The benefits of using Software-Defined WAN for Unified Communications

Many organisations are starting to realise the benefits of Unified Communications (UC) as an essential tool that allows knowledge workers to collaborate using voice, video, desktop sharing, instant messaging and presence.

However, as these organisations begin to recognise the operational efficiencies these tools bring to their business and plan to implement it, their IT departments are left in the shadows to support, standardise and secure these deployments.

Today’s workers demand UC solutions and will find ways of achieving UC, even if they have to do so unofficially. This has resulted in a “shadow IT” concept whereby workers use services without explicit organisational approval or process which has left IT departments in a position where control and security are compromised.

One of the most beneficial features of using Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) in your workplace is that it allows organisations to regain control of their IT activity while still allowing workers to maximise their user experience when using UC and other cloud based services.

How does SD-WAN achieve this?

It optimises, yet simplifies, the use of multiple public and private links 

With the promise of UC comes the burden on IT departments to provide high capacity branch links to support high definition video, voice and desktop sharing. Routing this traffic over traditional MPLS WAN’s constrains the organisation both commercially (high OPEX costs associated with MPLS links) and operationally (long deployment times for links and even link upgrades) leaving the knowledge workers unable to adopt UC tools to increase operational efficiencies.

SD-WAN allows organisations to unlock the power of UC by making use of multiple public and private links. With technologies like per-packet loadsharing, forward error correction (FEC) and jitter buffers, using “off the shelf” Internet Broadband links to provide a high quality of experience for UC has finally become a reality.

Separates data, control and orchestration plane and delivers network-wide policy and security

Managing the Quality of Experience (QoE) for UC (and other cloud applications) throughout various sites whilst making use of high-speed broadband links becomes an almost impossible task without a centralised orchestration plane.

SD-WAN allows the control and data plane to operate separately allowing the network administrator to centralise policy control for security and ensure QoE for real-time applications such as UC.

By separating the data and control plane, SD-WAN allows for central control of network-wide policy and security. From a central point, traffic can easily be blocked or demoted via a cloud-based orchestrator. Gone are the days of having to spend hours or even days building QoS polices to match traffic based on ports and IP’s.

With SD-WAN the policies are modified based on predefined polices (e.g. YouTube HD, Facebook Video) and deployed to all edge devices that subscribe to these policies.

Reduces recurring and capex costs of wide area networking 

Access to reliable high capacity Internet becomes a key enabler to your UC adoption. However, the cost of backhauling this over your MPLS WAN becomes somewhat commercially prohibitive, as you will inevitably need to increase the size of your site access links to accommodate for this traffic, especially in order to enable video conferencing in your UC app.

The other thing to consider is that you will be paying an increased OPEX cost for video, which is not utilised 24×7. SD-WAN allows you to not only prioritise UC traffic over other less important traffic, but also does so by utilising cheaper broadband Internet links. Offloading this traffic off your private MPLS network starts to make commercial and technical sense. This is a key contributor as to why Gartner believes that “By the end of 2019, 30% of enterprises will use SD-WAN products in all their branches, up from less than 1% today.”

Simplifies wide area networks with zero-touch deployment 

Deploying new sites, either over MPLS WAN or Internet, can become technically complicated and costly. Most deployments require complicated static configurations which require engineering resources to not only deploy but also maintain and make changes when inserting new services.

With SD-WAN, this is as simple as shipping a factory default device to site and enabling the site by one click provisioning. The onsite device will register with the orchestrator, download and activate its configuration based on centralised security and business priority policies, with SD-WAN your site is up and running in minutes not days.

Simplifies Insertion of services

Network service insertion in a MPLS WAN or Internet can be a very tedious and even expensive task. Adding say or Broadsofts UC-One as a business priority application on your network usually means consulting with your ISP to make these changes across your entire network. Not only does this take time, but some providers charge for these QoS changes, and in my experience rarely get it right the first time.

SD-WAN not only allows for one-click service insertion and prioritisation but also allows optimised performance to cloud and centralised enterprise services and quick integration into cloud security services such as ZScaler and Websense.

Post written by Greg de Chasteauneuf
Director / CTO
Saicom Voice Services (PTY) LTD


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