Microsoft releases free tool to monitor voice quality

Microsoft’s Office Communications Server 2007 will get Quality of Experience Monitoring Server to collect metrics about individual calls such as the handset model and performance, provides reporting interfaces, and runs analytics

Microsoft has released a free module for its just released Office Communications Server 2007 that lets users troubleshoot voice quality issues by monitoring network performance in real-time.

The Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 Quality of Experience Monitoring Server (QMS) is designed as a software-based competitor to network gear offered by the likes of Cisco, according to Microsoft officials when they announced QMS is August.

Warren Barkley, principle program manager for OCS, wrote Wednesday on the OCS blog, "QMS is a pure software-based solution that monitors voice quality using all the information collected by the endpoints, MOS (mean opinion score), loss, jitter, delay, device quality and over a dozen other parameters that are used to determine quality."

QMS, which will ship as a server role for use in OCS Standard and Enterprise editions, collects metrics about individual calls such as the handset model and performance, provides reporting interfaces, and runs analytics on data it stores in an SQL Server database.

It also provides root-cause analysis and alarms, gathers statistics on media quality, proactively monitors and troubleshoots media quality, provides trends to help plan post-deployment growth and measures results against service-level agreements.

QMS collects metrics at the end of each VoIP call from the participant endpoints, including IP phones, Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, the Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2007 client, and Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 A/V Conferencing Server and Mediation Server.

QMS integrates with System Center Operations Manager for altering and monitoring, with Access, Excel or SQL Server for reporting and data analysis, and provides an application development platform.

"With legacy VoIP or a PBX, the quality is always the network quality, and we believe that should just be a starting point," Microsoft's Clint Patterson, director of product management in the unified communications group at Microsoft, told Network World in August. "You should really measure what is the quality of the experience at the end-point."

In August, Microsoft compared the ability of QMS to deliver a consistent call quality with Cisco's CallManager 5.0 using 7961 IP phones, citing a study by Psytechnics Limited. The study concludes that Microsoft's infrastructure "provides better voice quality than the Cisco CallManager version tested in virtually all the conditions enterprise users will likely encounter."

Microsoft detailed tests against CallManager in a whitepaper. Microsoft said that as use of unified communications grows, individual network links can become progressively saturated. The company said traditional IP telephony may not provide much advanced warning prior to call blockage in such a scenario.

But Microsoft said its infrastructure could do just that using a media stack installed on client end-points that would adapt to the link saturation in real time. Microsoft said call quality could be slightly reduced but that call blockage would not occur.

The QMS metrics would show bandwidth reduction, a stepwise degradation in quality, and other tangible signs that the link is congested. The server also would provide advanced notice that the link will need to be augmented and allow time for administrators to make adjustments.

The Microsoft unified communications media stack includes technologies such as Microsoft Real-Time Audio Codec, an RT Encoder and Decoder and modes for Constant Bit Rate and Variable Bit Rate. The stack is built into the Office Communicator 2007 client and is in use today in the Microsoft Live Messenger real-time communications client, which serves 1 billion minutes of voice calls per month, according to Microsoft.

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