When companies don't have their voice-over-IP systems set up just right, all sorts of problems follow. Calls can drop. Listeners get the echo-echo-echo effect. Callers sound like sputtering robots.
The ability to pinpoint faults is vital for mission-critical applications like VoIP. Brandi Landreth, AllState Insurance Co.'s senior manager for network and voice solutions, says that daily support and troubleshooting is one of the most difficult parts about running a VoIP system. "How do you know the impact of losing that particular switch in a particular closet?" she asks.
Such problems don't have simple answers. But vendors like Empirix Inc., Agilent Technologies Inc. and Brix Networks are making tools they say help network managers solve issues or at least guide them toward bottlenecks, sometimes before they cause poor phone communications. VoIP management tools can look deep into a user's network and pinpoint exactly where problems come from and can model what will happen if the network topology changes. Most of the tools monitor jitter, packet loss, throughput, volume issues, delay, and other quality of service issues from within the network and/or call center applications.
"We'll correlate for you in real time, and it'll say, yeah, the issue is at this particular port on this router," says Qovia Inc. COO Steve Mank. "It's nice to know it's broke, but what this will tell me is that I know my problem is in my call manager and I know that it's one of these two things."
VoIP monitoring tools could easily see a renaissance as companies continue to speedily adopt VoIP in the next few years and quickly discover that maintaining an IP voice system is very different from maintaining a traditional PBX. Research firm Frost and Sullivan forecasts that the market for VoIP monitoring tools will explode from about $50 million last year to almost $300 million in 2009.
The market leader in the still-small VoIP management space, according Frost and Sullivan, is Empirix and its Hammer line of VoIP testing, monitoring and analysis products. Company CTO Jeff Fried admits that VoIP monitoring tools aren't among the most well-known toolsets. "There are a lot of people that know that they need something but don't know what they need," he says.
Although Empirix products look at surface traffic and then dig deeper into calls when problems begin to arise, competitors like Qovia Inc. look for the same problems within each call. Vendors have been releasing new features and products for VoIP management at a steady pace over the last few months, all aiming to solve a series of common quality and service problems. Just this week, OSIsoft Inc. subsidiary WiredCity and its competitor Nimsoft released VoIP performance monitoring and call-manager support applications.