VOIP Healthcare Takes Hold
Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) this week released voice over IP (VOIP) monitoring tools that aim for preventive maintenance, trying to catch performance problems before they affect end users.
The new capabilities, announced at this week's Voice on the Net (VON) conference, are add-ons to Agilent's three-year-old NgN Analysis System, which in turn is part of Agilent's operational support systems (OSS) offerings (see Agilent Watches VOIP). NgN has monitored islands of VOIP before, but Agilent is expanding the idea to include the network core, creating a networkwide view.
Test and monitoring were big issues overall at VON, with product announcements from Acterna Corp. and Spirent plc (NYSE: SPM; London: SPT), among others (see VOIP Show Spews News and Spirent Launches VOIP/PSTN Tester). VOIP offers plenty to worry about in terms of testing, because it replaces the dedicated connections of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) with the less certain world of IP, where latency and packet loss can affect call quality.
For all its potential performance issues, VOIP ironically opens up a level of monitoring that's never been practical for the telephone network.
"The PSTN, for the most part, is engineered as point-to-point circuits, so to do [preventive monitoring] would not be cost effective for the few quality/performance issues you do have," says Dennis Morton, vice president of product commercialization for Global Crossing Holdings Ltd. (Nasdaq: GLBC). The only place it might be feasible is in monitoring international calls, he says.
VOIP monitoring is nothing new, with probe systems and software available from the likes of Brix Networks, Empirix Inc., and Inet Technologies Inc. (see Who Makes What: OSS). But this gear is usually used to troubleshoot, sounding an alarm when a connection fails or a node dies. Agilent has aimed for a preemptive approach. Hardware probes scattered around the network monitor performance while watching signaling information, to collect call flow records and SS7 transactions.
All the information collected by the probes gets piled into databases, which NgN can analyze to see if certain regions of the network are having problems -- if any particular node is showing persistent delays, for example.
"[Other products are] not designed for long-term service analysis. They're really troubleshooting tools," says Paul Capozzoli, business development manager for Agilent.
Similarly preventive monitoring is available for data services, from companies such as Mercury Interactive Corp. On the VOIP side, companies like Qovia Inc. are offering similar monitoring for enterprise networks. And plenty of other VOIP-monitoring startups, such as software startups Psytechnics Ltd. and Telchemy Inc., are continuing to emerge.
But Agilent contends its approach is unique in the VOIP world for now. "I'm not aware of a single tool that does all of what was stated," says Global Crossing's Morton. "There are tools that do parts of it, and if you put them together you could create this."
Agilent claims to have the new NgN monitoring installed with several customers in deployments ranging from a single unit to "multimillion-dollar installations," Capozzoli says.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading