SIP as a Disaster Recovery Strategy? EtherSpeak answers the call!

As a standard deployment practice, we at DrVoIP implement SIP trunks as a “fail over” on every system we install.   As reliable as your PRI circuit has been, they do fail from time to time!  In fact, we recently lost 27 PRI’s at a major San Diego Hospital when a carrier ( who’s name will remain anonymous) experienced a fiber cut taking out most of their clients in the region!  Stuff happens!   Having an alternative circuit in place is not only a wise step to take, but by using SIP,  can be very economical.     We find that most carriers offer a “circuit down” capability that  can automatically reroute incoming calls to another number if they detect a “D” channel failure, a sure sign that your PRI is out of service.   If you have not yet done so,  you should get with your carrier and set this up as many carriers require that this feature be programmed into their central office switches and is not something that can be easily done on demand.   This should be configured in advance of a real system failure, and always on line, ready for use!

EtherSpeak Inc,  always the innovator and at this point a “senior citizen”  in the SIP service community,  is now offering an intriguing disaster recovery product free of initial charge!    Throughout June, you can add a three channel SIP trunk, 100 minutes of talk time and a Virtual DID number for absolutely no cost!   EtherSpeak was among the first providers to interconnect with ShoreTel systems, for example, without the need for a Boarder Controller.   They simply built a private IP-sec site to site  tunnel, from your system to their soft-switch.  This is a huge savings in both money and aggravation!    This is an extraordinary value and eliminates any excuse for not implementing a disaster recovery plan to assure telephone calling services in the event your PRI goes down!   Simply work with your carrier to have your main telephone number call forwarded to the virtual DID number provided by EtherSpeak and callers will never know your PRI failed!   Calls will ring in over the SIP trunk and be handled by the ShoreTel like any normal phone call.   Clearly, you only have three circuits, but EtherSpeak will be happy to increase the number of circuits.  In fact, you might find that SIP is really all you need and you might just migrate over to EtherSpeak as your main provider!

The adoption rate of SIP technology,  by both large and small enterprises, is staggering!  Once the domain of only the true geek,  today SIP is a very reliable, cost effective and  viable alternative to traditional copper circuits.    The EtherSpeak disaster recovery package is not only a prudent business continuity move,  but it will allow you to get comfortable with SIP.   Remember a PRI commits you to 23 paths regardless of how many you actually need.  If you need 30 talk paths, the only way to get that capacity with PRI is to contract for a second 23 talk path circuit!  SIP enables you to purchase exactly what you need and you may even be able to “burst” upwards if special circumstances require more talk paths!   Truth be told, your carrier is most likely delivering your PRI over a SIP trunk anyway!  As the cost of maintaining copper lines has continued to escalate, carriers have been slowly migrating over to soft switches that bring SIP trunks to the customer premise.  Using an Integrated Access Device or IAD,  the SIP trunk is then  converted back to a PRI for hand off to your PBX.    If you have a ShoreTel T1/PRI switch you can re-purpose that switch by converting it for use as a DSP resource to support your SIP trunks, so your original equipment investment is protected.

We are not sure what you have to lose?   Free installation, no additional equipment, free virtual number and 100 free minutes of talk time?    Let the boss know you are thinking and taking actions in the best interest of protecting the business and get with the good folks at EtherSpeak by clicking here and taking advantage of this free offer!

Free Tools for Network Monitoring and VoIP assessments!

A network assessment and a trouble shooting effort are differentiated only by a matter of time an the level of urgency.   Effective network administration means that you are always troubleshooting and always proactively looking for anomalies that can negatively impact the quality of service on your network, trash your voice and video communicates;  and compromise the confidentiality and integrity of your data!   A network assessment should be a proactive, around the clock activity of monitoring bandwidth utilization, network throughput, jitter, latency and access.    This is the  process of monitoring the “health” of your network and it is the base line on which we can determine “normal” and set traps and alarms for “abnormal”.    Without a base line trend for our network, the only way we would recognize a network problem, is when the users population, beats a path to your door!

When we find an anomaly in our network, a change in the normal trend of traffic and utilization we move into the “who done it” mode.  It is no longer useful to know that bandwidth utilization has now exceeded our historically documented level of “normal”.   We need to know what protocol is using the bandwidth,  what ports are generating the traffic and what is the legitimacy of the traffic.  This requires a different set of tools than that which you might use for “health check” related monitoring activities.  This is often where we see the difference between “freeware” tools and software solutions that have a hard dollar acquisition cost and a subscription maintenance cost.   Bandwidth, Jittery and Latency is one set of measurements.   Protocol analysis and simulations an entirely different set of issues.

There are a variety of free tools that can help you setup monitoring for the purpose of “health checks”.   Generally, you will want to setup a dedicated “network monitoring” server.   Again, there are all kinds of tools on available for this purpose.   We recommend that you set up a dedicated monitoring sever, and that you make use of Centos or some other Linux distribution, as most of the serious network tools are written for Unix based machines.   For example Cacti,  Nagios, Munin  and Zabbix are all very powerful health monitoring solutions, with very active community support and software extensions.   For those of you who prefer working on Windows platforms, you might consider downloading XAMP for windows!   Lets not forget that we have wireless components in our network and we strongly recommend the Xirrus Wifi Inspector be added to your tool kit, though it is only available for Windows.

Most of your key hardware components, including your network switches, routers and firewalls have embedded tools for analysis.   For example, seeing that a particular segment of a network is breaching historical bandwidth utilization standards, we can then drill down by inspecting the individual ports of an Ethernet switch.  We want to be on the look out for collisions, duplex mismatches, congestion and drop packets!  This can be nailed down to a specific network port and that will significantly reduce the scope of our investigation.     At this point we want to take a look at what protocols are running on the network and for this we need more specialized tools.   We urge you to have  WireShark  and or Microsoft Network Monitor available and that you be very comfortable in setting it up and also interpreting the information presented.  CISCO IOS has a number of advanced tools that can simplify your life.  For example, NBAR or network based application recognition, can identify protocols between network segments.  Netflow is also a core CISCO analysis tool that many of the freeware programs are built around.   Solarwinds will allow you to download and run a fully functioning version of its Netflow analysis tool for 30 days and it covers J-Flow, and other vendor versions of Netflow.  Understanding what Protocol is eating up your network bandwidth is an essential debugging step in your network analysis!

Most experienced network administrators will tell you that when it comes to trouble shooting, nothing replaces command line directives.   As that great Yogi Berra would say; “ You can observe so much by watching”.    Make liberal  basic iCMP commands of ping, traceroute and arp and also NetStat for machine specific path analysis.  A useful desktop tray tool for machine specific analysis is NetWork also free for the download.  On your Unix machines you can run the command line “iftop” which will show bandwidth utilization by IP and port.    There are also a number of online network tools and free downloads that can help you trouble shoot issues.   These would include IPChicken for determining what IP address you are presenting to the outside world; and angry IP port scanner.

A first time network assessment will looking at all of the above metrics but will also include physical level checks, and simulations of what future VoIP traffic might look like.    DrVoIP publishes a VoIP Network Assessment and readiness checklist that is available for free download in your membership portal!   Send an email request to DrVoIP and request a sample Statement of Work for a Network VoIP readiness assessment and we will send you one.

At the end of the day, a VoIP deployment will be as good as the network it is build on!  It is all about the network!