Modernizing your Cloud based UC RFP strategy

John A. Mowatt, Director, Colt Technology
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John A. Mowatt, Director, Colt Technology

One of the most daunting tasks for IT executives today is developing their cloud based UC requirements that are in lock step with their organization’s Software Defined Network strategy.

If you are an IT executive that does not already have a Software Defined Network or SDN strategy you may be surprised that you will soon notice that publications and vendors alike will, more prevalently, begin to tie UC in with the other now ubiquitous acronym, SDN. The advent of SDN having an impact on your company's UC strategy may quickly become troublesome if you don't stay ahead of the curve. There is nothing to fear as long as you future proof your cloud based UC RFP requirements.

To make sure you are prepared for this paradigm shift, first and foremost, it is imperative that the decision makers and those involved in developing directional UC RFPs understand the basics of SDN. By ignoring SDN’s hand in a directional UC strategy one could adversely impact future UC budget expenditures.

SDN solves many of the UC management challenges particularly with application performance by accommodating changes to network prioritization in real time based on the needs of the user or application. One of the ways SDN minimizes some of the complexities of UC management is with the automated configuration of routers. Another key benefit of SDN is to reduce the level of effort to ensure VoIP or other priority packet flows are handled with adequate QoS based on time of day or its potential contention with, for example, an off-hours backup process or software patch broadcast. These multimedia priority queues can vary wildly with major events or the fluctuating demands of the end users. To address these challenges, SDN allows IT network managers full control over the prioritization of traffic to maximize the performance of the numerous applications and subsequently avoid unacceptable packet delay for even the least forgiving and intolerant applications.

  ​Modernizing or future proofing your Cloud UC strategy should be to include Transport Service Providers and Carriers in your UC RFP distribution 

In the coming few years, mid to large enterprise will fully embrace SDN because of its massive costs savings potential, primarily because it allows companies the flexibility of using bare metal gear or non-proprietary hardware in their networks. Traditionally, the enterprise had to issue RFPs and subsequently choose one or two vendors to fulfill their underlying UC network transport architecture requirements. SDN allows the enterprise to take advantage of commodity hardware and virtualize network functions across an open source platform. Another acronym to be aware of when exploring SDN technology solutions is NFV or Network Function Virtualization. This attribute of the open source SDN framework called NFV is where physical appliances are allowed to run in the virtual space and all network functions are virtualized by software all managed by a software based controller. The enterprise saves money because the license fees are drastically reduced with non-propriety network solutions, software updates can occur in the SDN cloud and fewer physical technician road trips are required. In addition to these benefits of SDN and NFV, leveraging these technologies allows users to have significantly more control over their network connectivity ordering with their carriers. Reason being is that carriers have portals with APIs to allow for bandwidth on demand or maintenance ticketing with live updates. With carrier integration of your SDN networks enterprises can add, remove or modify features that can be enabled in minutes instead of weeks.

The space within the end-to-end technology solution where UC gets tied in with SDN is specifically where the UC application transmits the multimedia application performance parameters to the intelligent software network. These requests for performance needs are sent through the application programming interfaces or SDN APIs. The SDN APIs in turn maximize end user quality, traffic engineering, overall QoS, network authentication and traffic admission. Traditionally, QoS performance was one of the few metrics Network Managers have relied on to ensure a high level of quality in your enterprise communication systems. Enter QoE or Quality of Experience, which now raises the bar and allows for organizations to more closely monitor the actual performance as it appears to the end user of the UC device. One of the benefits of SDN in your UC strategy is its inherent capability when it comes to QoE.

If you are interested in the inner workings of the communication from UC to the SDN platform I recommendation consulting the International Multimedia Telecommunications Consortium (IMTC) specifications directly. The IMTC specification documentation contains 45 pages of information on the Automated Quality of Service (QoS) tagging, Automated Admission Control, Automated Traffic Engineering and includes several enlightening diagrams.

Since your RFP for cloud enabled UC should factor in the SDN strategies, I would highly recommend that you consider including SDN focused firms in your RFP rather than limiting the RFP issuance to the Cloud UC service provider or traditional hardware focused UC vendors. The reason to include these SDN focused vendors is that, although SDN is supposed to be open or vendor agnostic, its implementation cannot successfully occur without having a specialist with know-how and experience to help guide you and your company through the challenging maze of SDN with Cloud UC adoption. There are several capable vendors, now with a few years of SDN experience under their belts.

The implementation of an SDN strategy can be overwhelming or possibly even impossible for a smaller mid-sized enterprise, which may be best served by focusing all its naturally limited resources on its own core business. There are several options for these smaller businesses to avoid taking on a combined SDN UC solution with few resources. In these situations, you can issue an RFP to a Cloud based UC service provider that manages the SDN functions on the transport carrier or service provider side possibly relieving you of the need to roll out your own SDN.

If deploying SDN in-house could potentially rob your organization of far too many resources where it would be a detriment to your mission, then you can leave SDN out of your RFP altogether and still have a clear conscious. You can do this through a Cloud based UC solution where a carrier or service provider would manage the underlying SDN as well as the UC functionality. If this is a better solution for your smaller firm, there are several domestic cloud based UC providers that can respond to your RFP. However, one should be mindful that the regulatory hurdles should not be ignored. If, for example, you want your CRM platform to work for your global sales force that is using BYOD VPN to access your WAN, you will likely require regulatory expertise. If you plan on expanding outside your borders, your RFP should include a request for international SLA or at least some level of international performance guarantees. In this case consider issuing your RFP to service providers that can handle your unique circumstances. Which carrier you invite to your RFP would largely depend on where your needs are globally. For example, your organization may have a call center in the west as well as in-country sales people so you would most likely need a service provider that covers the locations where your staff travels. Because the domestic service providers are more versed in the services in those areas and intimate with those domestic coverage areas they can likely ensure better QoE metrics. Conversely, if you have call centers and sales people in multiple time zones and possibly international, I recommend you consult with a Global Service provider that is well versed in SDN and supports a highly available cloud-based UC product.

Of course, you want a consistent IT experience everywhere. If your organization operates in North America, Asia and/or Europe, you can, for example, consider engaging a Global Cloud UC provider such as Colt of the UK. Their Colt Cloud UC platform ties voice calling, IP connectivity, and applications together over the same transport solution making them available anytime, anywhere, and on any device. In addition to addressing your global performance requirements, your organization can simplify the accounts payable processing by working with one Cloud UC provider that can handle the multinational requirements. All your systems and processes will work more efficiently with one supplier providing all application and infrastructure services. Moreover, Colt’s Cloud UC solution can satisfy the employee demand for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the flexibility to work from anywhere when it makes sense to your business. Your staff will be able to access all applicable network resources available on your WAN from the same Cloud UC platform. This platform supports IP telephony and can leverage your company’s custom SIP Trunking with managed call routing functionality. If your needs are even partially global, the Colt Cloud UC solution stands out because it is a regulatory compliant & geographically distributed cloud service that supports BYOD, there is no investments in equipment thanks to pay as you grow “as a service” model, and most importantly, there are no hardware, Software licensing or maintenance fees.

In summary, modernizing or future proofing your Cloud UC strategy should be to include Transport Service Providers and Carriers in your UC RFP distribution. The carriers are getting smarter at integrating UC and implanting SDN.  In the past, enterprises would send RFPs to UC focused companies and rely solely on those companies to piece together a solution which met the requirements. The landscape is changing to where you can further reduce your UC expenses through cutting out the resale of some services and eliminating license fees by issuing your RFP direct to your transport or network service providers as well as your potential UC and SDN vendors.

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