The Trouble with Troubleshooting UC Problems is a Lack of Visibility
It's time network managers started to look at UC management platforms and that starts with a tool that can provide the necessary visibility to know what's happening on the network, particularly the WAN where bandwidth is limited.
Last month I wrote a blog called "Is it finally time to consider UC Security?". Since then I received a briefing from former Yankee Group Analyst, Mike Lauricella, who's now at BroadSoft, on its enterprise management tool called PacketSmart. First of all, who knew that BroadSoft even had an enterprise focused product? I've always thought of BroadSoft as those telco infrastructure guys, but the PacketSmart product does have serious enterprise relevance.
Anyway, while I was taking the briefing I started thinking that, even though we've been talking about the need to manage UC, VoIP and video for years, enterprises haven’t really taken it seriously. This is similar to what has happened with UC security, where everyone knows it’s necessary but because of where companies were with their deployments it hasn’t been taken seriously. For many of the same reasons I outlined in the previous blog, I do think it's time network managers started to look at UC management platforms and that starts with a tool that can provide the necessary visibility to know what's happening on the network, particularly the WAN where bandwidth is limited.
If you ask any network manager what makes their life difficult (in general, not just with real time communications) and they will say it's troubleshooting the random network issues that occur in remote locations. Back about a decade ago, I was this person. I was responsible for the network for a widely distributed regional brokerage firm where the branches were key to our company’s success. This means network performance had a direct impact on the business.
Problem-isolating in remote offices can be particularly difficult because there's no IT staff there. The users complain, no one can really tell you what’s going on and everyone expects the "IT guys" to wave this magic wand and fix the problem. Then when they can't instantly, they call the help desk things like "the no help desk" and stuff that I've heard far too often.
While most network operations teams have some tools at their disposal and assess where and what the problem is, I haven't really seen a tool that can be used as a single management tool for UC management. What's required is something that can provide end to end visibility and this is where I see the strength of BroadSoft’s PacketSmart product.
Like I said, I was recently briefed on PackSmart and as part of that, I received a demo. As most people that know me are a aware, I typically roll my eyes in demos of management tools but this one actually seems like one that provides value (unlike framework tools!). The strength of the tool was that PacketSmart provides a simple way to give the network administrator visibility into VoIP and data issues. In the short demo they did, PacketSmart identified some poor quality calls and quickly showed two potential causes through different simulations.
The first potential cause that was simulated was a bad WAN circuit causing the performance to degrade. The solution, pick up the phone call the telco. The second simulation, which is much more common, is a user induced problem where a particular worker in a branch is doing something to consume much of the data throughput. I once had this situation where the branch manager from a remote branch was calling me nonstop telling me how bad the systems were and how he couldn’t use the online broker tools. After a month of troubleshooting this random problem, I found out the branch administrator was chewing up the bandwidth listening to country music through her browser! The reason it was difficult to isolate is because whenever the admin got a call, she put the music on "pause," stopping the stream so any kind of tool I used just showed things were looking good for that moment. When she started again, performance went to crap. PacketSmart allows the network administrator to quickly hone in on which end point is causing the problem and what's causing the problem.
In addition to being a good troubleshooting tool, PacketSmart can be used to run a complete assessment pre-deployment so the network manager can be assured that the network can handle the load that UC will be putting on the network.
As I said earlier, I've typically not being impressed with management tools but I really did like the PacketSmart tool from BroadSoft. In fact, I wish this tool had existed a decade ago when I was trying to deploy VoIP in the organization I worked at!
If you’d like to see a demo first hand, the easiest thing to do would be to check out the PacketSmart Youtube channel: