Apparent Networks Tools: Troubleshoot VoIP, Video Remotely

As networks grow more sophisticated, so too must the tools to monitor and troubleshoot them. The ongoing convergence of networking and the data center has created an opportunity for VARs to devise service opportunities on top of those monitoring tools. It's that piece of the market: services-rich network monitoring, especially for remote networks, where several players have emerged in the past year or two as channel forces.

One is Wellesley, Mass.-based Apparent Networks, which has built up a head of channel steam behind PathView, a remote network management suite that allows users to troubleshoot VoIP, VDI, video, MPLS, WAN, LAN and Internet carrier issues while offering continuous monitoring, network readiness assessments and network performance reports.

Among the newer enhancements is PathView microAppliance, an appliance smaller than a smartphone that can be "set and forgotten" anywhere in the network where power and an Ethernet connection are available.

The overall suite is available as a hosted model, dubbed PathView Cloud, or as licensable software, called PathView Premise, on an in-house server.

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"Today we have more and more applications being used very broadly across the data center, and the uptake of things like VoIP and videoconferencing are very performance-sensitive," said Jim Melvin, president and chief marketing officer at Apparent. "PathView gives customers a way to not only preassess actual network operating parameters around performance, but to continually monitor that across the distributed network."

The company has seen several successive growth quarters behind PathView and has recently moved to expand its network of channel partners, especially MSPs.

"It's not the Fortune 500 level, but the higher end of the SMB," Melvin said when asked about customer sweet spots. "These are the companies that first want to outsource these types of things and then just want them to work. Our partners are making very significant progress here."

In late March, Apparent entered into an agreement with Toshiba to make PathView compatible with Toshiba's Strata CIX IP communications offerings and available through Toshiba's Authorized Dealer Network.

"VoIP requires very predictable and static performance, and I think Toshiba has seen that," Melvin said. "We have a good relationship and felt like we could deliver value into their channel."

Competing network management suites are often overpriced and cumbersome to deploy, Melvin argued. Most don't play to the needs of managed services partners, which for Apparent are growing its business much faster than traditional networking VARs, he said.

Among those MSPs is RonEK Communications, Los Angeles, which recently joined Apparent's Powered by PathView partner program, using PathView, PathView Cloud and the PathView microAppliance for VoIP customers.

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"In the beginning, we had all the troubles with VoIP that everyone else did: No one understood just how sensitive it is," said Eric Knaus, president of RonEK. "It's not often the equipment, it's more often the carrier, but everyone wants to blame something. This, for starters, cuts down on the finger-pointing."

Knaus said the pricing and features combination is a lot more conducive to SMB and lower-end enterprise customers than rival monitoring solutions from the likes of SolarWinds and WhatsUp Gold.

"With PathView and something like Wireshark [the open-source packet analyzer] you can troubleshoot just about anything," Knaus said. "PathView is very detailed in quadrants. Plus, four, five, six years ago, you'd have to actually go to the network premise with a packet sniffer. This, I can do all of that stuff from anywhere. I could probably do it from Mars."

Growth has been steady among more traditional networking shops, though, too.

Terry Fishburn, president of Advanced Communications, a Johnson City, Tenn.-based solution provider, said he first came across PathView during a network assessment, when he found himself in need of more robust monitoring tools.

"We've been doing telephony for a number of years and the one thing that kept appearing over a period of time was that we needed a tool to provide total control over the network," Fishburn said."You have to have a tool like this in your IP telephony business because these days it's just too time-consuming not to. If you wait until after the fact when something goes wrong, it's bad customer relations. You're just expected to know what the issue is."