Zeus Kerravala
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his...
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Zeus Kerravala | August 05, 2013 |


ActionPacked Networks Strives to Simplify Cisco UC Management

ActionPacked Networks Strives to Simplify Cisco UC Management The UC environment has changed, and the management of it needs to change as well.

The UC environment has changed, and the management of it needs to change as well.

Over the last decade or so we've seen more IT innovation than any other 10-year period prior. Virtualization, wireless technologies, the cloud, mobility and converged networks give us capabilities far beyond anything we've had before. This is particularly true for the communications industry, which really saw very little innovation from about the '70s through Y2K when the PBX reigned supreme. Reliable? Sure, but not very flexible or agile and hardly innovative. Today we can do almost anything we want with communications, and provision any service to any user.

However, the cost of this agility has been a loss of visibility and an environment that's become very difficult to manage and troubleshoot. Consider the old way. There was a PBX, phone and a cable that connected them. If there was a failure, it was one of those three things. Today there are physical servers, virtual servers, cloud based call control, dedicated wired endpoints, softphones, WiFi based softphones, multimedia connections and on and on. If there's a problem, where does one start to troubleshoot? Without decent tools, network managers have about as much visibility into what's going on with UC as Alex Rodriguez has had recently with what's going on with his career.

Last week, ActionPacked Networks, a Hawaiian-based network management vendor, released the 3.0 version of its software, LiveAction, which I thought had some excellent features in creating visibility into Cisco-based UC environments. LiveAction historically has been more of a pure network management tool and helped network managers simplify networking tasks such as implementing QoS and configuring Spanning Tree, but the 3.0 release brings more UC-level visibility and broader visibility to its toolkit, including the following:

* VoIP and video control. LiveAction leverages a number of Cisco features such as PerfMon, Mediatrace and AVC (application visibility and control) to create a single view of the environment for a macro view, and then provides drill-down capabilities into specific devices for a micro-level view. Network managers can use this to find problems and then use the LiveAction features to adjust QoS policies and other configurations on the fly. A prior ZK Research study has shown that 90% of mean time to repair is simply identifying the problem, so this feature can greatly reduce MTTR.

* Visibility into the cloud. The tool uses AVC metrics and then will color-code (see graphic below) the performance of the different applications being routed to the cloud. This can be used to help network managers understand which cloud apps are bandwidth hogs and then adjust network settings to help the performance of all the SaaS-based applications.

* Converged wired and wireless visibility. A few months ago, Cisco launched its Catalyst 3850 unified wired and wireless Ethernet switch, which greatly simplifies the management of policies in an all-Cisco network environment. As far as I know, the LiveAction product is the first management product specifically designed for the 3850 and picks up flow information from the box to give a visual representation of both the wired and wireless networks. This is particularly useful when customers are running voice or video over WiFi, as the application can show where the congestion points are across all the access points, to isolate problem spots.

* Cisco Flexible NetFlow Configuration. Cisco has an IOS-based feature called Flexible NetFlow (FNF) that is basically like NetFlow on steroids (queue up the A-Rod analogies). I won't go into all the details on FNF, but it provides greater customization of flow information and can be used to monitor a wider variety of applications. Cisco has been great at rolling out many of these proprietary features in its network products, but the implementation of these features can be difficult. The LiveAction feature puts a "point and click" front-end onto FNF to be able to configure and verify the configuration before it's released into a production environment.

* "BYOD" monitoring. Since LiveAction can see all the flow information across a network, it's able to identify and visualize application traffic from all the consumer devices being dropped on the network. From this, network managers can identify those who are heavy users of FaceTime or other applications that chew up bandwidth.

The UC environment has changed, and the management of it needs to change as well. Today's environment is made up of a number of media-rich, disparate components that can't be measured with legacy tools that are focused on monitoring the specific elements such as routers and switches. If you've read my blogs in the past, you'll know the evolution of UC management is something I feel has been lagging compared to the technology. LiveAction from ActionPacked Networks is a good example of a tool that can give network managers both the visibility and control over a Cisco-based environment.

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