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Smarter endpoints and smarter network: An end to end Medianet becomes a reality!

April 25, 2011 at 9:12 am PST

Finally it’s here. Cisco has been working on integrating the Media Services Interface (MSI) into the WebEx Meeting Client.

For those unfamiliar with the MSI, it’s an SDK developed to enable applications to interact with a Cisco Medianet. One of the long standing challenges IT organizations have faced has been to harmonize the needs of applications and endpoints with the network services required to meet those needs. It’s been a case of ships in the night as network administrators have done their best to deliver services while having limited interaction with the endpoints and applications that leverage those services. Asking endpoints and applications to consistently implement all the networking protocols to enable them to leverage the network has often led to mixed results; inconsistent or incomplete protocol stack implementations led to interoperability issues with the burden usually falling on the end customer.

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IP SLA Video Operation Part 2 – How to use it? When to use it?

Last week, we introduced the new IP SLA Video Operation tool to assess the readiness of a network by generating synthetic traffic to mimic real applications. When you use IP SLA VO to generate simulated RTP traffic between two sites, you can use the medianet Performance Monitor feature to measure the performance of this synthetic traffic across the network. You can also use Mediatrace to discover the network elements on the paths between the two sites. For each network element discovered in the network path, Performance Monitor can collect metrics to detect potential capacity bottlenecks and proactively identify quality issues.

In addition to the obvious use for pre-deployment assessment, many enterprises understand that the network and applications are constantly changing so it is necessary to do continuous assessments. For example, after a major scheduled network maintenance or upgrade during non-business hours, you can use IP SLA VO to simulate real application traffic and assess the impact of the network changes to minimize potential business disruption or even downtime. Another example is prior to an important event, you can use IP SLA VO to stress test the network and verify that it can handle the rich media traffic without impacting existing application performance.

Whether you are doing an initial assessment for a new deployment, an expansion to an existing deployment, or ongoing operations, IPSLA VO, Performance Monitor and Mediatrace are effective tools to identify and proactively resolve rich media problems across the  network. Put this handy tool in your toolbox and you will like it.

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IP SLA Video Operation – A powerful tool to mimic the real traffic demands on your network

With video increasingly becoming part of how you collaborate, you need to consider the impact of this incremental video on your network. Video brings many new challenges in order to meet user expectations for a flawless quality of experience. So is your network ready for rich media?

IP SLA video operation answers this question by synthetically generating traffic  mimicking real application traffic. The ability to generate realistic RTP stream similar to real life Cisco TelePresence allow you to stress the network and assess the demands these applications will impose on your network. Each type of media application can be expressed for the synthetic media generation system by media application profiles that contain personalities which incorporate characteristics such as bit rate, burst sizes, inter-packet-gaps, etc. These application profiles allow, for example, a catalyst switch to simulate the video playout from multiple places in the network. There may be multiple personalities based on different software versions or configurations of the media application. Cisco will make a set of comprehensive media application profiles available for download. IP SLA video operation, an enhancement to IP SLA, was announced on April 6, 2011 at ISC West in Las Vegas and is first introduced in IOS 12.2(58) SE on Cisco Catalyst 3750 and 3560 series switches. Over time, more products will be implementing this new operation.

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March 29, 2011 at 9:25 am PST

A few weeks ago, we introduced a new tool for network operators called mediatrace. On the router and switches, a mediatrace report presents several stanzas of data collected along a particular path. While the report is useful, there is a very high information density and the network operator could overlook an important item at a casual glance.

Mediascope was created as an intern project at Cisco to help in the visualization of mediatrace data. Mediascope uses the IOS Web Services Management Agent (WSMA) interface to execute mediatrace commands. As a flash based tool, mediascope can be hosted on a regular web server in your network and be available for general users (well except for ipad/iphone!).

The user initially logs into the mediascope tool with a mediascope specific password. Then the target router is identified and credentials for that node are provided. At this point, the user can ask mediascope to dynamically configure IOS performance monitor to discover the flows traversing the target router. The discovered flows are dynamically displayed in a list allowing the user to select the interesting flow and then continue on to the specific metrics to be gathered (lower part of Figure 1 below).

Figure 1. Mediascope Flow selection and Data Retrieval Selection

Figure 2. Mediascope Result Visualization

In Figure 2, we can see the result of the mediatrace run. Note from Figure 1 that the y-axis in the chart is selectable, as are the meanings of the color. In our example, the height of the circles conveys number of IP packets seen for the monitored flow, size conveys CPU utilization, and conditional coloring based on number of packets lost and jitter values. Of course, a much simpler chart could be constructed, but we wanted to show how easily very dense information could be represented.

Using the chart the operator is able to quickly identify the node that is at high CPI, but also the node that seems to be seeing packet loss.

We had a lot of fun creating mediascope. Check out our multi-language demos on YouTube!  We invite you to make your own audio version- with the challenge of no English words at all. I’m hoping we’ll see one in Klingon soon!

Mediascope demo: English German Spanish

Mediascope is open sourced under the BSD license.

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Mediatrace: A Better Traceroute that Does the Walking for You

March 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm PST

The classic traceroute tool has become an essential tool for network engineers. Traceroute is able to discover layer-3 nodes (routers) along the path towards a destination. This information provides operators with visibility about the path towards a destination.

However, there are limitations to traceroute such as issues with traceroute following the right path (as it’s IP source address might be different), no layer-2 (switches and bridges) discovery and really only a single piece of information is returned (IP address of the router).

With mediatrace, which shares the IP header of the flow you would like to trace, you can have much better path congruency—and confidence in the discovery. The mediatrace will also not only discover the routers (as with traceroute), but also switches that are only doing layer 2 forwarding.

Mediatrace does not need to be enabled on every hop. If it is not enabled on node, the mediatrace packet will simply be forwarded through that part of the network. This is exactly what would happen in the case of your traditional MPLS-VPN network.

Figure 1. Mediatrace tracing a flow while the operator chillaxes

Now for the best part! Mediatrace can dynamically engage the performance monitor feature we talked about a few weeks ago. This allows a dynamic surgical monitoring policy to be applied for the flow we are tracing that results in hop by hop performance measurements such as loss and jitter. As is the case with all mediatrace runs, the information is brought back into a single report where it can be quickly analyzed.

Figure 2. Mediatrace integration with performance monitor

Despite the name, mediatrace is not only for voice/video flows. It is able to trace any IP flow, and is even able to engage performance monitor to gather hop by hop TCP stats.

Mediatrace is a new tool that cisco released in IOS 15.1(3)T  for the ISR platforms as part of the medianet program.  Over the course of 2011, this feature will proliferate across cisco’s enterprise line of routers and switches.

Mediatrace Configuration Guide

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