SD-WAN FEATURED ARTICLE
Leveraging Voice-Centric SD-WAN For More Effective Optimization
Software-defined wide area networks, or SD-WANs, optimize network traffic in distributed environments that often comprise multiple branch locations. These solutions allocate a company’s bandwidth, enabling the delivery of high-priority data traffic with greater reliability and consistent performance. Among the different data types that require consistent performance are unified communications services utilizing voice. These services are fundamental in any business environment, but are most critical in customer engagement scenarios, where prompt, efficient, and comprehensive service can make or break a company.
SD-WAN adoption is gaining momentum: Gartner’s (News - Alert) recent Market Guide for WAN Edge Infrastructure report predicts that 25 percent of companies will adopt one form of an SD-WAN solution in the next two years. This represents a notable opportunity for MSPs and resellers. However, when proposing solutions in this market, it’s important to assess the use model and traffic types a business employs. If voice makes up any part of the data stream, a voice-centric SD-WAN solution is critical to stakeholder satisfaction.
So, why do many companies already utilizing these bandwidth optimization capabilities still report sub-par quality on voice calls, including distortion, reduced intelligibility, and even dropped calls — despite an SD-WAN environment?
The reason is simple: Unfortunately, in most SD-WAN deployments, voice is often lumped in with other functions, such as business applications, email, web, and messaging data, which often minimizes call quality.
Most SD-WAN networks have been configured with a broad focus on data optimization, placing little emphasis on voice traffic. Companies that employ data-centric optimization are doing themselves a disservice, considering that a significant percentage of business communications — and particularly customer service — still depends on voice. When bandwidth becomes constricted from high traffic loads or factors in the network for those businesses utilizing VoIP, these services suffer the most perceptible degradation. This creates a tangible impact on a business’ ability to communicate effectively with customers, partners, and other stakeholders.
This dynamic needs to change, as most every business recognizes the higher value of voice communications.
Flipping the Perspective on SD-WAN Deployment
The reseller needs to approach bandwidth optimization from a voice-centric perspective to ensure not just optimal network operations, but also clear and consistent voice communication for customers. The voice-centric approach not only manages bandwidth utilization through prioritization of voice packets, but also looks beyond the network endpoints. For voice traffic, the SD-WAN service should proactively assess network performance, and when delays are detected, make adjustments to ensure the best voice quality. Included among these proactive measures are packet duplication and alternate routing to provide higher probability of on-time receipt, with lower jitter and latency.
If a company’s bandwidth capacity is strained, data-centric applications, such as email, web browsing, and platforms like Salesforce.com and Microsoft (News - Alert) Office, continue to function with a latency that is barely distinguishable to the user. Most companies don't struggle to access applications like Salesforce.com, HubSpot (News - Alert), or NetSuite. They do, however, frequently experience jitter and other challenges with their voice applications. When considering an SD-WAN solution, MSPs must prioritize what matters most to their end-users and address those applications that are more vulnerable to compromise when bandwidth is constrained. Don’t go where your clients don’t need you to go. Prioritize voice.
Voice traffic is far more susceptible to inferior performance in instances of overburdened bandwidth. We’ve all experienced calls plagued with everything from tinniness to abject call failure. This interference frustrates callers and directly impacts customer service — a far worse transgression than a fractional-second lag in the loading of a web page.
Even when voice traffic receives top priority in an SD-WAN environment, the impact on data performance is negligible. The prioritization of voice doesn’t consume any more bandwidth than the network already supports. In fact, most companies have access to far more bandwidth than they’ll ever require. Poor voice performance is typically the result of a lack of optimization. This is why companies that never perceive an appreciable data issue still tend to suffer problems with voice quality.
Aside from delivering better technology, the sale of a truly optimized SD-WAN solution gives channel resellers an opportunity to deepen their relationship with customers, add enhanced value, and really differentiate their capabilities and insights in a competitive market. Superior optimization helps position the reseller as a trusted IT partner, one whose expertise solves real-world problems. The end-user, in turn, will differentiate their business through a more consistent and satisfying communications engagement experience for their constituents, free from many of the irritating distractions of poor voice transmissions.
The question remains, then: Why aren’t more companies delivering optimization this way? For the most part, the larger players in the marketplace have been data providers, and voice traffic was either carried over a separate network (PSTN or SIP Trunks), or used as justification for buying a bigger WAN pipe. With the greater dependence on VoIP for business-critical communications, combined with economical access to significantly more bandwidth, businesses now have more options at their disposal. Further, SD-WAN solutions, unlike IP, are not a defined standard, which means suppliers implement their solution as they see fit. To date, the majority have been focused on data and not voice.
Data latency was a major concern when companies were dependent on low-end cable and DSL transport, which was rife with challenges for a business-grade network. Yet, in this age of large wide-area pipes, bandwidth is rarely lacking.
Here’s our favorite optimization analogy: If you want your car to move faster, you don’t buy a new road. You make sure your car is performing properly. Businesses want to move faster, become more agile, and increase their bottom line through greater customer satisfaction. Sometimes, companies purchase more bandwidth instead of optimizing what they have. Even with a fatter bandwidth pipe, unless the network is optimized with a voice-centric SD-WAN approach, voice quality will continue to be middling, creating a frustrating and potentially detrimental experience for callers.
Buying more bandwidth is akin to buying more road. You’re on wider pavement, but you’re still not going any faster. A voice-oriented approach to SD-WAN is a far more effective strategy for your business customers. It allows companies to fine-tune what they already have, giving them the ability to maximize performance and keep their stakeholders happy. This should be the ultimate consideration in selecting any network solution.
For the latest updates on SD-WAN implementations, strategies, and use cases, as well as the biggest trends impacting managed service providers, don’t miss the exciting programs on tap at SD-WAN Expo and MSP Expo in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, taking place January 30-February 1, 2019.
About the author: Don Nawrocki serves as CoreDial’s (News - Alert) Chief Technology Officer and is responsible for overseeing key technical aspects of the company, including software development, quality assurance, infrastructure and IT operations. Don focuses on inspiring and leading team members, helping to attract and retain top talent, and implementing scalable and repeatable best practice technologies and procedures.
Don is an award-winning, experienced technology leader who helped build many of the Philadelphia region’s high-tech successes. Don was honored with the 2016 Philadelphia Tech Disruptor Award and the first-annual Timmy Award for 2016 Best Technology Manager in Philadelphia, both awarded by Philadelphia Business Journal. Prior to CoreDial, Don served as CTO of PeopleLinx, Chief Architect at GSI Commerce (now Radial), Director of Development and Quality Assurance at Procurian (now Accenture (News - Alert)), and CIO at Neat. Don earned a BSE in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.
CoreDial is the leading UCaaS platform and business model focused on driving channel success and empowering over 800 partners to deliver cloud communications solutions The company offers a unique SD WAN offering developed along with VeloCloud, ensuring the highest quality voice traffic.
Edited by Erik Linask