December 5, 2017
By Sanjay Srinivasan, PhD, Chief Technology Architect, Vonage
In the grand scheme of technology, SD-WAN isn’t new. Originally designed to help set up and manage VPNs over broadband at various locations, the technology has been around for about seven years. That’s a long time, considering all the advances that have occurred over that period.
When you apply SD-WAN technology to UCaaS, however, things get a little more modern.
More and more businesses are moving their most critical communication tools to the cloud; however, that transition does not change non-negotiable needs for efficient bandwidth use and excellent quality of service (QoS). In the past few years, my company, Vonage, and a handful of other carriers and suppliers have helped our partners meet these customer needs by integrating SD-WAN technology with unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) platforms. That mix brings numerous benefits, including better voice and video call quality, more deployment options, more efficient bandwidth use and (as a result) lower costs.
Technological and business advancements make SD-WAN a natural partner for UCaaS, but making that case to customers can be tricky. Here’s a rundown of some technical and business considerations for partners.
It can extend the life of private circuit sales. While video conferencing and VoIP solve many problems for companies that don’t want the cost and complexity of a PBX, it’s no secret some customers have adequate bandwidth to handle them, and others don’t. If you’ve ever gotten irate calls because VoIP calls frequently jitter, garble, or completely drop out, you’ve seen what can happen when a company is in the latter camp. Much of this disparity comes from the way network communication tools work. When you send an email or visit a website, some network delay is OK and most often imperceptible. On the phone or video screen, though, latency can lead to all sorts of trouble. This is why network communication solutions are called “real-time” communications.
Some customers will do fine with all-internet SD-WANs; however, businesses that rely on consistently great call quality, such as highly regulated orgs, need special attention. This isn’t to say the average VoIP or video conference is unreliable, by any means. But if even a single garbled call can lead to significant losses, or there are reliability concerns such as, “If I’m on VoIP and my internet connection goes down, what happens?” that customer needs to carefully consider its options. In some cases, they need to budget for private circuit data connections such as MPLS. Though costlier per-location and more technically demanding, private connections have historically provided the best way to enjoy top-notch VoIP call quality. You make a call from your VoIP line, and the SD-WAN solutions automatically prioritize the traffic.
SD-WAN + UCaaS can be a cloud onramp. For customers without stringent QoS requirements, SD-WAN for UCaaS represents a perfect path into cloud communications. It allows businesses on broadband connections and others without a need or budget for MPLS to get the best possible performance. Say a customer has several locations; they’ve probably already …
… moved a lot of their systems and processes to the cloud, prioritizing those processes that aren’t in real-time. Nightly reporting of BC/DR software may send numbers to a server in a public or private-cloud environment, but it doesn’t need a constant back-and-forth stream to accomplish this.
Further, a company might not want to have every branch location on the private circuit; instead, they may have many on commercial broadband accounts, with or without backup data connections in case the primary goes down. This is where SD-WAN comes into play for many customers. SD-WAN for UCaaS tools constantly search for the best possible path for real-time communications, allowing companies on broadband connections to do more with less in terms of data connectivity. Make a call from your VoIP line, and the SD-WAN solutions automatically prioritize the traffic.
Even better, turning back to the backup connections, SD-WAN for UCaaS can move between multiple connections. This further ensures call quality and uptime, even if one connection or the other suffers an outage: Calls aren’t interrupted even if the service must switch from one data source to another, turning a guaranteed interruption into a seamless experience.
SD-WAN can save money and boost security. All in all, these benefits can save customers money. For those that can cut the private circuit cord and deploy VoIP over regular broadband and get similar quality, the savings only increase with the number of locations on-circuit. Then there are productivity savings via more uptime, since you don’t have to worry about a temporary data outage affecting a location’s ability to make phone calls. And, solutions such as SD-WAN-compatible firewalls, VPN concentrators, and other extras make it easier to defend privacy and dramatically simplify the act of creating VPN tunnels between multiple locations.
With that said, a company doesn’t need to be a large, distributed business to make great use of SD-WAN for UCaaS. This can be a great solution for rural companies and others without access to high-quality broadband. For example, a company using an LTE cellular connection could move from PBX to VoIP using SD-WAN for UCaaS. Further, companies running a hybrid network of private circuit- and broadband-connected sites could use the technology to ensure a baseline level of call quality from the cloud communication solutions.
All of these factors come together to describe a technology that will only become more important as more companies move their communications to the cloud. When a business’ phones are its lifeline, stakeholders can’t afford concerns over connectivity and quality. Wherever a business is with its move to the cloud, SD-WAN for UCaaS could be just the thing that channel partners need to get their customers “over the hump” — and away from expensive, needlessly complex extras in the process.
Sanjay Srinivasan is the chief architect of business solutions for Vonage and has been instrumental in the development and implementation of the company’s SD-WAN solution.
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