By: Cahit Akin
Editor’s Note: Occasionally, Enterprise Networking Planet is proud to run guest posts from authors in the field. Today, Cahit Akin of Mushroom Networks discusses how WAN virtualization and broadband bonding can cost-effectively optimize Unified Communications performance.
The demands of today’s increasingly mobile and tech-savvy workforce put pressure on the enterprise to offer anywhere, anytime communications—be they data, voice or video. Unified Communications (UC) technology, which converges a variety of real-time applications, such as video conferencing, telepresence, Voice over IP (VoIP), instant messaging, and interactive whiteboards, has long been touted as the answer. But UC can’t cut costs and boost productivity if network quality and reliability are uncertain.
There are emerging technologies that can directly improve network performance for Unified Communications applications without requiring enterprises to purchase additional, costly bandwidth. They can shield VoIP services from jitter, latency, and other common IP network problems that can drop packets and turn voice calls into garbled nonsense. WAN virtualization and broadband bonding, for example, combine bandwidth and layers in intelligence and management to enable simpler, higher-performing IP pipes. These technologies blend Internet lines into a single connection, increasing connectivity speeds, managing bandwidth and easing latency within IP tunnels. And advanced algorithms designed to monitor WAN links can make intelligent decisions about each packet of traffic so that nothing is ever late or lost during communication.
Today’s Unified Communications Market
Recent market research reflects a growing interest in UC, driven in large part by the proliferation of mobility and of mobile devices capable of video communications. According to Infonetics, enterprise UC revenues grew by 31 percent worldwide in 2013, and Infonetics forecasts the UC sector will grow 7 percent year-over-year from now through 2018. A recent report from Transparency Market Research is even more bullish on UC’s future. The firm estimates that the Unified Communications market will grow from $22.8 billion in 2011 to $61.9 billion in 2018, representing a year-over-year growth of 15.7 percent.
Video conferencing revenue, as reported by IDC, isn’t as impressive. The firm estimates that enterprise video conferencing market revenue declined 13.1 percent year-over-year to reach $2.26 billion in 2013. But IDC noted that interest in video and collaboration technology and applications is sustaining the market, as will the emergence of lower-cost products and cloud-based service offerings.
As for VoIP, enterprises are drawn to it not only because of the obvious benefits—lowered telecommunications costs and simplified deployments—but because VoIP also can offer advanced capabilities such as business disaster recovery and mobile features. Business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan estimates that the worldwide VoIP market will grow substantially, from $2.83 billion in 2013 to $9.35 billion in 2019.
Private WANS or Internet Lines?
UC initiatives that include video conferencing, VoIP and other communications are most cost-effective when they use the public Internet to connect branch and remote offices and end users. But the Internet can be less reliable, quality can be compromised by congestion, and its failover capabilities are weak or even non-existent. Each of these issues is particularly detrimental to video conferencing and VoIP. While data can tolerate some delays, latency, and packet loss, real-time applications cannot. Congestion and unpredictability contribute to jitter and the loss of transmitted data between network devices.
Latency—the time between when a packet is transmitted and the moment it reaches its destination—creates further issues, such as delays and echo. When Internet utilization or online application loads are high on the Internet, latency increases. Also, the average latency of an Internet connection varies depending on its type.
Ensuring UC Quality and Reliability without Costly MPLS
For some time, enterprises that can afford high-end Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) have been able to circumvent the quality and reliability issues associated with public Internet. But as enterprises expand their use of UC applications like video conferencing and VoIP beyond just a few users, many can’t afford the costs associated with MPLS. With new and emerging technologies, however, enterprises can have access to high-speed and redundant connections that leverage readily available, low-cost broadband.
WAN virtualization aggregates bandwidth and provides multipath multiplexing that enables the use of multiple WAN connections, including existing private WANs and various Internet WAN links like DSL, cable, fiber, and wireless. This lets enterprises dynamically maximize resource usage and increase network redundancy.
Combining WAN virtualization with broadband bonding technology further optimizes network connectivity. Bonding Internet lines into a single connection ensures faster connectivity, because the single connection can leverage the sum of all the line speeds. Broadband bonding also offers multiple built-in redundancies; the technology can automatically switch on a secondary line in case a primary link fails.
Some WAN virtualization techniques rely on advanced algorithms to further shield UC applications from the negative effects of IP. These decision algorithms can enforce application-specific goals such as increased throughput or reduced latency.
Enterprises are reconsidering their UC strategies, and more are looking to leverage UC applications. But they have to do so cost-effectively. Otherwise, the benefits of Unified Communications will fall short. New technologies such as WAN virtualization, broadband bonding, and advanced monitoring and intelligence can optimize the performance of inexpensive, IP-based broadband, boost connectivity speeds, and shield UC applications from jitter, latency and other unwanted behaviors that degrade performance.
Dr. Cahit Jay Akin is co-founder and CEO of Mushroom Networks, a privately held company based in San Diego, CA, providing broadband products and solutions for a range of Internet applications.