Christopher Nemeth has crawled under more desks in his career than he can count. As the systems administrator in charge of telecommunications at Florida’s sprawling Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, he’s chiefly in charge of making sure the phones work for the department’s more than 4,000 employees in 30 individual bureaus, covering 914 square miles outside Tampa.
Up until mid-2011, that usually meant sending technicians out on their hands and knees, tracing a maze of wires under cubicles and into IT closets across the county, physically trying to root out the problems in the system.
“Some of our phone installations were 22 years old,” Nemeth said. “We had everything from a bunch of Nortel Key systems, Option 11s, Option 81s and a newer Nortel IP phone system as well. Whenever a new building went up, they’d install a new phone system. It was a hodgepodge. We had multiple voicemail systems that didn’t always talk to each other nicely, lots of PRIs connecting things, analog trunk ports, the overall structure was massive.”
When Nemeth joined the department three and a half years ago, portions of the network would crash two or three times per week. While he was able to eventually get the legacy phone system up to 98 percent reliability, he wanted to eventually unify the technology back end powering the communications at the sheriff’s office, cutting operational costs.
The department began overhauling its entire phone system in Aug. 2011, installing 2,200 VoIP phones running the Avaya Aura Unified Communications platform. During that time, Nemeth started shopping around for a virtual forensics platform, capable of automatically identifying problems that led to poor call quality.
In an International Avaya Users Group webinar this week, Nemeth described how he evaluated five virtual forensics providers and ultimately chose Santa Clara, Calif.-based PathSolutions, an official Avaya development partner through DevConnect.
“PathSolutions was one of the best-performing products we could find out there, and [with] the price point, it was a pretty quick decision for us,” Nemeth said.
PathSolutions founder and Chief Technology Officer Tim Titus joined Nemeth on the webinar, later giving the audience a live demonstration showing how his product mapped out every individual endpoint on the network and pinpointed exactly where problems were occurring. He said poor phone quality could be due to any number of issues, including bad wiring, or in the case of Internet telephony, overloaded networks.
“You go look to see what’s plugged in there, and realize that repairing the issue is going to be the fast part,” Titus said, referring to a faulty switch PathSolutions found during the demo. “You’re able to see maybe there’s a CAT-3 patch cord plugged in there that should have been thrown away a decade ago, but nobody bothers looking at cable jackets. Maybe you find that the station cord connecting to the PC in the user’s cubicle is wrapped around a space heater.
“So, you figure you get this problem solved in 20 minutes, whereas searching for the problem and identifying the problem [previously might have taken] hours, days or weeks.”
Titus said PathSolutions has roughly 850 customers, ranging from large multinational companies to individual technology resellers.
Before founding PathSolutions in early 1999, Titus worked as a network engineer, helping companies track down problems in their computer systems. At the time, it was a largely manual process. Popular tools were capable of telling him if a single aspect of the network was healthy, which he likened to a car only having a single problem indicator light on its dashboard—not very helpful.
He built PathSolutions to give network engineers like himself “total VoIP visibility,” helping identify problems quickly and easily.
Back in Florida, just hours after the webinar ended, Nemeth used PathSolutions to track down an overloaded trunk interface on the network that was causing some phone jitter at one of the department’s bureaus. He discovered the bug was due to a faulty PC that was plugged into the network. When he took the computer offline, he saw network performance improve nearly immediately.
Nemeth estimates he’s reduced phone network maintenance and service costs by 40 percent since launching the new system.
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