Could SDN Help Reduce Some Complexity Of A UC Deployment?

Matt Christopher

February 24, 2016

A Brief History of Enterprise Voice

Through the last few decades of the 20th century, traditional TDM PBX’s, for the most part, were easy enough to troubleshoot and maintain.  When there was an issue, it was either the phone, the wire that connected the phone to the circuit pack, the circuit pack, the cabinet that housed the circuit pack or the processor.  5 things to troubleshoot and there was a direct relationship between the user and each component.

Throughout the first decade of the new millennium, more and more companies began to evaluate and deploy IP Telephony systems. Voice over IP (VoIP) systems further complicated maintaining, troubleshooting, and remediating issues with user voice quality.  Was this a phone system or was it data that needed to be managed over the network?  Frankly, a little of both.  Although the phone set was still plugged into a port on the wall, it was now routed and switched over the data network.  It was not the equivalent of one wire, but instead, it was packets being sent through any number of paths to get back to the IP Telephony server.   Telecom had to learn to work with the data team to understand how voice packets were treated on their network.  The only saving grace was that the data team could know that a phone was connected to a given port in the wall and could treat the traffic from that port differently.

If it’s Called Unified Communications, Why is the Communications Path So Diversified?

Starting with LCS and evolving to today’s Skype for Business offering, Microsoft has transformed the ways enterprise users collaborate and communicate. Presence integration into Outlook, SharePoint and other Office apps allows users to see which team members are available to communicate and collaborate at any given moment.  A person can join a conference call, add video, and share their desktop with just a few clicks.  And this can happen from anywhere at any time on a wide variety of desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.  It truly is universal communications.

For the end user, Skype for Business means empowerment and efficiency. For the IT Pro, it means potential complexity when it comes to monitoring, diagnosing, and remediating “communications quality” (voice, video, and collaboration).  Users can take their laptop with them and plug into any data plug in the wall.  How could the data network know that that user was using voice (or video) over IP?  Not to mention wireless.  How could the network possibly know that these were Skype for Business packets coming through the air to the access point that needed special handling from the data network?

What’s an IT Pro to Do?

Over the past couple of years, Microsoft’s SDN API has helped with diagnosing issues with the user’s communications experience by exposing the signaling for Microsoft UC communications and allowing companies, like Nectar, to incorporate that into their correlation of data necessary to identify the issue.

However, reactive diagnostics, even when getting in-call updates, still puts the IT Pro a step or two behind the curve.

What if Software Defined Networking (SDN) could actually help the application (software) optimize (define) how the network handled UC traffic? What if a software application like Skype for Business could define how the network behaved?   What if the network could know that packets coming from a particular device on a LAN port or over a wireless access point deserved special treatment?

There seems to be a lot of hype around SDN, but seemingly little actually available that can help an IT Pro with the current challenge of properly assigning QoS to users whenever they launched a Skype for Business call wherever they were in the office.

Stay tuned…