Coping with the challenges of assuring premium quality UC services

“I can’t get a dial tone.” “It took ages to connect to the call.”

These are only a few of the many potential customer complaints regarding service degradation that keep an enterprise Unified Communications (UC) team up at night.

A majority of these day-to-day issues that users experience such as calls dropping or bad reception are all directly linked to the quality of UC services. UC tools are comprised of several different services including the network, SIP Trunking, UC Jabber, Lync Components and video conferencing.

While the benefits of utilising UC tools for the enterprise are vast, managing the complexity and identifying the root cause among several layers of disparate tools and data sets is a fundamental barrier preventing and discouraging enterprises from adopting and maximising these technologies.

Cost and complexity play a significant role in building an efficient and sophisticated infrastructure for modern UC environments. Often, enterprise networks require massive strength, additional servers and infrastructure upgrades in order to avoid downtime and provide service assurance. Moreover, enterprises are tasked with integrating different systems from multiple vendors into a single panel in order to gain in-depth visibility that enables them to monitor performance and proactively triage issues before they impact a user.

Developing a strategy that successfully trumps these challenges without interrupting service is yet another investment of time, labour and enterprise costs.

In order to truly understand the challenges of assuring premium quality UC services, CIOs and other IT decision makers must first consider the entire UC landscape. The adoption of UC applications allows enterprises to streamline and eliminate network redundancies while enhancing collaboration. Essentially, they are able do more with less.

While solving several issues and positively impacting the enterprise bottom line, UC applications also generate a whole new set of challenges including potentially crashing your network. UC applications spawn other trials and tribulations spawned such as degrading service quality, preventing connection over SIP Trunks and slowing down connection times. All of these issues, including how to support and troubleshoot their root in a distributed network architecture, are top of mind for UC teams.

In addition to the independent issues, the biggest challenge for IT teams is building processes for how to deal with and address them to ensure there is no off. Traditional enterprise structure is managed by multiple, siloed IT teams that have specialised domains of knowledge and their own different, preferred set of management tools.

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As a result, there are several different individuals utilising separate solutions to monitor an already intricate multi-vendor, multi-platform environment with multiple peering points. This level of complexity alone within the physical and employee infrastructures is enough to derail IT operations, hinder productivity and waste millions of dollars. Rather than efficiently triaging the cause of the UC application issues, IT management is stuck in large war rooms pointing fingers at each other and providing poor service quality for customers.

What exactly does it take to cope with the challenges of ensuring premium UC service? The initial step is to identify a platform that provides both proactive and reactive service assurance that reduces MTTR, optimises performance and service availability and fosters collaboration.

The concept of employing an end-to-end tool that plays both offense and defense is crucial to surviving and managing a complex environment with UC applications. Taking a holistic, packet-flow approach allows enterprise IT teams to view all of the interactions between the several components of a UC systems and identify the source of network issues. This level of intelligence arms members of your UT teams with deep insight on how their network operates and helps get to the root cause of issues such as network bandwidth and QoS issues, signalling issues causing inability to dial out, long dial delay due to under-powered Call Servers or SBCs, or QoS reclassification not configured correctly.

Moreover, IT employees can appropriately measure Voice Quality metrics such as MOS (mean opinion score), packet loss and jitter affecting call quality identifying issues such as "its bad call quality", as well as single direction calls.

Solutions such as NetScout’s nGeniusONE platform discover the interactions of the components making up the UC service and use that information to solve signalling and voice quality problems. This reveals relevant signalling errors affecting dial up and QoS prioritisation settings.

For example, if voice or video is not classified to high priority, the result is packet loss which causes voice quality problems. This approach allows us to see that QoS is not setup correctly. This issue is dominant in modern UC configurations because of the innate network complexity and the number of components running over the network. End-to-end visibility also helps IT teams identify where in the network this occurred (LAN, WAN, firewall, SBC, etc.) and also what other traffic was running over the link at the same time.

In order for employees to effectively deal with UC challenges, they require much more than endpoint statistics and metrics that individual components provide. Anything from a desktop or separate business applications can affect critical call quality.

It is imperative that they utilise a platform that can automate triage and provide service assurance across network traffic and various components. When it comes to solving UC issues, the power is in the packet-flow approach. A single interface that can be used by all teams and demonstrates both application and network performance is an essential framework for managing UC tools and garnering visibility into traffic flow and performance.

Desktop video, video conferencing, telepresence availability and service quality are vital for modern enterprise IT success. Finding the right platform, coupled with developing best practices for managing both media, signalling and the network to accelerate the deployment of UC services, will reduce the cost and complexity managing UC service assurance while improving cross IT collaboration.

Ray Krug is Solutions Engineerat NetScout.