Hosted PBX: Network Monitoring

Hosted VoIP

Hosted PBX: Network Monitoring

By TMCnet Special Guest
Micah Singer
  |  September 30, 2014

In my last article I made some suggestions for you, the service provider, to assure uptime on your hosted PBX (News - Alert) services – clearly one of the most crucial elements for reducing churn of your enterprise users. If uptime is essential, then putting in place proper network monitoring systems allows service providers to both get ahead of emerging technical issues and to communicate with confidence to their customers. With this valuable information, service providers can create transparency in their complex networks which, in turn, de-mystifies the technology. My goal below is to highlight the areas of concern and to suggest monitoring tools that will lead to more robust management of your hosted PBX services.

Enterprise LAN: Many service providers struggle with quality issues introduced before a call even leaves the corporate LAN of their business customer. Some service providers that use VoIP Logic’s platform maintain that they will not sell to an enterprise unless they have full visibility (or control) within the customer LAN – it’s not worth the inevitable headaches. Others take pains to explain to the prospective customer the value of separate routing and/or separate bandwidth dedicated to voice.

Suggestions: There are two levels of precaution you can take to help assure that you and your enterprise customers minimize challenges when routing calls across their internal LANs. First, pre-screen the LAN and put in place a LAN monitoring tool. Fluke Networks (News - Alert) Network Time Machine or WildPackets Virtual Network Analysis both provide transparency to the LAN.  Second, segmenting voice traffic from data traffic either physically with different IP bandwidth links or virtually by carving out dedicated voice bandwidth or implementing QoS. Enterprise SBCs from ADTRAN (News - Alert), Audiocodes, Edgewater Networks, GENBAND, and Oracle all can provide visibility and prioritization to voice on the corporate LAN.

Public Internet or Managed WAN: The WAN network connecting the corporate LAN to the core hosted PBX platform is an ever-changing environment, especially if you rely on the public Internet as transport. Lost packets and inefficient media paths can cause jitter, latency, delayed device registrations, and other events that undermine voice quality. In these cases the issue is compounded because the blame is often outside of the control of both the enterprise customers and the service provider.

Suggestions: First, a network monitoring system is a central part of monitoring the network between the LAN and the core. Systems like Opmanager, Nagios, and Solarwinds can provide a wealth of diagnostic data to quickly identify weaknesses via both SNMP traps and network ping monitoring. Second, many E-SBCs have a counterpart system in the core that provides constant monitoring of the call signaling and media path. We make extensive use of the Edgeview, in particular, to provide monitoring information. The added benefit of telecom-specific devices is they often combine information about data networking and about SIP communication (see below).

SIP Monitoring: While the two items above give you full visibility to the data network, which allows you to narrow down your diagnostics, SIP monitoring tells you in very specific detail about the conversation between the devices that deliver phone service. In a single phone call there are dozens of messages along the ladder of communication from the customer’s phone through the devices of the core hosted PBX platform and out to the terminating or originating carrier. Accessing this communication can reduce diagnosis time significantly.

Suggestions: Many of the NMSs that are used by telephony carriers have developed SIP monitoring add-ons. This is true of Opmanager, Nagios, and Solarwinds. We use – and provide to our platform customers – the Palladion software (from Oracle (News - Alert) Communications) – to great effect.  It – along with comparable tools from Empirix and others – provides ladder diagrams, PCAP reports, device registrations, and historical SIP messaging information so the days of forcing customers to reproduce a fault to diagnose are all but gone.   

Transparency: Once you have tools that monitor the IP network and the SIP communications along the way, you are in a good position to provide a level of transparency that will lead to more enterprise customer trust. In particular, larger enterprises often have enough in-house technical knowledge to understand the complex information coming from a VoIP network.

Suggestions: It is important to provide a status page. Enterprise customers want to know what is happening when things are not working perfectly. There are a number of cloud services to provide status that are used widely –Ducksboard, LogicMonitor, and to name a few. Transparency is not just to let your customer know about service-effecting events – it also sends the message about how serious you take network monitoring. Enterprise customers appreciate the visibility. It is a competitive advantage to be transparent and accountable.

If uptime in your hosted PBX service is king, then network monitoring is the way to govern your realm. As you select a platform and decide which technologies to piece together into the unique bundle you want to offer to business customers, make sure you allocate budget to build a network where you have full visibility.

Micah Singer (News - Alert) is CEO with VoIP Logic.

Edited by Maurice Nagle