In ISG’s 2023 Network Modernization Trends End-User Survey, 54% of respondents indicated they had adopted Voice over IP (VoIP) and Unified Communication as a Service (UCaaS) at all their key office locations. More than 40% said they had adopted software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology. (See chart below.) While both SD-WAN and UCaaS solutions are being deployed by leading global organizations, companies seem to make these decisions separately, and at different times. And many do not necessarily choose to deploy both technologies.
Figure 1: Findings from ISG’s 2023 Network Modernization End-User Survey
SD-WAN brings much-needed agility and flexibility to enterprise WANs, making it part of every network transformation discussion. And the drivers for SD-WAN technology—optimized multi-cloud and hybrid cloud connectivity, network cost savings, improved network agility, and deep visibility into application and network performance—are invaluable to UCaaS solutions.
UCaaS is a cloud delivery model for an enterprise collaboration platform that combines telephony, messaging, presence, online meetings, video conferencing and team collaboration. Combining managed SD-WAN service with hosted voice and collaboration services offers a compelling value as it directly improves application performance on internet-based networks and eliminates the need for expensive MPLS links.
SD-WAN Is Central to Network Transformation
The network is the foundation and enabler for all enterprise solutions, be it cloud, collaboration tools, IoT or big data analytics. As businesses increasingly embrace hybrid and multi-clouds to distribute their enterprise applications, securing connectivity to the cloud is critical. An SD-WAN architecture uses SDN principles to separate the data plane from the control plane in the WAN. It abstracts the underlying transport networks (MPLS, ethernet, wireless, satellite) and shifts control intelligence from edge devices to a centralized, software-based controller.
SD-WAN technology brings much-needed agility and flexibility to hybrid IT deployments. For example, the SD-WAN appliance (deployed in physical or virtual format) can automatically route traffic bound to the cloud on internet links and to corporate datacenters on private links, based on predefined policies by network administrators.
The emergence of new SD-WAN technology allows enterprises to architect networks that are reliable and optimized for cloud connectivity, using a combination of public (widely available and inexpensive) and private (reliable and expensive) network services, with a superior quality of service. Network and application security is integral to every technology an enterprise deploys. Second-generation SD-WAN solutions offer deep security features for enterprises to deploy while doing internet breakout to cloud-based applications.
UCaaS Is Central to Voice and Collaboration Platform Transformation
UCaaS is a cloud delivery model for an enterprise collaboration platform that combines telephony, messaging, presence, online meetings, video conferencing and team collaboration. While on-premises unified communications (UC) platforms have been available since mid-1990s, they require expensive hardware, take up too much space and depend on dedicated IT teams – all of which limit adoption. On-prem UC platforms are also better suited for traditional branch-site communications, which are no longer in high demand with the rise in hybrid work.
Hosted UC or UCaaS offers enterprises the flexibility of an as-a-service cost model, in which the service provider (telco/managed service provider/value added reseller) hosts the platform and manages the solution end-to-end. Because UCaaS is cloud-based, it allows enterprises to enhance productivity for remote/hybrid workers, allow for capacity adjustments on the go and provide location-agnostic services on both desktop and mobile platforms. One limiting factor for UCaaS adoption has been connectivity. To ensure reliable connection to the entire cloud-based communication and collaboration system, enterprises must invest in private network connectivity such as MPLS or Ethernet, which adds significant cost to the UCaaS solution.
5 Benefits of Sourcing SD-WAN with UCaaS at the Same Time
Managed service provider-hosted VoIP and UCaaS solutions are commonly integrated with SD-WAN. SD-WAN technology enhances UCaaS performance by delivering the quality of service, reliability and security UCaaS requires.
Here are five reasons organizations should consider SD-WAN and UCaaS together in their network transformation plans.
- Superior application performance: application-level performance monitoring is critical in UCaaS solutions to make sure users can collaborate seamlessly irrespective of location (including at branch sites, headquarters and remotely). In SD-WAN deployments, the controller makes routing decisions by comparing the quality of service (QoS) of various applications via network intelligence from edge devices to the input received from network administrators. Network administrators define network QoS requirements—bandwidth, latency, jitter, packet loss—for specific applications, which the controller translates into routing policy for edge devices, to choose the optimal path for sending traffic.
- Faster deployment times: the biggest value of cloud-based applications is that they can be deployed in an agile manner. By combining SD-WAN with UCaaS, the connectivity piece adapts seamlessly as your organization adds new sites. New branch locations can deploy SD-WAN equipment and start with readily available wireless LTE service, while waiting for a network service provider to provision wired services (to provide internet or MPLS). MPLS service provisioning times can run into multiple weeks in some scenarios; SD-WAN ensures that new branch initiatives are not deterred due to long provisioning cycles of wired services.
- Cost savings: deploying expensive MPLS links to ensure reliable connectivity to UCaaS applications can be cost prohibitive. SD-WAN enables cost-efficient use of public internet and private networks to make the UCaaS solution more appealing to enterprises. Enterprises can use aggregated, inexpensive internet links to achieve high-speed bandwidth for less critical applications, while continuing to use private networks to run mission-critical applications via higher cost, private WAN services (like MPLS or Ethernet).
- Enhanced security: Network and application security is integral to every technology an enterprise deploys. While SD-WAN technology alone can address the agile connectivity needs of hybrid cloud environments, the increased usage of the internet increases security risks. With secure access service edge (SASE), the network and security components are agile and flexible enough to keep up with the agility the cloud model offers. Based on predefined security policies for each application, the SD-WAN solution automatically makes routing decisions. For example, a remote user trying to access a SaaS-based application is routed to the nearest secure web gateway (SWG) to authenticate credentials, whereas a user trying to access an ERP application hosted in a corporate private datacenter is routed to the nearest firewall. Enterprises can seamlessly source network, cloud, and security applications in an as-a-service model by combining SD-WAN (and SASE) and UCaaS.
- Simplified network management: With SD-WAN, the ease of deployment and centralized control eliminates the need for a network engineer at every location, resulting in lower network management costs. The ability to centrally control and manage thousands of edge devices can be of immense value for highly distributed enterprise verticals such as retail, healthcare, and banking. By integrating UCaaS and SD-WAN – and potentially sourcing it through a managed service provider – enterprises can benefit from a holistic solution that is deployed and managed by a single provider.
How Enterprises Should Think about UCaaS
UCaaS solutions witnessed unprecedented growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the hybrid work trend continues to grow, enterprise demand for collaboration tools will remain strong. At the same time, SD-WAN technology has made deeper inroads into enterprise networks. Enterprises that need to distribute critical enterprise applications across multiple clouds and hybrid IT deployments need always-on network connectivity. From a sourcing perspective, purchasing UCaaS and SD-WAN at the same time, preferably from a single managed service provider, ensures the technologies are deeply integrated, as opposed to just buying two different products with different purchase orders, that come with different replacement cycles.
ISG helps enterprises navigate rapidly evolving trends across network, cloud and security solutions markets and make the most of their technology investments. Contact us to find out how we can help.