Cloud Phone systems, also known as Hosted Phone Systems, are the choice solution of enterprises large and small with 70% having made the move or planning to make the move per Information Week. The reasons for this vary dramatically based on the specific business and sector they belong to. Cost savings and productivity top the list.
A 100 employee company, with 191 working days saves up to $920,000 annually in productivity by effectively using tools to reach staff on the first try, manage messages more effectively, work remotely and use of well-defined Interactive Voice Response systems. Whether making the switch because your existing system is failing or you are looking to gain cost savings and productivity, careful planning is required to ensure your new phone system is a success.
When comparing traditional IP Phone systems with Cloud Phone solutions there are two primary differences; the gear is owned, housed and managed by the provider and the connection to your system is over the internet instead of using traditional voice circuits like T1s, Copper Lines and PRI. With voice being delivered remotely, businesses are now more dependent on their Internet access than ever, any blip or degradation in service creating major issues communicating with clients and co-workers. In addition to voice, many other applications either have, or will migrate to the cloud, competing with your voice traffic for space.
Unlike your traditional voice network where voice is prioritized at every juncture, your voice packets are traversing the open internet with no Quality of Service (QoS). If the circuit used for voice fails, so do calls, or you add a second circuit, slam it into your firewall and in the event of a complete interruption in service from the primary carrier the firewall will failover to the second circuit. This doesn't resolve the larger issue with hosted voice; the circuit is active but performing poorly causing dropped calls, choppy voice and an overall poor experience for users and clients. To resolve QoS and improve reliability some providers offer a direct connection to their datacenter, but this leaves a single point of failure on a poorly utilized and expensive circuit. Although high speed internet is prevalent in the US, it is far from ubiquitous leaving many rural locations with limited options for bandwidth. Without solid bandwidth, these organizations are unable to take advantage of the value Hosted Phone systems provide. Despite the huge advantages Cloud Phone solutions provide, as a stand-alone product they have presented many challenges for network administrators to sort through, there is a better way forward, SD-WAN.
The effects of a poor performing circuit on voice:
Statistics pulled from Bigleaf.
With SD-WAN technology our IT teams can now identify the critical applications, including voice, running across their data connections and prioritize them both inbound and outbound. The cloud based service will recognize the difference between UDP and TCP/IP traffic giving priority to the real-time applications, no one has ever complained about an email taking 3 extra seconds, but a 3 second delay on voice is unusable. SD-WAN provides visibility into the traffic flows, providing insight into the amount of bandwidth needed, by application, by site allowing us to make intelligent decisions about adding bandwidth. Adding a circuit to a SD-WAN solution is simple, doesn't require advanced routing configurations and is completed without command line type programming.
Cloud based SD-WAN uses "gateways" strategically located in datacenters across the globe to deliver QoS across the last mile. Their massive data pipes and strategic placement of infrastructure near top peering points ensures the data is lightning fast between your application and their "gateways." With this topology and the local SD-WAN Layer 7 aware devices voice and other top applications are granted top priority both in and out, ensuring consistent high quality voice. With constant monitoring and reporting the solution will automatically send packets across the path best suited for the specific traffic. An example of this would-be voice traffic will be sent down a stable low latency connection like DSL at lower speeds, while downloads, web browsing and other traffic uses a less consistent but much faster coaxial connection.
Failover isn't Good Enough
Best practice for deploying a Cloud Phone solution is using at least two data circuits. Unlike a traditional Firewall setup where a connection is designated as primary for voice and the second for redundancy, SD-WAN uses both circuits as appropriate. If a circuit begins to perform poorly the solution will move the traffic to the best available circuit, BGP would need a total failure to perform the same function leaving voice quality suffering in the meantime. If a circuit does fail and you are stuck using a single circuit for all internet connectivity, the SD-WAN solution protects you, continuing to prioritize the real-time traffic. Service like social networks, general web browsing and YouTube are moved to the back of the line, your most important applications continue to operate at peak performance.
Sites with Limited Bandwidth
Although we have seen a steady increase in the accessibility of low cost, high speed bandwidth, most of this growth has been concentrated in high density urban areas. Rural offices suffer with limited market competition and a serious lack of investment in high speed infrastructure like Fiber backbone. SD-WAN resolves this issue naturally by prioritizing the critical traffic and combining low bandwidth solutions to provide better speed. In some cases, creativity is required, using LTE, Satellite or other wireless ISP services to increase bandwidth and offer failover. Using metered services is simple to setup and control using SD-WAN toolsets.
Cloud Phone providers often use legacy point to point, or MPLS connections to handoff directly to their clients. This is a major advantage from a performance perspective with only voice traffic traversing the circuit and QoS applied from the provider's datacenter to your facility. This sounds great on paper but the reality is not quite as pretty. The cost of these dedicated circuits can be expensive reducing the value of your Cloud Phone deployment. Failover is more complex, with the burden to fail appropriately squarely on the shoulders of your provider. For example, if they have multiple data-centers, are you to build out in to multiple in case there is a failure? Using the right SD-WAN gear a direct circuit can be used in conjunction providing automated failover, but increasing the cost even further. In the end for most environments an over the top delivery strategy with SD-WAN is going to be more cost effective with very little or no degradation in performance.
SD-WAN + Cloud Phone
SD-WAN technology answers the prayers of the providers and their clients in one magic box. This tactic will improve overall Internet performance, cloud application performance and reliability. SD-WAN can displace or work alongside MPLS/VPN or other private networks, reducing cost, increasing bandwidth and improving reliability of those solutions. There are many reasons to deploy SD-WAN beyond use with Cloud Phone service, but in my humble opinion it might be the best use case yet. Ultimately, SD-WAN is about improving the experience for your employees and clients, a more reliable solution designed with the future of technology in mind.
Next Article: Why is SD-WAN the Next Big Thing?!?
Author: Kyle Holmes