The Treacherous Ride Home
When we were first married, my wife and I lived and worked in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. If you are at all familiar with the area, you can relate to the fact that I must have driven Lake Cook Road… about 1,000 times per year. One evening in late January, that drive was very different. As we were driving home on Lake Cook Road, I noticed every car that wasn’t coming to a complete stop or was swerving within their lane even the slightest; I overanalyzed every yellow light. That same January evening, we brought our firstborn son home from the hospital. It was the first time I had driven Lake Cook Road with precious cargo. It changed the way I looked at the whole journey; it definitely raised the stakes.
UC As Precious Cargo
No, I am not so fanatical about Unified Communications to fully equate a UC packet with a newborn. If you will grant me some latitude in the analogy, I believe that when you are transporting (relatively) precious cargo, the rules change. In the world of traffic over a network, UC arguably the most precious cargo, because it is the most:
Of the variety of applications employees leverage over the network, they are most sensitive about quality issues with voice conversations, followed closely by video calls; specifically conference calls because more people are impacted by the poor quality. If e-mail is a few seconds delayed, no one really notices. There might be mild frustration if a web page is slow to load, but it’s generally tolerated. If there is choppiness or other degradation on a live voice call, however, the user frustration escalates quickly and the help desk is urgently contacted.
One of the advantages of UC is that it converts voice, video, and other communications into packets that can run across the existing data infrastructure. One of the challenges of UC is that real time communications is high bandwidth and extremely time sensitive, which makes it highly dependent on an efficient network. Any congestion on the network or configuration drift could impact how real-time communications traffic is transported over the data network, negatively impacting the user experience. The UC user experience is heavily dependent on a network that is properly architected, configured, managed, and maintained.
The irony is that the most network-sensitive traffic is also the most network-impacting. Voice, video, and collaboration (application-sharing) all require significant bandwidth. As UC traffic increases across an enterprise, the burden on that network also increases. Enterprises need to adequately plan for the impact of the UC on their network and leverage tools and best practices to ensure that traffic is handled as efficiently as possible.
OK, cool. UC is precious cargo on an enterprise network. What’s the point?
Over the past few months, I have been speaking with a variety of people that are tangentially familiar with UC and with the monitoring and diagnostics tools markets. I’ve watched them struggle to grasp why you need another tool different from an application performance monitoring (APM) solution like AppNeta or network performance monitoring and diagnostics (NPMD) tool like SolarWinds or NetScout.
I have come to realize that if you are not intimately involved in optimizing the UC user experience, you don’t fully appreciate how precious the cargo is and how complex it is to transport those packets between users.
Not Or, But And
In the months between discovering we were pregnant and that exciting evening in January, my wife and I had the opportunity to purchase a new car. With our two becoming a family of three, our choice of a car became a bit more complicated. On the one hand, we could pick a fuel-efficient family sedan that would easily fit us, but what about safety? Would other cars see us as well? Would we weather a collision as well? How would it handle the snow and ice (January in Chicago). Within that context, a nice sturdy pick-up seemed perfect, but what about comfort? Could we fit the baby and all the baby stuff? Would it be a smooth enough ride for those long family vacation road trips? In the end, we decided on a Jeep Grand Cherokee. It was a mid-size SUV that brought us the safety, space, and comfort we would need for our precious cargo.
In some ways, selecting monitoring tools is like choosing a car. APM tools help make sure the servers and services in the application domain, but offer very little value in the network domain. NPMD tools provide deep insight into the network, but do not provide sufficient context to identify and troubleshoot a specific call between specific users over the network.
The only way to properly manage, monitor, and diagnose UC traffic is with a tool that delivers correlated diagnostics that watch the application domain and the network domain and accurately correlates specific UC conversations with specific application domain or network domain issues.
Even beyond that first drive home, our Jeep served my wife and I and our precious cargo well. The ride was often the only thing that put our infant to sleep; it moved us out West from Chicago; it transported our second son safely home from the hospital and took us many family vacations and outings.
When you find the right tool that bridges the various needs of transporting your precious cargo, it will bring value for years to come.