Successful SD-WAN solutions keep UC and collaboration applications top of mind.
According to a survey of 1,600 workers in the US and UK, 30 percent said they use between seven to more than 16 applications each day to get their work done. The survey, conducted by Wrike, aimed to determine what causes workplace stress.
We often think of workplace stress in the context of frontline employees. But what about IT? The ones who have to support all these applications.
Rarely do we think about the stress IT is under to support UC and collaboration.
For IT, like frontline employees, the modern workplace is complicated. Many applications that workers rely on now live in the cloud and are consumed through software-as-a-service (SaaS). The lion’s share of company revenue is now generated at the branch. And the rise of a dispersed workforce requires better video to improve remote meeting interactions and strengthen business relationships.
IT must facilitate all of this by managing networks that are being pushed to their limits because they were never designed to support the move from traditional, offline strategies to more modern digital experiences across the enterprise.
SD-WAN offers a way for IT to tackle the stress of managing the modern workplace because it is built with the modern workplace in mind. The network architecture ensures UC and collaboration applications are optimized, secure and highly available.
Designing for Collaboration in the Cloud
Many of our customers are evaluating or actively deploying UC and collaboration workloads in the cloud. Now it’s common for us to consult with customers about, say, a Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution, Cloud Calling or a Microsoft Teams pilot. And the majority of our customers are planning to adopt SaaS applications through infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).
This shift from on-premises to cloud collaboration, which in many cases can imply a hybrid state, requires us to evaluate the overall design of the network architecture.
When we use SD-WAN to design for UC and collaboration in the cloud, the benefits of SD-WAN shine.
Simplify the Branch
Branch deployment and network management are hard. There are performance, supporting network and security devices, management and assurance, and operational support, to name just some of the complexities.
The proper SD-WAN device can reduce the complexity of branch offices by addressing scalability, performance, manageability, reliability and secure branch-to-branch communication.
Most notably, SD-WAN allows for IT to maintain visibility, control and performance while sending UC traffic directly over internet/broadband.
SD-WAN improves a UC deployment by continuously monitoring throughput, packet loss, latency and jitter of the underlying WAN transport.
Typically, this is handled through the SD-WAN controller and visualized in the network management system or an orchestrator.
If packet loss is detected, automatic techniques such as tunnel bonding and path conditioning are enabled.
For example, a remote site with a single broadband service can sustain high-quality voice (a MOS score of 3.5 or higher) even with up to 7 percent packet loss using appropriate techniques. In a typical VoIP application, users start to complain around a MOS score of 3.5 or lower.
This is important and strategic as branches are likely to be migrated to a SaaS model before the rest of an enterprise IT environment.
Blame Tradition, Not the Cloud
IT wants flexibility and agility with a cloud-based UC solution, especially when it comes to performance and resiliency.
It’s common that organizations have relied on the traditional private network architecture to provide a highly secure, highly available and low-latent access to collaboration applications residing within their private data centers. In turn, this requires backhauling traffic intended for the cloud across the private network.
While this approach can work most of the time, it begins to unravel when we move to the cloud, with cloud getting an unfair knock.
Poor performance is often blamed on the cloud service, especially at a remote site. But, how, and to what effect, were UC/collaboration applications considered as part of the success criteria of the WAN redesign or SD-WAN solution?
A Cisco video call serves as a perfect example. A Webex Room Kit at a branch office in Atlanta and a Webex Room 70 in Chicago in many cases need to hairpin to the primary data center in California. In addition, factors such as reliability comes into play especially if the branches are connected via Internet VPN.
As these services move to a hosted or SaaS solution, such as Cisco HCS or Webex Calling, traffic flows and requirements change. It’s important to assess application routing and prioritization polices and latency with an SD-WAN solution to ensure corporate and branch sites are optimized and cloud ready.
In this example use case architecture, users at a branch connect to regional Hub or Colocation such as Equinix. This design may be relevant for customers who are not ready to move to a Direct Internet Access (DIA) but want a highly optimized experience that meets security and compliance requirements.
Don’t Leave Collaboration Applications on the Table
SD-WAN pushes away network traffic so employees can finally get seamless access to those all-so-important UC and collaboration applications.
Older, non-SD-WAN designed networks use high-cost, dedicated circuits like MPLS to ensure reliable performance of network traffic. Due to these high costs, organizations don’t have a lot of spare bandwidth.
