UC System Test Tools
A combination of different tools, each performing a specific type of monitoring and analysis, is needed to properly cover the different types of problems that can occur.
How do you know that your UC systems are operating smoothly and that there are no problems? If you're simply relying on calls and complaints from the user community, you're not being very proactive. The complexity of the UC system, plus the network on which it runs, is more than any single system is designed to handle. Therefore, to get the best coverage of the entire system, you will need more than one tool.
If you're heading to Enterprise Connect this year, you'll find me leading a panel to talk about network test tools. I'll have several vendors there who will provide technical descriptions of what their tools do. You can also find these vendors in the exhibit hall, where they can provide you with more in-depth descriptions of what their products do and how they can help you find, isolate, and correct problems that affect your UC systems.
Monitor The Network
The first tool for UC management is a solid network management architecture. Since UC uses the network as its transport, proactively finding and correcting network problems is a great first step. You'll find that you typically need a set of tools, or multiple modules from some of the larger network management infrastructure vendors. I've written about the network management architecture that has worked well for me in numerous customer engagements in A Network Management Architecture, Part 1, also shown in Figure 1 below. A good network management system should reduce the amount of effort that is required to run the network, allowing you to spend time doing upgrade designs and looking after things like the UC systems.
Figure 1. Network Management Architecture
Active Path Testing
Next up is Active Path Testing, which I have found to be useful for both data and UC. A good active path testing system uses inexpensive probes that are automatically maintained with current versions of software, such as those from AppNeta. An alternative to individual probes is to use the installed network equipment as the probes, as is used in Cisco's IP SLA function.
The tests for UC would include jitter, latency, packet loss, and out-of-order packets. It is also useful to have a record of the Layer 3 hops that the packets traverse between the test source and destination, with alerting when a significant path change occurs.
Manually maintaining the configuration of test paths is a hurdle to a good deployment. Don't fall into the trap of manually configuring a complex set of test paths and then having to maintain it forever. The better systems will make the process of configuring the active test paths easy. Automated configuration systems are extremely useful for reducing the effort that is required to setup and maintain the tests. If you decide that you want to change a parameter for a certain type of test, you want the automation system to make that change across all the tests of that type.
Finally, you need a good reporting system. My philosophy for network management is to configure the systems to report anomalies and to otherwise be silent. I don't need to know about all the paths that are working correctly. There are simply too many of these in a network to individually track each one. A list of paths that exhibit problems, nicely sorted by severity of the problem, provides a "punch list" to direct the daily work of the network and UC administrators.
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