SolarWinds Strengthens VoIP Performance Monitoring and Proactive WAN Performance Analysis
SolarWinds just announced the upcoming release of its VoIP & Network Quality Manager (VNQM) with GA due later this month. VNQM is an extension of SolarWinds Orion IP SLA Manager designed to monitor VoIP and WAN performance by tracking key edge-to-edge router performance statistics using Cisco IP SLA technology.
Cisco IOS IP SLA is a feature that allows Cisco IOS devices to actively send synthetic traffic in a continuous and predictable manner across the network to measure VoIP, video and business-critical application performance between multiple network locations or across multiple network paths in MPLS and VPN networks. IP SLA uses this timestamp information to calculate performance metrics such as jitter, latency, network, and server response times, packet loss, and mean opinion (MOS) score. For all intents and purposes then, Cisco IP SLA enables the user to do synthetic tests of different protocols on a regular basis and measure the performance of the network, including the following operations which are supported by the Orion IP SLA Manager:
- HTTP – Measure the round-trip time to access a Web page
- FTP – Measure the round-trip time to transfer a file
- DNS – Measure the DNS look up time (time to request and receive a reply)
- DHCP – Measure the round-trip time to retrieve an IP address
- TCP Connect – Measure connection time, which is useful for application and server monitoring
- UDP Jitter – Measure round-trip delay, one-way delay, one-way jitter, and one-way packet loss
- VoIP UDP Jitter – Measure VoIP call path metrics
- ICMP Echo – Measure round-trip delay
- UDP Echo – Measure response times between IP SLA nodes using IP
- ICMP Path Echo – Discover a network path using traceroute and measure the response time between a Cisco router and devices using IP
- ICMP Path Jitter – Measure the inter-packet delay variance along a tracerouted network path
The SolarWinds IP SLA Manager supplements Cisco IP SLA by allowing the user to build and configure those tests automatically. For example, a customer with 10 sites could ask the SolarWinds module to build a fully meshed test for HTTP and FTP operations, and it would automatically configure the routers to enable you to do that and provide the synthetic performance view.
As the product stands today, MOS, jitter, latency and other QoS measurements are not at the individual call level. They rely on synthetic P2P tests. Individual call detail records (CDRs) are not incorporated in the analysis. With the release of VNQM, CDR statistics will be pulled in and correlated with the synthetic results coming out of Cisco IP SLA in order to provide realtime alerts when critical thresholds are exceeded, as well as allow IT pros to quickly troubleshoot and diagnose VoIP and WAN performance issues along individual call paths.
VoIP & Network Quality Manager in Perspective
VNQM is one of three add-on modules of SolarWinds’ flagship product, Network Performance Monitor (NPM), a server-based fault and performance management platform that monitors and analyzes realtime network performance metrics for routers, switches, servers and other Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP-enabled) devices. NPM sells for under $2,500. It can be downloaded, installed, and working inside of one hour. The three NPM modules are:
- VoIP & Network Quality Manager: VNQM monitors both WAM performance using Cisco IP SLA technology and the performance of individual VoIP calls by analyzing call quality metrics available within the CDR.
- NetFlow Traffic Analyzer: NetFlow Traffic Analyzer utilizes Cisco’s NetFlow protocol and other similar protocols to extract data from network devices to provide an in-depth view of which end-users, protocols and applications are consuming network bandwidth.
- IP Address Manager: IP Address Manager tracks, manages and reports on the use of IP addresses through a web interface. IP Address Manager is available as a module of Network Performance Monitor and on a stand-alone basis.
Go-to-Market (G2M) Strategy
Building Customer Loyalty
SolarWinds seeks to expand and generate loyalty from its customer base and end-user community by providing 50+ free tools for IT professionals, by hosting an online community website, thwack, and through other marketing programs. Thwack is a community website designed for IT professionals that provides end-users and the broader IT management community with information, tools and other resources. Today there are 100K+ participating network engineers.
SolarWinds works closely with customers throughout its product development lifecycle. In addition, the R&D organization regularly assists customer support personnel with customer inquiries, which provides another mechanism for customer feedback during the development process. Both customers and end-user community provide extensive input regarding a wide variety of use cases that are incorporated into product definitions and requirements. The current VoIP focus of VNQM is reflective of that. Video quality, for example, is a community discussion topic, but not a universally demanded feature right now.
Marketing and Sales
Both marketing and sales models are designed to be efficient for very high volumes of low-price transactions. Orion IP SLA Manager, for example, starts at $1,495. Marketing efforts focus on driving traffic to its websites and on generating high quality sales leads, primarily consisting of end-users who have downloaded free evaluation versions of software. Direct sales are made exclusively through an inside sales force that is devoted to turning these leads into software purchasers.
Software is also sold through a two-tier distributor - reseller channel model with specific focus on initiation and fulfillment of sales orders from state, local and federal governments and those commercial customers that prefer to make purchases through a particular reseller.
What This Means to Customers
In summary, SolarWinds will never be first to market. That’s not ingrained in its business model. Their business model is predicated on leveraging the voice of the customer to drive and support rapid sales growth at high operating margins, while offering products that are typically priced significantly lower than competing vendors. Currently the company has over 75K paying customers on the network management side of the business. Top line revenue for 2011 reached $198.4M. Gross margin last year was 94%. Revenue and gross margin grew in excess of 30% and 29%, respectively, in both 2010 and 2011.
SolarWinds’ adoption of technology is really driven by what customers are asking them to go do. They’ll get a product into the market and listen to how folks are using it and where their primary issues are. And they may find that their customer’s first priority is not to add a vendor. Rather it’s to build some other set of data into it, or to add in some visualization or correlation. And that’s just what happened with Orion IP SLA Manager. Community momentum was not to broaden the vendor base beyond Cisco. Instead, demand focused on bringing in CDR statistics and correlating them to the synthetic results coming out of Cisco IP SLA – hence the name change to VoIP & Network Quality Manager to emphasize both VoIP QoS and WAN performance to new customers.
One can, however, expect to see offerings of enterprise-class, scalable, easy-to-use and affordable IT management software with several releases a year.
For more comprehensive network performance management solutions for on-premise, cloud and hybrid UCC solutions, see those by NetSocket and NetScout. Our recent review of NetSocket’s Cloud Experience Manager can be found here.