Avaya Charts a Course for Interop

Tim Titus is an innovator and problem-solver in the enterprise networking space. The founder of PathSolutions, a data and VoIP network monitoring solution, Tim took the time to speak with me about how PathSolutions is uniquely paired with Avaya technology as a core component of the Interop trade show in Las Vegas, which is being prepped for in Brisbane, Calif.

Matt Young: Give me a bit about your background and how you founded PathSolutions.

Tim Titus: I’ve been a network engineer for about 25 years. I’ve worked for a variety of companies from large semiconductor firms to small startups. As far as founding PathSolutions, I got frustrated about the fact that network folks don’t really know what their network is doing. This is the whole reason most users call the experts.

Tim Titus

They ask the network guys to solve the problem, and the network guys aren’t even aware of what’s happening on their network. They say, “Here, let me look into that,” but most of the time they can’t even solve the problem, except it’s someone’s job to catch this and fix it. They’re supposed to know this stuff.

Saying, “Hey, let’s unplug things,” doesn’t really work in an enterprise environment. It’s making guesses about what the problem might be, and you can’t operate a business like that. You need facts. We founded the company on that; getting additional information on the network, so network engineers can see the entire network. That’s been the disconnect – where they couldn’t get the information on something they’re responsible for.

MY: Which could be bad considering the importance of communication in any field, especially enterprise.

TT: We have been focused on the VoIP market space, because a bad phone call means a lost sale and a failure to communicate your intention. You can’t have a leadership meeting with a bad phone call, because no one will get what the leader is trying to say; what the direction is.

Bad phone calls are a thing other companies try to solve, but they can’t solve, because they don’t know what the network is doing. With our solution, we actually know what the network is doing, and we have the root cause definition in a plain-English answer.

We did a partnering with a number of phone equipment manufacturers, and Avaya is one of the key players in our book, and the Avaya customer base said, “This is fantastic! You can finally solve the root cause of the problem!” There’s no more guessing. It’s the unknowns that are going to create problems.

We can say, “That call that you had 20 minutes ago? The reason it was bad is port number five on the finance switch was dropping 18 percent of its packets due to a bad cable.” That tells you exactly what went wrong so you can get the problem solved, and it’s easy to understand.

The Show Before the Show

MY: I know you have quite a bit going on with PathSolutions and are gearing up for the Interop trade show. How is it going on getting everything set up? I know you just had a big demo event to show off the tech.

TT: We had this demo run where folks can come and look at the network and see how things have been built; how things are plugged in. It’s a really good showcase for Avaya since it’s at the heart of the show and can demonstrate what’s going on with a lot of really nice equipment.

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The other week in Brisbane, all selected companies came together and started to connect the network and get all of the configuration work accomplished. It’s pretty amazing to have the experts from different companies all come together and get a fully functioning high-performing network operational – all in two weeks.

Equipment was rack-mounted and plugged in. Then the equipment was configured to move traffic according to the right set of rules to provide for security, fault-tolerance, and performance. During this time, PathSolutions was available to help provide visibility into what was working, and what was not.

Avaya’s hardware collects the measurement information on all of the fiber optic links throughout the entire network. Their switches and routers collect this information, but it’s stuck on the devices.

PathSolutions collects that information from all those switches, and says, “Here is what your fiber-optic cabling is doing” as far as performance, with transmit power; receive power. The benefit of that is anywhere you have a problem with your fiber-optic cabling, we’re going to be able to tell you, “Hey, you’ve got a problem with this one section of cabling. Go check that out with your fiber-optic test equipment.

What’s unique is other vendors can’t do this. They don’t collect this information on the networking equipment. We’re the only product configured to pull this information off these Avaya devices, and that makes a really unique pairing. If there’s any problem with your fiber-optic cable plan, between Avaya and PathSolutions, we’ve got this nailed.

MY: Well, it sounds like it’s all coming together with both a great idea and execution, which benefits everyone along the line. What’s the next step on the road to Interop?

