Nectar’s Perspective tool enables a variety of stress tests to simulate voice and video sessions. It can determine when quality starts to degrade as well as conduct quality of service (QoS) tests and codec tests, among others.
Protecting the Network Border in a UC Environment
In any UC environment, whether enterprise or hosted, a Session Border Controller (SBC) sits at the border. Applying monitoring tools to the SBC that look at traffic as it comes in and out can provide customers with a wealth of information on the health of the UC environment, Tuttle says.
Nectar’s UC Diagnostic (UCD) tool can measure call quality on both sides of the SBC. “We know how traffic comes in and how it passes through,” he says. By bracketing the SBC in this manner, Nectar can identity where in the network that call quality is degrading. In the past, because Skype communications were encrypted, users had no way of knowing where problems existed. If a carrier said things looked good on its end, users had no recourse to prove otherwise. Nectar UCD provides that recourse, providing measurements on packet loss, jitter, round trip delay, QoS settings and more.
“We know if you’re trying to push 30% of Skype traffic over a queue that’s set for 20%, and how many times you’ve exceeded that threshold in a given timeframe,” Tuttle says.
Ongoing Monitoring and Management of the UC Environment
As part of its UC Management Platform, Nectar also has tools for ongoing performance monitoring and management of a Skype for Business environment.
“We leverage real time info from the SDN API and look at calls in real time,” he says. “We can tell if this issue causing problems for a certain user is that they were using a non-Skype-approved headset.”
The platform also provides alarming, including the ability to drive alarms to the person with the most appropriate skillset to handle it. It also performs correlation to help troubleshoot problems. “The last thing you want to do is access eight or nine toolsets and do manual correlation,” Tuttle says.
Historically, management is always one of the last things users think about when implementing any new technology. Whether it’s Nectar or some other tool, you’d be wise to include UC management as part of your implementation plan – and to get started on that network assessment well before the rollout begins.