Reduce dissatisfaction with your Skype deployments
Skype for Business has become a standard for business communications, offering a wide range of really useful collaboration tools such as voice, messaging, conferencing, and distance learning. In my work environment, collaboration is an employee expectation and when it fails, productivity takes a hit. Unfortunately, network bottlenecks, latency, Wi-Fi, and other network connectivity issues can seriously impact Skype performance and compromise collaboration abilities. If you are part of a team deploying Skype, you can reduce the risk of user dissatisfaction by testing performance with synthetic traffic, prior to release.
A synthetic monitoring solution lets you generate simulated traffic from a wide range of possible end-point devices and observe what happens to Skype performance under different scenarios of traffic volume and mix. The information from these simulations lets you anticipate issues with network performance during live operation and gives you a chance to address any issues up-front. Then, after collaboration is launched, the same solution can continue tracking key performance indicators so you can identify and prioritize modifications to improve end user experience.
Keysight | Ixia recently helped a large manufacturing company in North America successfully launch Skype to 50 sites worldwide. The environment was typical: the company’s wide area network (WAN) was composed of many legacy connections, most sites had Wi-Fi deployed, and a wide variety of end point devices were in use (laptops, personal devices, smartphones). The challenge was that real-time voice conversations and screen sharing would generate a significantly larger load and the team was not certain they could deliver the experience users desired. Data-based business applications were already putting the network under stress at peak usage time, and the overall volume of traffic on the network was growing in quantity, complexity, and criticality. The Skype deployment would be highly visible to the executive team and IT needed the rollout to be closely managed with no surprises. To limit the risk of an undesirable result, the team chose Keysight | Ixia Hawkeye Performance Monitoring solution to validate collaboration services before deployment, and to proactively and continually monitor performance as a part of routine operations.
The customer's Skype deployment goals were to:
- Deliver a good user experience from day one
- Detect issues before going live and minimize support costs
- Prevent performance issues from slowing rollout of unified communications
- Monitor performance against goals and expectations
Skype performance monitoring with Ixia Hawkeye
Ixia Hawkeye is a Microsoft certified Skype solution, meaning it has been approved for realistic emulation of Skype traffic in a business environment and is suitable for use in validation and deployment. Most architects use the “prevision” tool provided by Microsoft, to estimate the volume of traffic types (voice, video, screen sharing) expected between sites in live production. Sites with a large network impact are identified and end-points are chosen for simulation. Hawkeye can simulate traffic from a wide variety of end points, including: on-premises; mobile Wi-FI and cellular; remote sites and offices; virtual machines and servers; and public clouds.
To view metrics and performance trends, customers have a choice between using the Hawkeye administrative interface online in SaaS mode (called Hawkeye Express) or deploying Hawkeye on-premises in a central location such as the data center or Network Operations Center (NOC).
The outcome of the validation
One feature that sets Hawkeye apart is the ability to emulate traffic for a long enough duration that useful information can be collected. Some problems don’t emerge until several days go by and small degradations start to accumulate. In this case, the manufacturer was able to run the test for 10 consecutive days, giving the team great data to work with.
Testing identified several site-to-site connectivity issues that required network modifications to resolve. Using Hawkeye allowed the lead architect to validate the modifications and implement them before going live, avoiding the stress of diagnosing the problem after launch and the risk of creating unhappy users. The rollout was able to proceed as planned. The team responsible for deployment was able to show a positive return on their Hawkeye investment by:
- Reducing the cost of rework prior to launch and support costs after launch
- Accelerating time-to-deployment across the organization
- Increasing user satisfaction and subsequent productivity
Four Tips for Bullet-Proofing your Skype Deployment
Ixia's experience with similar customers can be summarized in four tips, to reduce surprises and increase satisfaction with Skype rollout:
1. Plan and design active test scenarios
Take advantage of the simulation capabilities of Hawkeye to build a realistic environment using either a node-to-node or mesh with hub and spoke topology. Hawkeye provides a full library of pre-calibrated tests that support a wide variety of service level agreements (SLAs) and quality of experience (QoE) objectives. Ixia sales engineers are also experienced in helping customers build customized tests for real-time streaming and Microsoft Certified call volume verifications.
2. Create target thresholds
Adjust traffic, test variables, and thresholds to match user and management expectations. Setting thresholds acts as a baseline to decide if test simulations are passing or failing and helps focus pre-launch troubleshooting efforts.
Wi-Fi has become the standard connectivity method, even in environments where wired connectivity is possible. Distributed Wi-Fi networks are a critical element of the end-user experience and should be tested accordingly.
3. Leverage path discovery for troubleshooting
Not only does testing help you identify issues pre-launch, but the paths documented during test procedures can become the basis of live troubleshooting when the pressure is high and a fast response is needed. Hawkeye discovers and records hop-by-hop path results in powerful and intuitive schematics that can assist with issue diagnosis and remediation.
4. Analyze results and run reports
Hawkeye’s real-time dashboard and trend reports give an up-to-date visual display of performance metrics and trends. You can also set up alarms that activate when performance degrades. Administrators can be directly notified to begin problem-solving before service calls flood the support center.
If Skype deployments are in your future, consider implementing proactive performance testing and monitoring with Ixia Hawkeye to help ensure a successful rollout.