TT: We have the configuration and testing done so we can have all of the pre-configured network equipment shipped to Las Vegas. It should arrive in Vegas a few days before the show opens, and we will be scrambling to connect everything to the show floor and verify that everything is fully operational before the show opens on March 31st.

Avaya at the Core

MY: So with the behind-the-scenes prep work wrapping up, you can look forward to the main event. How will PathSolutions and the Avaya tech be deployed in that environment? What are some of the demands and challenges for that real-time event?

TT: Avaya is doing the core of Interop, the world’s largest multi-vendor networking convention. It means they’re really at the heart of the show.

A network is set up to provide Internet access to all booths and conference sessions, as well as public Wi-Fi for all attendees. Providing network access for all of these vendors and attendees can be a pretty complex task, as it requires a high-performance, ultra-reliable network to be designed, and built just prior to the show.

You can’t just show up with network equipment and expect to be part of the network – In January, companies submitted proposals for network designs and management tools that would be a part of Interop 2014. A few select companies were chosen due to their technological advancements and unique offerings.

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PathSolutions was selected to monitor the stability and performance of the network (all links and devices). We are showcasing our dynamic network map, identifying what is operational and what is broken within seconds of the outage. Faster identification of the problem means faster resolution of the problem.

Avaya was chosen to support the core of the network, and provide all show floor access. They are showcasing their latest capabilities with Shortest Path Bridging (SPB). Cisco is effectively a couple of years behind the game because they don’t have a working production deployment, whereas Avaya has had SPB working at both the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi winter Olympics, as well as the last four Interop shows.

This proves that it’s been a very steady, reliable technology. Folks can feel comfortable looking into adopting this technology due to its proven stability, and because Cisco doesn’t have a proven solution yet. Avaya’s way ahead of the game.

MY: Have you been working together from the ground up on coming up with these solutions?

TT: For the past two years, yes. We’ve been an Avaya DevConnect partner and working together on some of this stuff. I’ll admit – it’s fun digging into this because we have something that’s new and unique and incredibly beneficial.

Less Experts, but Better Tools

MY: Now, in addition to the big applications, this also can obviously benefit the “average Joe” who is in over his head trying to squash network bugs and problems. Ten years ago, you probably had fewer people who had knowledge of networks and how they functioned, while there are probably a lot more staff now who are multi-tasking outside of specific engineers and techs. Are more of the rank-and-file dabbling and getting involved in network operations?

TT: You’re 100 percent correct. You used to have a small handful of experts. Now, a lot of companies don’t want to pay these experts, so they’ve shuttered them off of their payroll and said, “We want to hire generalists.”

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These are less expensive, but the jack-of-all-trades are doing servers and networks and telephony, and they can only go skin-deep in any one piece of technology and so that makes it difficult for them to solve problems, unless they have the right tools.

My argument is, we get plain-English answers in front of folks so they can really be that expert without a whole lot of training. That’s actually part of our “secret sauce.” We have ten years of analysis baked into the product, so you have a plain-English answer of what the problem is, which means you can have your help-desk-level people solve these problems. Previously, you’d have to have that expert analyze it.

MY: How much work was it taking all of this information which has been in the techno-babble land and making it accessible to the layman?

TT: That’s actually part of our “secret sauce.” We have ten years of analysis baked into the product, so you have a plain-English answer of what the problem is, which means you can have your help-desk-level people solve these problems. Previously, you’d have to have that expert analyze it.

A parallel I’d like to draw here is to cars. In the days of old, you’d take your car in, saying, “It’s a little rough. What’s wrong?” The shop would have their seasoned, expert mechanic come out and spend two hours checking things and eventually they would come back and say, “You’ve got a problem with sparkplug number two.”

Nowadays, you have this high school kid come and plug this box into the dash. They press the red button and it prints out this report saying to replace sparkplug number two. That’s what we’re doing to networks. That instant diagnosis makes it a very cost-efficient affair, and there are resellers targeting smaller companies, opening up completely new markets.