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After looking at three other vendors, I determined that the Observer Platform’s GigaStor Portable and Gigabit Portable appliances were the best solution for NEC.

As organizations across the United States prepare to deploy and manage VoIP, NEC Unified Solutions provides pre-deployment network assessments to troubleshoot potential obstacles that could impede VoIP performance. When Ivan McDuffie, area engineering manager for NEC Unified, took over management of the network assessment program for NEC, he found the existing analysis tools to be bulky, inflexible, and lacking sufficient memory to adequately perform an assessment.  Because VoIP is extremely sensitive to overall network performance and delay, it is critical to constantly monitor VoIP alongside other applications. As a result McDuffie needed a single solution capable of presenting and analyzing everything running on a network. Another challenge NEC faced was not having enough storage space to adequately record traffic during pre-deployment assessments.

Usually, when we perform a network assessment we try to get a full week’s worth of data at a customer’s site,” explained McDuffie. “With our existing equipment, that just wasn’t possible. Due to the limited hard-drive space, we could only analyze a period of two to three days. We would have to remove the appliances from the client’s site, unload the captured data at our lab, and then reinstall the appliances at the customer’s site. It became an unmanageable situation.”  NEC also requested a solution that could handle multiple topologies and multiple network connections. NEC’s existing setup required lugging and installing three to four boxes to monitor all the topologies and technologies on a given network.

For their deployment of the Observer Platform, NEC Unified purchased several GigaStor Portable and Gigabit Portable appliances to serve as the backbone of their VoIP and network assessment practice around the United States.  The Gigabit Portable is a mobile device that contains all the hardware and software required to troubleshoot and manage the most-advanced wire-speed gigabit and 10 Gb networks in real time. It provides immediate analysis and reporting on performance across full-duplex networks. GigaStor Portable contains all the hardware and software necessary to store terabytes of network traffic for later playback and review. Engineers can use the GigaStor interface to navigate to a point of interest and perform Expert Analysis.  “After looking at three other vendors, I determined that the Observer Platform was the best solution for NEC,” said McDuffie. “From a single appliance I can connect to and monitor multiple interfaces and I can monitor traffic remotely. The GigaStor Portable unit gives us the storage capacity we need. We can now capture between one and two weeks of traffic. Its flexibility and storage capacity made GigaStor Portable the logical choice on which to standardize our network practice."

Managing VoIP and Reconstructing Conversations
McDuffie chose the Observer Platform because its’ solutions provide both extensive VoIP capabilities and overall network traffic monitoring, which is critical in the pre-deployment phases of VoIP. Before a VoIP roll-out, McDuffie uses the Observer Platform to identify bottlenecks and points of contention on the network.  McDuffie also uses the Observer Platform’s portable units in his daily troubleshooting of VoIP issues. The Observer Platform’s portable units monitor and provide Expert Analysis on network, application, and security events across multiple network topologies. Expert Analysis speeds the time to resolution by automatically diagnosing network problems and suggesting resolutions. The units decode more than 700 primary protocols, offer in excess of 700 Experts and provide over 70 VoIP-specific metrics. In managing VoIP, the analytics provide McDuffie comprehensive bursts, gaps, and jitter metrics that allow him to quickly identify and gauge the seriousness of a performance problem. In addition to monitoring call quality, the Observer Platform can reconstruct and replay an entire call.

“The Observer Platform lets me rebuild and listen to an entire VoIP call,” says McDuffie. “By listening to that, I get a sense of the user’s experience. VoIP is still a fairly new technology for some companies, so you want to make sure everything is set up correctly. This tool set allows me to have eyes and ears into a customer’s network. I know that if the Observer Platform points to a delay on the network, I can look at the current bandwidth on the network or see if QoS is properly configured.”

In-Depth Network and Retrospective Analysis
In addition to conducting pre-deployment testing, McDuffie uses GigaStor Portable to quickly troubleshoot sporadic network issues that could adversely affect VoIP performance, and to capture days of network traffic to disk for later analysis. GigaStor Portable gives them eyes into all activities occurring on the network allowing them to replay any network problem rather than having to wait for the problem to recur. 

Using GigaStor’s unique time-based navigator, NEC engineers can quickly sort through massive amounts of traffic and find the specific issue impacting VoIP or any other business-critical traffic. The GigaStor’s user interface makes it easy to navigate between different points in time and run Expert Analysis on a specific period.  “If the problem took place on Tuesday and this is Thursday, we can go back with GigaStor,” McDuffie said. “Having everything saved to disk means we can quickly isolate the time of the event, pinpoint the source and present evidence to our client of the occurrence. It definitely cuts down on the time we spend trying to find the source of the problem.”

Time Savings and Convenience
NEC found the Observer Platform’s portable units to be flexible and economical. For example, one unit takes the place of three to four appliances. The portable units have been configured to support analysis of gigabit and 10 Gb topologies on the same unit. The flexibility the portable solutions provide in monitoring multiple network interfaces on a single appliance make all the difference.  GigaStor Portable also saves time. The tools of the Observer Platform reduced set-up time by 75%, so that engineers could begin analyzing traffic in as little as an hour rather than the four hours they were accustomed to spending.

The GigaStor Portable provides ample storage capacity, eliminating the “in-between” visit where engineers had to remove appliances from the site and unload the data in their lab.  “Our old tools didn’t have enough disk space for a complete assessment,” McDuffie said. “Now, we can leave GigaStor out there for an entire week and capture a full cycle of the network and make recommendations based on that. This decreases the time we have to spend at the customer’s site.”

Having GigaStor Portable Pays
Pay back on the GigaStor Portable for NEC Unified has been immediate and significant. The unit allows them to provide a comprehensive, customizable service and guarantee successful VoIP deployments. “Essentially the revenue generated from each assessment we do usually more than pays for the cost of a single GigaStor Portable,” said McDuffie. “The last three assessments generated $58,000, $30,000, and $22,000.”

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