An overwhelming 84 percent of organizations believe unified communications (UC) solutions are essential for supporting increasingly decentralized workforces and driving business growth, according to a recent global survey from Techaisle. Realizing the full benefits of UC may require some important network upgrades, however.
Real-time voice and video technologies introduce new demands on networks designed for “best-effort” delivery of data packets. Traffic and routing problems can cause packets to be delayed or delivered out of order. It isn’t noticeable for most data transfers or emails but can seriously degrade voice and video communications, resulting in packet loss, latency and jitter that cause garbled voice calls and choppy video conferences.
It’s also difficult to achieve optimal UC performance across geographically distributed locations due to the inherent design limitations of conventional wide-area networks. The traditional method of backhauling WAN traffic from branch locations to a central data center creates delivery delays that significantly degrade application performance.
Assessing the Network
Implementing UC may also require replacing or reconfiguring some network devices. For example, routers, switches and firewalls must be configured with Quality of Service (QoS) settings to prioritize voice and video traffic. Organizations with unmanaged network switches with standard configurations that can’t be altered may have to upgrade to managed switches that can be customized to optimize and prioritize traffic.
These and other issues are all correctable, but it’s important to discover them early in the implementation process. A network assessment is a critical first step in any UC deployment.
A standard assessment is a detailed evaluation of the entire network, including switches, routers, modems, cables and firewalls. It provides a complete view of the current state of the network, including any potential vulnerabilities or bottlenecks. When preparing for UC, it is best to conduct an additional application-specific assessment.
In a UC-specific assessment, voice and video data packets are injected into the network in a controlled fashion. This will illustrate the impact of voice and video traffic on the existing network and make it easier to determine whether the network has sufficient capacity to handle the increased UC traffic.
The Benefits of SD-WAN
Assessment results can guide your next steps. For example, organizations that experience intolerable levels of latency across the WAN will likely want to implement a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) that eliminates the backhauling process and the delays it creates. It enables direct connections between geographically separate locations through the use of multiple transport types such as MPLS, broadband Internet, cellular and satellite to further ensure reliable connectivity.
SD-WAN also enhances UC through traffic prioritizing, automated provisioning and other sophisticated features. It is an application-aware technology, which means it can identify and classify apps based on a variety of characteristics and then apply optimization techniques to ensure peak performance. For instance, it can determine if there is enough bandwidth to support a team video meeting. If not, it can throttle less-sensitive apps to create sufficient bandwidth for the real-time workload.
An SD-WAN also makes it easier to reconfigure devices to improve QoS. In a traditional WAN, this is a time-consuming manual process, but SD-WAN enables administrators to centrally manage and automate configurations through policy updates instead of device-by-device changes.
Unified communications solutions provide the foundation for today’s work-from-anywhere models, but they can stress networks. A UC-specific network assessment is crucial for identifying network capacity and throughput issues that could create application performance issues. Cerium Networks can help you understand your network capabilities and what changes might be necessary to support real-time voice and video traffic. Contact us to learn more.
Underlying network issues can make it difficult for organizations to realize the expected benefits of unified communications solutions. The UC experts at Cerium can help you evaluate your network to identify potential problems. Call us to learn more.