Why UC Applications Still Cause Network Headaches (And How to Fix Them)
June 09, 2017

Chris Bloom

Share this

Unified Communications (UC) applications such as VoIP and Video streaming have been around in the enterprise setting now for almost two decades. It's rather remarkable, then, that for all of their business benefits and popularity, UC applications still post so many headaches for network engineers. With that in mind, are there steps that network engineers can and should be taking to make these applications more reliable, and deliver better quality of service to their users? I believe there are, so let's take a look at some tips.

Rather than being generated digitally, the origin of UC data is a fluid and continuous analog stream. For that reason, data from UC applications such as VoIP need to be managed in real time. Unfortunately, as digital files are transferred over any network, it's common for some of those packets to be dropped or to be delivered out of sync, resulting in poor sound quality, delays, static and sound gaps.

Email and document transfer applications generally cause far less obvious problems on the network thanks to TCP's built-in checks and acknowledgements, giving it the ability to resend and reorganize data into a perfect digital copy of the original. This isn't the case for UDP, which is a best-effort protocol often used by UC applications. Once a UDP packet has been sent, there is no mechanism to acknowledge or retransmit that packet if it gets delayed or corrupted due to latency, jitter or packet loss. VoIP technologies often employ tools such as DSP algorithms that compensate for up to 30 milliseconds of missing data, however anything above that threshold will be noticed by the listener.

This is where modern network analysis and diagnostic solutions come in. These tools give network engineers the ability to monitor and analyze all network traffic, including VoIP and other UC applications, for signs of network traffic issues. Armed with information about latency, throughput, and other network problems, IT teams have the power to resolve issues, maintain a QoS experience, mitigate poor performance caused by a competition for network bandwidth, and monitor compliance with established network policies and vendor SLAs.

It all starts with taking a proactive approach to UC application management. This involves being aware of the ways in which applications affect the network and other applications, but it also requires leveraging the full value of a network analysis solution to provide ongoing expert analysis of possible issues. Here are a few simple tips.

1. Understand your network's behavior

There are certain things an IT team needs to understand about the network's behavior, including its general health. The best way to assess this is to establish baselines of the existing infrastructure across the entire enterprise network. Knowing how the network behaves on a regular basis will prepare you to spot and deal with any issues that UC applications may have.

2. Beware of the three-headed beast: Jitter, Latency and Packet Loss

Jitter, latency, and packet loss are common, but they can cause havoc to UC applications on a converged network. This is where network visibility and analytics tools are invaluable as they alert the IT team to performance problems and enable proactive management of UC applications by adjusting configurations or adding extra capacity.

3. Monitor constantly

Monitoring UC applications includes a combination of metrics for general network performance and specific end-user quality of experience (QoE). Constant monitoring will validate QoS operations, reveal network traffic patterns that affect UC applications, and provide alerts whenever there's a drop in performance.

4. Zoom in on VoFi

VoFi is just another data type on your network, but using VoIP over wireless introduces the possibility of extra interference and other issues. Once the IT team has performed a scan of the 802.11 bands in use, 2.4GHz, 5GHz, etc., it's a good idea to isolate VoFi traffic for things like call quality, call volume (number of calls), and network utilization for VoFi versus all other data. If a more detailed analysis is needed, check the signaling for each call, including detail about any packet bounces.

You may also want to observe individual flows, since the packet paths between the caller and the callee can differ. Also check the quality of the voice transmission, including an analysis of latency, packet loss, jitter, and MOS and R-Factor voice quality metrics. If you're not sure how these metrics compare with “real world” quality, it helps to play back sections of a sample call to hear how it actually sounded.

5. Don't be afraid to tweak the network

Application traffic changes all the time. When you see issues crop up, don't be afraid to tweak the network to maintain levels of performance.

Although UC applications data is basically just another type of traffic on the network, ensuring that they work seamlessly can be a big challenge for IT teams. It's always best to start by testing the overall environment and the end user experience, and from there you can gradually drill down into specific problem areas to find a resolve the issues. Being proactive about network health will absolutely result in fewer problems down the line.

Chris Bloom is Senior Manager of Technical Alliances at Savvius
Share this

The Latest

March 16, 2018

The State of the Mainframe report from Syncsort revealed an increased focus on traditional data infrastructure optimization to control costs and help fund strategic organizational projects like AI, machine learning and predictive analytics in addition to widespread concern about meeting security and compliance requirements ...

March 15, 2018

The 2018 Software Fail Watch report from Tricentis investigated 606 failures that affected over 3.6 billion people and caused $1.7 trillion in lost revenue ...

March 14, 2018

Gartner predicts there will be nearly 21 billion connected “things” in use worldwide by 2020 – impressive numbers that should catch the attention of every CIO. IT leaders in nearly every vertical market will soon be inundated with the management of both the data from these devices as well as the management of the devices themselves, each of which require the same lifecycle management as any other IT equipment. This can be an overwhelming realization for CIOs who don’t have an adequate configuration management strategy for their current IT environments, the foundation upon which all future digital strategies – Internet-connected or otherwise – will be built ...

March 13, 2018

Many network operations teams question if they need to TAP their networks; perhaps they aren't familiar with test access points (TAPs), or they think there isn't an application that makes sense for them. Over the past decade, industry best-practice revealed that all network infrastructure should utilize a network TAP as the foundation for complete visibility. The following are the seven most popular applications for TAPs ...

March 12, 2018

Organizations are eager to adopt cloud based architectures in an effort to support their digital transformation efforts, drive efficiencies and strengthen customer satisfaction, according to a new online cloud usage survey conducted by Denodo ...

March 09, 2018

Globally, cloud data center traffic will represent 95 percent of total data center traffic by 2021, compared to 88 percent in 2016, according to the Cisco Global Cloud Index (2016-2021) ...

March 08, 2018

Enterprise cloud spending will grow rapidly over the next year, and yet 35 percent of cloud spend is wasted, according to The RightScale 2018 State of the Cloud Survey ...

March 07, 2018

What often goes overlooked in our always-on digital culture are the people at the other end of each of these services tasked with their 24/7 management. If something goes wrong, users are quick to complain or switch to a competitor as IT practitioners on the backend race to rectify the situation. A recent PagerDuty State of IT Work-Life Balance Report revealed that IT professionals are struggling with the pressures associated with the management of these digital offerings ...

March 06, 2018

Businesses everywhere continually strive for greater efficiency. By way of illustration, more than a third of IT professionals cite "moving faster" as their top goal for 2018, and improving the efficiency of operations was one of the top three stated business objectives for organizations considering digital transformation initiatives ...

March 05, 2018

One of the current challenges for IT teams is the movement of the network to the cloud, and the lack of visibility that comes with that shift. While there has been a lot of hype around the benefits of cloud computing, very little is being said about the inherent drawbacks ...