IP SLA - Hidden gem for proactive management?

Embedded Cisco technology worth checking out

At EMA, we spend a lot of time talking about how to shift gears into a more proactive, preventative approach to manage the IT infrastructure. Whether you are looking at the lower layers of the stack and device health or up the stack at how well applications and services are being delivered, a common challenge is making the most out of what sources of management data are available. And while harvesting of device performance metrics and collection of NetFlow (or equivalents) are becoming commonplace, the use of IPSLA as a supporting set of measurements is not nearly as prevalent. In the news this week, SolarWinds announced a new product, Orion IP SLA Manager, which will supersede Orion VoIP Monitor, a product which was based in large part on the IP SLA VoIP operation set. The new product includes support for all nine IPSLA operation types, and pushes the envelope in terms of opening up the full set of features available via Cisco’s IP SLA functionality to the network management masses. Important to note is that in order to deploy Orion IP SLA Manager, you must also have bought/deployed Orion Network Performance Manager. Related link: http://www.networkworld.com/news/2009/092909-cisco-solarwinds.html IP SLA , short for IP Service Level Agreements, is an embedded functionality specific to Cisco network devices running IOS, and what it represents is network-based synthetic test capability. For all the details on how it works and how to set it up, check out the Cisco web site here for an overview, and here for a link to the fully updated IOS command reference. In short, IP SLA features allow Cisco routers and switches to send various types of test messages to other IP SLA-enabled Cisco devices elsewhere in the network, so you can assess the network’s ability to deliver applications and services as well as get some idea of the quality of delivery. The nine measurement groups are VoIP, UDP Jitter, UDP Echo, ICMP Path Jitter, ICMP Path Echo, HTTP, DNS/DHCP, TCP Connect, and FTP, and there are special optimizations available for MPLS VPNs. Configuration is accomplished by CLI or SNMP, and results are harvested via FTP or SNMP. Besides SolarWinds, many other management tools have incorporated various levels of IP SLA support, and many have offered it for years. You’ll find broad support of the IP SLA operation sets within offerings from NetQoS, Entuity, Nimsoft, and Dorado. Other vendors provide partial support, such as those from CA, NetScout, Fluke, IBM, EMC, Ipswitch, SevOne, ManageEngine, ScienceLogic, PacketTrap, and (undoubtedly) others. There are even shareware and open source tools for gathering IP SLA data, such as OpenNMS and Zenoss. The most common implementation/use today is for VoIP monitoring, in particular across the WAN, from edge router to edge router. In fact, many of today’s network management tools look exclusively to the IP SLA MOS and jitter measurements to assess VoIP quality. Using IP SLA is a good preventative method for passive approximation in near real-time, and for monitoring quality when no actually traffic is flowing. This means it’s ideal for catching unanticipated impacts of new application or technology roll-outs early in their lifecycle, when corrective changes are less costly. It won’t help when you are trying to troubleshoot any individual end-user incidents, however, since it is not a measure of actual user experience. Bottom line is this – if you aren’t using IP SLA today, you should look into your existing tools to see what you can get started with. Most management tools that support IP SLA provide graphical front ends (so you can avoid the CLI configuration tasks) and orchestrated harvesting (so you don’t have to collect/collate the results yourself). If you are looking support of all nine operation sets and don’t have anything in place yet, SolarWinds has one of the few choices out there today, especially if you need to keep your getting-started costs low. Don’t be shy about checking with your existing tools vendor, however – many of them already have expanded support on their roadmaps.

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