Review: SolarWinds VOIP and Network Quality Manager 4.0

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IT departments deploying Voice-over-IP (VOIP) are faced with a problem: How do they deliver traditional telephone quality and reliability, over a mixed, IP-based network with many applications competing for bandwidth?

Quality of Service (QOS) can help manage bandwidth, and traditional network management tools can provide performance metrics. But, wouldn’t it be nice to have the ability to troubleshoot individual calls, and relate them to key network stats, like latency or jitter?

SolarWinds has a new tool that they think can help: the VOIP and Network Quality Manager, or “VNQM” for short.

VNQM’s features are designed to simplify VOIP troubleshooting, and provide administrators with detailed reports, dashboards, and alerts. Some of the main features are:

Monitoring

VNQM provides both VOIP and some network monitoring – as long as you only need basic network stats. It won’t monitor your routers and switches or bandwidth utilization. You’ll need a product like their Orion Network Performance Manager for that.

That aside, the VOIP monitoring is very comprehensive. Define paths between offices and monitor latency, jitter, and packet loss at each hop, all at a glance. Dashboards provide a complete overview of the path in simple dial-style graphs. And, you can drill-down to see more detail on specific network segments.

 

Detailed Call Records and Troubleshooting

One of the unique features about VOIP & Network Quality Manager is the ability to view and search call details for individual calls. View all recent calls from any given call manager, along with standardized MOS score, jitter, latency, packet loss, and other details. Or use the search function to look for specific types of calls – like failed calls from a specific number, or calls to a specific destination with low MOS, or any other combinations of options.

 

Want to see more information on a specific call? Drill down to view details on any given call, including origin and destination information, network stats for each endpoint, codecs used, call duration, and more.

 

Found a possible problem? The next step is to find out why – and this is where IP SLA and call-path monitoring helps out. By zooming in on IP SLA operations like UDP Jitter for specific call paths, administrators can instantly see if that path experienced a problem at the time of the call, then take action to resolve the problem.

 

Alerting

Being able to detect a potential problem is no good if nobody knows about until calls start dropping. SolarWinds’ history of making great network management products comes through here with a wide range of alerting options – SMS text, email, scripts, and more. Administrators will instantly know if a call path starts to develop problems, enabling them to take immediate action to minimize impact on end users!

Alerting can be heavily customized to trigger depending on various combinations of network and call statistics. The product can also perform automatic alert escalation to ensure that the right people are notified at the right time.

What it Can’t Do

VOIP and Network Quality Manager has a few limitations. For one, it still has fairly limited vendor support – being limited to Cisco routers that support IP SLA on the network side, and various versions of Cisco Call Manager. Users of other products, for example Avaya call manager products, are out of luck; at least until a future version adds that support. We’re told that support for other vendors is on the roadmap.

VNQM also won’t manage your phone handsets yet – though it will provide Call Manager information on how many handsets are registered. And as mentioned earlier, it’s not a full NMS tool. It can’t perform full network monitoring and management – it’s designed to focus on VOIP specific requirements.

Versions and Pricing

VNQM is available either as a standalone product, or as an integrated plugin for the Orion Network Performance Manager suite of products. Pricing starts at $1495 (USD) and is based on the number of devices being monitored.

Summary

The VOIP and Network Quality Manager is a tool sure to help administrators who need the ability to perform better troubleshooting for their VOIP rollout – as long as it’s Cisco based! But, the ability to view and search on call-detail records is a win! And the other usual SolarWinds details are all present – great dashboards, well-designed UI, drill-down information screens.

It all adds up to be one great product that will surely get better as support for more vendors is added. We recommend trying out the free 30-day trial, or check out the live demo environment to see what the software can do!