As the effects of Superstorm Sandy are still being felt all over the East Coast, I can’t help but reflect on the importance of Communications especially during times of disaster. Business Continuity requires visibility, availability, reliability and redundancy to ensure the entire organization is kept well informed during emergencies. Are remote locations healthy and available or are services potentially degrading to prevent remote employees from being productive? When the business must reprioritize functions between different geographic territories, are the communications networks successful in handling the increased workload for service quality and throughput?
In many organizations, the burden of responsibility to ensure such continuity relies on network operations to fulfill such functions either manually, through tools or a hybrid approach. Operational visibility must go beyond standard network measures and must include metrics for environmental monitoring and service quality. The fluidity of emergency conditions means businesses must dynamically adjust functions across geographic regions.
Real-Time visibility into all aspects of the network is a necessity when performing such dynamic business changes:
- Are sites experiencing any extreme environmental conditions such as power loss, UPS backup battery activation, increased humidity levels, spikes in electrical circuits? While the site may be available, such conditions are the proactive measures to identify potential network failures.
- When the business must re-distribute functions between different geographic regions, are the failover/redundant locations ready for the increased workload? Real-time visibility into throughput, bandwidth, errors and load provide the necessary insight to determine any critical load factors.
- During regional communication outages, are your dial-plan, routing and priorities defined accurately to re-distribute the workload? Real-time visibility into call failures and RTP call path variations are required to determine if Unified Communications are prepared for regional outages.
- When communications have been re-routed to different geographic regions, how has/will service quality degrade, are new routing paths experiencing higher latency, are mis-configured packet priorities degrading voice quality? Real-time visibility into call paths, VoIP QoS and overall RTP QoS are a must during such dynamic changes for an acceptable end-user Quality of Experience.
- Finally, does operations have the necessary unified view of the network across the regional centers, are there multiple tools to identify degradations or is it a single MOM, do redundant operational teams share similar data? Fluidity of emergency conditions means network operations must equally re-distribute functions to ensure business continuity and having a single MOM aids in the process. A unified view shared amongst redundant operational centers ensures no gaps exist in monitoring the network, i.e, did we not have visibility over the environmental conditions because Application X monitors environmental while Application Y monitors communications?
A well designed strategy for operations ensures continued business functions during unforeseen events such as Superstorm Sandy, however a strategy that utilizes the correct combination of technology and resources ensures a successful execution of the strategy. As the Northeast regions of the US must revise their emergency preparedness in-light of the impact of Superstorm Sandy, so-to must Enterprises review the impact of network outages and business continuity to ensure a more cost-effective and efficient strategy that minimizes down-time.
How important is UC monitoring and management to organizations? According to a Gartner study published in September 2011 called “Survey Analysis: Top Five Challenges When Migrating Your Unified Communications Infrastructure Into Your Data Center“, real-time performance is second only to ensuring compatibility and interoperability of the UC vendor technologies. The Gartner study spanning 8 countries, over a 100 organizations per country with a minimum of 1000 employees per organization outlines the key challenges when adopting UC technologies into the data center. Gartner’s findings quantify the end-user importance of real-time visibility into the UC environment.
When discussing Unified Communications, we refer to all the voice, video, collaboration, mobility, and integration to the enterprise application technologies. The nature of real-time applications requires a level of tolerance within the data network that has been previously unneeded for pure data center needs.
- Voice requires low latency and low packet loss levels
- Video requires higher bandwidth, low latency and low packet loss levels
- Both voice and video requires five nines availability.
Gartner’s study shows that end-users have real business value for real-time visibility over this environment. The study ranks operational expenditure (opex) savings second in business value and one of the key drivers to migrating UC to the data center. However, creating opex savings is highly dependent on a few major factors:
- Ensuring all aspects of operations are involved in UC operations to include groups like the DB team, virtualization team, telecom team, data network infrastructure team, network architects, etc…
- Real-time visibility must include the KPIs relative to each UC application such as MOS, Packet Loss, latency, Bandwidth, endpoint visibility, etc…
- Ensuring the operational teams have sufficient education and experience with the multi-vendor UC systems and ensuring that technology can augment support experiences if-possible
As I look back at the corollaries of VoIP adoption over a decade ago and UC adoption trends occurring today, it’s evident that end-user prudence in incorporating new technologies has increased. When VoIP was first introduced into the enterprise domain, monitoring and management was generally considered an afterthought. Too often we heard stories of lack of visibility to the data network, TCP versus UDP level analysis, active versus passive testing, etc… Today, the findings from Gartner shows approximately 39% of respondents recognizing that investment in management tools will be the second largest impact to UC. As we see the growing trend of investments within both the large enterprise and SMB space for UC technologies, Gartner’s findings truly shows the need for utilizing the most applicable tools to manage the UC environment. However, we must not forget the findings by Nemertes that shows a diminishing return when utilizing multiple tools to manage the same environment. Consolidation of all the metrics into a singular view also drives business benefit in reducing opex expenditures.
As telepresence, video and mobility continues to be adopted and the adoption rate grows over the coming years, it will be interesting to see the growth rate patterns in management tools investments.
If the mere mention of MOS (Mean Opinion Score) conjures up some high level sales terminology that’s meant to gloss over the details and provides little impact to troubleshooting VoIP QoS, then don’t worry because you are not alone. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a growing trend amongst our technology peers who have similar feelings when discussing MOS as a factor of visibility to VoIP networks. Most anecdotal responses to my queries of dismissal end in “…I can’t fix my network using MOS.” So I ponder the dismissal; Has the audience expertise surpassed the oversimplified value of MOS? Has MOS outgrown it’s value in how we operate our VoIP networks? or is there something more subtle creating the perception of dismissal?
MOS originated from a need to demystify the complex impairments that affect conversations and provide a user perception for voice quality. Measuring analog voice conversations include impairments such as noise, echo, distortion, signal-to-noise ratio, etc… Simplifying the voice quality to a scale between 1 and 5 allowed providers and consumers to identify if an impairment exceeded thresholds that could manifest in an acoustic perceivable impairment.
As network migration towards Voice over IP was introduced, MOS played/plays another critical role in determining if the VoIP Quality of Service is similar or better than the analog voice quality. Certainly VoIP QoS measurements account for packetized impairments such as packet loss, jitter and delays, however the acoustic perception of a MOS=3.5 (for example) voice quality should be similar between analog and VoIP.
Today, we see the proliferation of VoIP increase to a dominant role within the enterprise network and comparison to analog circuits is no longer a primary requirement. Instead, we now prefer access to all the raw impairments when managing the VoIP network and too-often focus on the peaks/valleys of impairments as the key driver in managing VoIP QoS.
As a fellow technology enthusiast, I understand the need to analyze and operate the VoIP network using the variances in the individual impairments, however I also see merit in utilizing MOS scores.
- When attempting to quantify the overall status of user experiences within the VoIP network, utilizing MOS provides a quick management performance indicator.
- When determining the expected VoIP QoS between codec variances, MOS once again creates the necessary differentiation to determine the acceptable impairments for each codec utilized.
- Lastly, MOS helps to establish a baseline of acceptable VoIP QoS within the network and aids to discover any variances when network conditions change such as load or device firmware.
Summary: MOS still has a place within our operational processes of the VoIP network, however we must adapt our usage when maintaining VoIP services. Since we have become more educated in real-world VoIP experiences, the need to simplify the impairments and identify if the PSTN is better/worse than VoIP is not greatly utilized. However, there are times where even I look at call with packet loss >1.3% on a G.711 codec and wonder if the conversation quality was actually impacted. MOS has not outgrown it’s value as a key performance indicator, instead the usage of MOS needs to change to a more macroscopic indicator of the VoIP network instead of the metric we use day-to-day to troubleshoot call quality.