The New World of Monitoring

Network Monitoring Cable operators should forget everything that they ever knew about networking monitoring.

Not really, of course. But the point is that the landscape – what cable ops must do and how they are best advised to do it – is changing drastically and in different ways. Cable operators have to call on everything they’ve learned before – but be ready to add to that store of knowledge very quickly.

Jay Cox, the CEO of Zanaware, summed up the many levels on which change is exploding. Cable operators – especially the tier one companies – are collapsing their headends and creating networks that serve far wider (and in some cases national) footprints. This has its advantages, but it means that fewer people are charged with monitoring networks and, since the teams cover far broader areas, much of the informal local know-how is lost.

The delivery of programming in IP adds a significant layer to monitoring, said Ted Korte, the COO of Qligent. He said concerns about things such as buffering times, latency and jitter add to the list of monitoring concerns. The point isn’t that such monitoring is difficult to do in isolation. It’s that the changes are additive: What was necessary to track before doesn’t go away as these new requirements are added.

In addition, the wider variety of devices – from IP-connected televisions to smartphones – complicates matters: Service capable of supporting a tablet with a relatively small screen very possibly will be inadequate if the client is a large screen IP-connected television. “It’s having to gauge things differently, the UDP, RTP, all the acronyms in the IT world,” Korte said. “Things are chopped up and segmented differently, and it creates different delivery problems all together.”

Still another drastic change in the world of monitoring is speed to market. It is faster – much faster. Testing times are condensed due to competition from other providers. Flaws that formerly were caught during extensive and even leisurely development cycles now accompany the new offering into the commercial environment. This makes monitoring even more important, said John Maguire, the director of strategy and marketing at the S3 Group.

The good news is that one type of monitoring is being deemphasized. Maguire said the lower level connections are becoming more reliable than in the past. The action in the monitoring game is gradually moving upwards to applications, services and how they behave when put together on the same network. Another dimension of that challenge is that content is contributed from far more points on the network than in the past, which is still another reason that monitoring is more complex – and important – than in the past.

The evolution to more sophisticated and flexible monitoring is a key.. “The problem of monitoring is moving from the lower level of bits and bytes in the fiber bundle to what a fully integrated service looks like when it gets to the customer device,” Maguire said.

Challenges exist on the commercial side of the cable business as well. Russell Teague, the director of service assurance for EXFO (NASDAQ: EXFO ), said cable operators’ reliance on the Internet protocol to get them more deeply involved in commercial services, cellular backhaul, small cell technology and WiFi offload is very promising – but is not easy.

Such services come with stringent service level agreements and other demands that are especially challenging in the context of the simultaneous and destabilizing ways in which experts change. Put more simply: Operators walk a tightrope because commercial services are more closely watched than consumer services by customers, even in an environment in which monitoring is shifting at multiple levels.

The need for sophisticated monitoring has never been greater, observers say. “We see operators being aggressive but struggling in some areas to maintain quality and respond [to problems] in a timely fashion,” Teague said. “Networks are more complex. Virtualization is very very complicated. Technicians need tools that provide them with a converged view of these very complicated networks to make it simpler for them.”

Vendors are responding to the growing monitoring needs of cable operators. During the past few weeks, EXFO has introduced the Xtract networking monitoring platform. The S3 Group is using the IBC show in Amsterdam to introduce StormTest Warning Center, a platform it describes as an “end-to-end service validation portfolio.”  Also at IBC, Q’ligent plans to demonstrate the Vision solution, which it says is a software-defined platform for monitoring linear television media quality. Finally, Zanaware Technologies in late July introduced the Device View Manager, which it says is “self-contained, multi-device, probe-like” real-time monitoring system.

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