In 1964, Canadian philosopher and educator Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” McLuhan’s communication theory was that a medium for communication could hold as much informational value as the message itself.
This applies to networks as well. Without their transport capabilities as a medium, applications and data wouldn’t reach users and customers.
Yet, interestingly, companies don’t pay as much attention to network quality of service (QoS) as they do to the quality of their applications.
What is Network Quality of Service?
Network quality of service means that you are promising a certain level of network performance that supports specific business operations. Users of the service can depend on it because you are guaranteeing that network performance will not be compromised.
To attain network QoS, companies must review and calibrate network bandwidth so it can carry the data payloads that are expected for the business operations that the network supports. IT must also eliminate jitter, which is the fluctuation of digital signals that can affect video quality; and it must address latency (delay of response time) and packet loss (non-delivery of data packets).
A QoS Case Study
In the rural Western United States where healthcare services are hard for residents to access, one healthcare provider wanted to assure that patients could gain access through a telemedicine service. This would enable residents in remote areas to consult in a real time video conference with a doctor who could also observe them.
To facilitate the virtual visits, the company needed to beef up its network so network QoS would guarantee uninterrupted visits between patients and doctors that could be caused by network failures, jitter, streaming slowdowns, and other technical interruptions that could uproot calls.
IT set to work on the network. It could immediately see where routers purchased from commercial providers had presets that needed to be re-calibrated to perform at the higher QoS levels. However, as IT got deeper into the mechanics of the network with its myriad of nodes and juncture points, it realized that the job of installing QoS on the network exceeded the internal expertise and the capacity that IT possessed.
IT and business management decided to call in an expensive network QoS specialist. This person audited the entire network for bandwidth, throughput, and throttle points. The individual identified all of the points impeding transmissions and met with IT and users to define the quality-of-service levels that each network asset had to perform to in order to deliver flawless doctor-to-patient video and audio services. IT didn’t know what these device-by-device settings needed to be, but the consultant did. Once all QoS performance parameters were defined for every network asset, IT re-calibrated the assets to meet the network QoS requirements.
This QoS work was time-intensive and expensive, but the company had already performed an ROI projection on the network QoS project that showed that expanded access to rural patients would net the company enough revenue to make the investment pay for itself. There was also a philanthropic directive to expand services to disadvantaged portions of the population.
Is Network QoS a Luxury?
Because of skills and time shortages, many IT staffs don’t perform rigorous network revisions and tune-ups for QoS.
Instead, they opt for everyday network performance that will meet the needs of most of their applications and users. There will be some applications that are classified as “high.” They receive maximum network bandwidth allocations whenever they run. Other applications are classified as “medium” or “low.” They run at lesser priorities.
A strategy like this can work if you’re not trying to support a mission-critical function where the network can’t afford to fail.
This is when you need network QoS so you can guarantee network service levels.
With the convergence of voice, video, and data on modern-day networks, QoS is becoming even more essential. The network must now relentlessly support many “moving data parts,” and implementing QoS facilitates more effective network traffic monitoring, trouble shooting, issue resolution, and failover.
With QoS, every traffic hop on the network is configured and monitored, based upon the QoS performance metrics that are set for it. Alternate paths for data can be designated if a particular hop shows signs of degradation, and there is now technology that can automate these failovers.
It doesn’t take much to see how networks that are not tuned to QoS standards can begin to degrade and deliver bad results, especially as more people use networks and more data courses through them.
New video- and audio-intensive applications also require vast amounts of bandwidth and premium network performance. Setting and adhering to QoS standards facilities these applications and delivers the digital services and network quality that employees and customers expect.