How SD-WAN Supports Videoconferencing

Software-defined WAN technology can help ensure enterprise-quality videoconferencing.

Jay Akin

June 24, 2016

3 Min Read
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More companies are investing in IP-based videoconferencing to foster collaboration among employees, partners, and customers who are often geographically dispersed. But if there are ongoing issues with video quality and performance -- employees won’t use the systems, IT teams will be frustrated with all the support issues, and executives won’t see their value. Emerging technologies such as software-defined WAN and network functions virtualization can ensure high-quality videoconferencing no matter the distance and sites spanned, from corporate headquarters to branch offices to home offices around the globe.

Videoconferencing is becoming much more a part of enterprise day-to-day activities and recent studies indicate adoption is on the rise. The global market for video-conferencing equipment and services was valued at $3.69 billion in 2014 and is expected to reach $7.8 billion by 2023, according to a report recently published by research firm Transparency Market Research. The growth is driven by the growing globalization of business organizations and their need for scalable communication methods that are cost-effective, the firm says.

Yet IT is apprehensive about implementing enterprise videoconferencing because, if past experience is any indication, videoconferencing done right can be costly because of the expensive and sometimes dedicated bandwidth resources required, and video done wrong is not reliable and therefore lacks value. It's imperative that the technologies enable secure, reliable, and high-quality videoconferencing that meets a company’s goals for collaboration and business, so that target ROIs can be achieved.

Companies have different options for implementing videoconferencing. They can install equipment in meeting rooms for larger-scale conferences, or implement solutions on desktops that can be used for ad-hoc meetings that employees conduct from their desks. Many companies will rely on a mix of in-room and desktop systems.

Also, many companies will want to leverage their existing IP networking to cut down on costs and realize the benefits of standard, interoperable components, as well as easier management. There are hosted, IP-based video-conferencing services, or businesses can adopt on-premise architectures to connect branch offices back to a central videoconferencing server over the IP network. Irrespective of the architecture, being able to identify the traffic type and support the applications’ quality-of-service requirements are fundamental to a successful implementation.

One approach is to have dedicated bandwidth for the video-conferencing system, such as an MPLS network connecting branches. The non-dynamic nature of this dedicated approach is not cost-effective. It also is limited to branch-to-branch video conferencing.

An SD-WAN based approach with NFV functions that support the QoS requirements of the video application will enable the dynamic bandwidth management of the existing WAN resources and therefore provide a much more cost-effective way of using the IP connectivity. It is important that the SD-WAN has the capability of treating video traffic in such a way that the network metrics critical for the video-conferencing application are optimized. One such approach involves broadband bonding, where two or more Internet lines can be combined to create a more resilient and a higher-performing tunnel.

As IT teams map out the video-conferencing systems that best meet their companies’ objectives, they will need to consider how many devices will likely be connected at any one time and how well their network capacity will serve those devices. If they choose IP networking, they will also have to address the fact that video-over-IP is susceptible to inconsistencies in quality and reliability of IP connections. Specialized NFVs can take care of the performance variations among the WAN links.

Employing SD-WAN and NFV in WANs helps network administrators easily make and enforce intelligent, precise rules about how network devices handle traffic and ensure quality of service is achieved for application flows. There are also NFVs that can meld various numbers of Internet lines into a single connection to create a bonded IP tunnel, add redundancy, and protect against any negative network conditions such as starvation, loss, latency and jitter.

Imagine using an NFV for videoconferencing that never drops a packet, never goes over a high-latency WAN link, and has minimized jitter: That’s a videoconferencing system employees, IT teams, and executives will value.

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