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

Chris Bloom
Savvius

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

October 16, 2017
Hurricane season is in full swing. With the latest incoming cases of mega-storms devastating the Southeastern shoreline, communities are struggling to restore daily normalcy. People have been stepping up and showing remarkable strength and leadership in helping those affected. However, there is another area that we need to remember in these trying times – and that is businesses continuity ...
October 12, 2017

Gartner highlighted the top strategic technology trends that will impact most organizations in 2018. The next trends focus on blending the digital and physical worlds to create an immersive, digitally enhanced environment. The last three refer to exploiting connections between an expanding set of people and businesses, as well as devices, content and services to deliver digital business outcomes ...

October 11, 2017

Gartner highlighted the top strategic technology trends that will impact most organizations in 2018. The first three strategic technology trends explore how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are seeping into virtually everything and represent a major battleground for technology providers over the next five years ...

October 10, 2017
This is the sixth in my series of blogs inspired by EMA's AIA buyer's guide — directed at helping IT invest in Advanced IT Analytics (AIA), what the industry more commonly calls "Operational Analytics." In this blog, I examine scenario-related shopping cart objectives for AIA. At EMA, we evaluated seven unique scenarios relevant to AIA adoptions. Our scenarios included agile/DevOps, Integrated security, change impact awareness, capacity optimization, business impact, business alignment and unifying IT ...
October 06, 2017

In the Riverbed Future of Networking Global Survey, more than half of the respondents acknowledged that achieving operational agility is critical to the success of a modern enterprise, and next-generation networks as well as the technology to support them are key to reaching this goal ...

October 05, 2017

Legacy infrastructures are holding back their cloud and digital strategies, according to the Riverbed Future of Networking Global Survey 2017. Nearly all survey respondents agree that legacy network infrastructure will have difficulty keeping pace with the changing demands of the cloud and hybrid networks ...

October 04, 2017

Digital disruptors are emerging in all industries, and the need for CIOs to embrace digital transformation is urgent, according to Gartner ...

October 02, 2017

Environments indicate "where" the AIA solutions we investigated can be applied. All 13 of the solutions we investigated support cloud for performance, core infrastructure, and application performance and availability. Mainframe had the support of six of our respondents, and IoT and cloud for change and capacity were not yet prime areas of focus for most of the vendors in our AIA buyer's guide ...

September 29, 2017

Cost, overhead, and time to value are often key challenges in adopting AIA solutions. In the past, these factors have often been especially onerous. But we saw strong levels of improvement among many vendors, and surprising areas of innovation among others ...

September 28, 2017
Most senior executives recognize that unified communications and collaboration (UC) are integral applications on the digital transformation path. As a result, many companies are in the process of replacing legacy voice and video infrastructure and disparate messaging and collaboration tools with next-generation UC systems, including cloud-based unified communication as a service (UCaaS). With UC, companies can accelerate time-to-revenue, improve productivity and reduce capex and opex – the three pillars of return on investment (ROI) that drive corporate strategy ...