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October 10, 2006

Ixia Tests Triple-Play VoIP, Video and Data, One Country at a Time

By Rich Tehrani, President and Editor-in-Chief

There are a few areas of communications destined to grow at a pretty rapid rate for the foreseeable future. One of these spaces is testing - and the reason is pretty straightforward. As technology in communications advances in areas such as triple, quadruple and quintuple play, as well as IMS, IPTV (News - Alert) and a myriad of other technologies, service providers need to ensure their networks work under a variety of simulated test conditions before they roll new services to end users.

It’s financially devastating for a product manufacturer to have a battery or vehicle recall and it is equally devastating for a service provider to roll out services that aren’t working properly. Consider the ramifications. First there is the cost associated with phone calls from angry customers; cost from customers who cancel - and then there is the bad will in the user community. Of course, this bad will comes not just from your customers, but communities of bloggers and others who are angry with your company for rolling out a service not ready for prime time.

Obviously, testing is not just something service providers need to deal with. Equipment manufacturers and enterprises need to test new communications systems and consistently monitor them to ensure they are meeting or exceeding specifications.

So it would seem as long as the communications market is doing well, so too will testing, as every point in the food chain needs to worry about the quality of their new communications products and services.

Certainly this excitement is not lost on companies like Ixia, who have flown under my personal radar for a while but who more recently have been doing a great PR and marketing job. Lately, I have had numerous meetings with various levels of the company and in each meeting I am impressed with what I hear - and at the same time slightly surprised I did not know more about this testing company, which has more than 700 employees and more than 5,000 customers.

Ixia bills itself as a provider of performance testing systems for IP-based infrastructure and services. So you may be thinking, with so many testing companies in the market such as Spirent, Empirix (News - Alert) and Agilent, what could be so different about Ixia?

Well, I am glad you asked, as the company proudly asserts they are producing new testing technologies faster than the competition, and in addition they integrate all new technologies into a single platform - for layer 2-7 testing - which is both forward and backward compatible. They also like to point out others in the market who are quick to acquire other testing companies, and in the end, when you need to test something, you have to purchase a number of disparate boxes instead of a single solution.

Companies like Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert) make similar points in competing with other companies in the call center space. Where Interactive Intelligence has a PBX, ACD and many other features in an integrated platform you need a number of different boxes if you decide to purchase from other vendors such as Avaya (News - Alert) or Cisco.

In the communications market, the term “Unified Communications” has come back into vogue lately and some might classify Interactive Intelligence as a Unified Communications vendor. So, too, it is fair to say Ixia is a leader in the unified testing market.

But getting back to Ixia, the company is proud to have announced a while back they have testing systems that can emulate massive amounts of traffic. To be more specific, their Optixa hardware platform can emulate virtual countries of users - up to 40 million. These virtual users can connect at rates of up to 1.5 million users per second. To continue with the virtual metaphor, Ixia tells me they can emulate virtual cities of voice callers, making more than 60,000 simultaneous SIP calls; and virtual towns of video subscribers, receiving more than 30,000 standard definition video streams.

Now, all of this may seem like overkill until you realize an event like the SuperBowl can dramatically change the viewing habits of your subscriber base. Couple this potential for a dramatic up tick in subscriber viewing with the unknown factor of web surfing and FTP traffic and you have a recipe for perhaps very choppy, jittery triple-play delivery.

Thankfully, Ixia’s platforms can emulate Web traffic, whether it is FTP or HTTP. This allows various testing simulations which emulate the real world.

The company realizes it has a hit on its hands and is beginning to bill itself as the environmentally friendly testing company. After all, a single Optixia chassis populated with Ixia’s new Content Processing Module delivers the above results in less than 16 inches of rack space and with only 1,900 watts maximum power draw. Ixia is happy to point out that to provide equivalent results, competitive systems typically require 16 individual appliances using more than five times the rack space and more than four times the power draw.

Of course these claims are substantial and people have a tendency to discount statements like this a bit. But even if the company is off by 50 percent, they are still going to save many customers space and electricity, which of course means money.

So just as the information technology space has become more fascinated with power and space savings, as of late it is possible this trend will find itself at home in the communications testing market as well. Just as AMD and Intel (News - Alert) compete for the title of most power-efficient processor, so too will the testing market have to deal with these issues.

So in this brave new world of testing it is the company with the most space efficient and energy efficient solutions possible that customers will consider the best.

If you are interested in triple-play, IPTV or IMS solutions and even the communications testing market be sure to attend Internet Telephony Conference & Expo collocated with IMS EXPO this week at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, CA. The entire IP communications industry will be there.


Rich Tehrani is President and Group Editor in Chief at TMC. In addition he is the Chairman of the world’s best attended VoIP event, Internet Telephony Conference & Expo.

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