Many times, if a branch location has internet connections, they will only be used as a backup. This means applications and endpoints like high-quality HD room systems that can improve workforce productivity and customer-facing digital experience like video-first meeting experiences or the integration of team collaboration with existing workloads, work styles, and systems never get deployed, and good applications are left on the table.
With an SD-WAN design, companies can now shift most of their traffic to low-cost broadband connects to the internet. This increases the overall bandwidth available at the branch. Since most traffic can now flow across these cheap circuits, that leaves more bandwidth with less congestion for the UC and collaboration applications.
In this example use case architecture, users at a branch site have direct cloud access leveraging multiple inexpensive broadband connections. SD-WAN will choose the most optimized local breakout and in turn reduce network delay for the communications application.
In fact, in our experience, organizations that have moved to SD-WAN more readily see improved productivity along with greater satisfaction with unified communications and conferencing applications.
This is particularly important as collaboration applications in the cloud have a different user experience and workflow. In addition, IT benefits from increased efficiency as a result of improved visibility and fewer onsite visits.
Same UC Quality, Different Approach
Today internet connections are quite reliable. Take for instance the explosion of Voice over IP (VoIP) carriers in the consumer space, like Skype, Google Duo and WhatsApp.
The majority of the time broadband connections work perfectly well. In a business that has SD-WAN, with multiple circuits, reliability can match that of high-cost MPLS circuits.
SD-WAN does this by monitoring the multiple links and choosing the one that’s best for an application’s needs. If a circuit starts to degrade while a call or video conference is in session, an SD-WAN solution automatically shifts traffic to another overlay circuit, usually without end users ever knowing the shift has happened.
Some SD-WAN vendors, like Cisco and Silverpeak can even do forward error correction (FEC). In these cases, vendors may duplicate traffic across multiple links as well as adding parity packets to the flow so traffic can be recreated at the other side, even if packets are missing.
Making SD-WAN Part of Your Collaboration Strategy
Every organization will have unique business and functional requirements, but there are a few key factors to consider when it applies to your collaboration strategy.
Business Quality: SD-WAN can help stabilize internet connections to maximize quality of service (QoS). When examining SD-WAN solutions, evaluate techniques like Forward Error Correction (FEC) and on-demand link conditioning as these specific techniques can make it look like conditions such as packet loss, service blackouts or jitter never existed.
Coverage: Make sure an SD-WAN solution provides centralized visibility, monitoring and control of the entire network. It’s also important the solution provides visibility into both the virtual overlay fabric and the physical underlay network. With these advanced performance and analytics capabilities, IT will have greater insights into application performance, path selection, QoS policies, and traffic management complexities.
Predictability: The performance of an SD-WAN solution must be predictable. To determine the predictability of performance, make sure to apply the following test cases: WAN impairment and failover; dynamic path selection; and conditioning and link saturation. This particularly will benefit an evolving contact center where network reliability and non-stop, unimpaired application uptime are a must for customer service.
Control: A big benefit of SD-WAN is its ability to give IT control over policy enforcement. Ask yourself, will an SD-WAN solution allow IT to enforce real-time traffic policies related to collaboration? What about web traffic policies such as Office 365?
Application and Service Requirements: Be sure to understand migration strategies for workloads and UC applications. Are some collaboration workloads moving to the cloud but not others? What about specific modalities? One important example I’ve discussed with customers is registering video endpoints to the cloud versus on-premise.There may be performance challenges with hosted video over the Internet without the proper network architecture and planning.
Dependability: Make sure an SD-WAN solution provides real-time application steering. You’ll want to look at thresholds of latency, packet loss and jitter. This is key in making sure your SD-WAN solution is capable of supporting cloud UC and video meetings.
Performance: A good SD-WAN solution should optimize Unified Communications and Video traffic without additional latency over a potentially over-subscribed or congested WAN. This is especially true if your organization is global. If it can’t provide these characteristics applications like conferencing may suffer.
The influx of collaboration applications in the workplace isn’t slowing down and neither are upgrades to feature and functionality. The good news is that the right collaboration strategy can eliminate the noise and give frontline employees the right set of tools that make their lives at work easier.
But as collaboration pushes forward, we can’t forget about IT and the network. We need to re-design the network if we’re going to get the most out of UC and collaboration applications.
SD-WAN helps alleviate workplace stress on the frontlines and in back offices. And, wherever we work within an organization, it’s always nice to go home with a little less stress.
Thank you to Rob Phillips for contributing to this article.