Test & Measurement

Cisco Put to the Video Test

Tapping into the increasingly important sectors of IPTV service assurance and customer experience management, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has integrated a set of test and measurement tools to create VAMS (Video Assurance Management Solution), which, the vendor claims, can provide a carrier with an overall view of its IP video service environment.

More importantly, a team from the European Advanced Networking Test Center AG (EANTC) observed that the Cisco solution was a useful, easy-to-understand system that accurately highlighted video service delivery problems. The EANTC team checked out Cisco's VAMS as part of its wide-ranging and extensive test of the vendor's video capabilities. (See Testing Cisco's IP Video Service Delivery Network and Video Experience & Monetization: A Deep Dive Into Cisco's IP Video Applications.) EANTC managing director Carsten Rossenhövel noted in his assessment of VAMS (which can be found on page 3 of the "Video Experience & Monetization" report) that operators are struggling to find the IPTV assurance package they really need.

"We often hear from service providers that they wish they had more comprehensive tools to monitor their IP video offerings," writes Rossenhövel.

And it's not like there aren't multiple IPTV monitoring products available already: A recent Light Reading Insider report, "Digital Video Quality: Out of the Lab, Into the NOC," profiled 17 vendors with products designed to help carriers assess the quality of experience (QoE) of their IP video service customers. (See Insider Reports on IPTV Test Tools.)

Assessing video QoE is a major step from just being able to monitor a network's up-time, but it's a necessary one, as Rossenhövel notes: "At the end of the day, what operators care for, especially in these days of fierce competition and diverse service offerings, is what the user sees."

To do that, operators need to initiate a Customer Experience Management strategy that incorporates the use of integrated back-office systems and (importantly) a change in attitude (or "mindset"). (See OSS Firms: Are You Experienced?)

Cisco believes its solution, which promises centralized, real-time monitoring of broadcast video transport networks and IP multicast streams, is capable of meeting all the needs of its IP video service provider customers.

That's quite a claim, but Cisco isn't reliant on a single tool to do all the work. Instead it has pulled together multiple applications to create an integrated picture of the health of a service provider's video distribution system. Those multiple applications are:

  • Cisco's Multicast Manager, which monitors any changes in the multicast trees that might affect video performance
  • The vendor's Info Center tool, which manages macro network events
  • ROSA NMS, a network management system (fault, performance, and configuration management, and more) designed for IPTV, cable, and broadcast networks
  • Cisco's Active Network Abstraction (ANA) resource management tool that provides an overall view of the physical network
  • Video probes from a third-party test vendor to monitor video traffic and provide the QoE metrics. The VAMS currently supports video probes from Bridge Technologies Co AS , IneoQuest Technologies Inc. , Mixed Signals Inc. , and Tektronix Inc. (the MTM400).

With the needs of service providers and Cisco's claims in mind, the EANTC team "put VAMS to the test: First by creating failure conditions in the network and seeing how the system reacts, and second, by assessing how useable and intuitive the solution is," explains Rossenhövel in his report.

The EANTC team found VAMS to have the required functionality, and deemed it "simple enough at first glance to enable basic first-level support... [and] sophisticated enough to enable more detailed troubleshooting."

Check out the report to find out more about EANTC's specific tests and assessments of Cisco's video systems.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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