How Well Is Your Business's VoIP Performing, Really?

Ken describes how his son's online gaming habit led him to some thoughts about what it really means to monitor VOIP, and lack of tools to monitor the end-user experience.

How Well Is Your Business's VoIP Performing, Really?By Ken Jinks    10 March 2016      Thinking

How Well Is Your Business's VoIP Performing, Really?

My son's online gaming habit (some might call it an addiction) illustrates a common issue in VOIP monitoring that carries over to the business world. At home, I have no trouble responding to emails, but he may be sitting next to me cursing the performance of our home broadband because the ping times have gone from 30ms to 60ms! My ISP is monitoring the availability of the service, but doesn't see how bad the end-user experience can get.

That relationship is crucial.

People have a very low tolerance for poor quality voice or video services. Intermittent performance issues with an application are usually pretty tolerable, but any issue with a voice call or video conference is reported immediately. IT infrastructure teams (who get those angry phone calls) recognize how critical these systems are, and invest in products to monitor them. However, most tools in this space are centered more around the availability of the service and less on the end-user experience or service performance.

The most commonly deployed VoIP tools are supplied by the vendors of the VoIP infrastructure. These tools report on the current state of the infrastructure: active calls, dropped calls, signalling errors, etc. But this is not end-user experience. For that measurement, these infrastructure vendors use self-reported mean opinion scores (MOS) from the handset. As with any self-reported statistic, MOS are suspect and likely to be, let's say, optimistic for call quality reporting.

IT teams also use synthetic calls to determine call quality. This involves a product that can simulate a VoIP call between two endpoints and report on the quality of the call. Still, it is a simulated call without an actual end-user, and usually takes place at times without the network congestion that causes problems in the first. And again, this process only monitors the availability of the service—not the end-user experience.

The good news is that you can monitor the end-user experience and performance of these critical VoIP and video services. All the information you need exists in the media packets flowing on the network. These packets can be passively tapped and the actual experience of every user call can be determined. However, only recently has this technique become scalable, simple, and cost effective to deploy. For this approach to be useful, it needs to report in real-time on the quality of every call. To achieve this, we must measure jitter and loss for every packet. In the core of a large enterprise, this can be millions of packets per second.

Above all, this approach must be simple to deploy and use. The product needs to discover all VoIP traffic and automatically detect, decode and stitch together all signalling messages related to every call to produce call records. The real power of this approach is that every packet is captured, so troubleshooting poor call quality reports becomes possible. Clicking from a call record to the underlying packets and understand the cause of the jitter and loss enables users to quickly get to the root cause of poor call quality.

Don't be fooled into thinking your organization is fully monitoring the performance of its critical VoIP and video services. You may be missing the most important part of the picture: the end-user experience.

See Corvil's approach to VoIP here.

How Well Is Your Business's VoIP Performing, Really?

Ken Jinks, Director, Product Management, Corvil
Corvil safeguards business in a machine world. We see a future where all businesses trust digital machines to algorithmically conduct transactions on their behalf. For some businesses, this future is now.

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