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Many network engineers did not have bandwidth-hungry, real-time communications in mind when they built their wired and wireless networks. But as adoption of UC tools and applications grows, they need to ready their networks to support new voice and video traffic.
The challenge of making traffic from new applications and devices -- especially personal devices -- run smoothly over wired and wireless networks was a reoccurring theme at this year's Interop Las Vegas. "Many networks were not designed to run voice and video all the time, but [enterprise] networks need to adapt … to give businesses a return on investment on these [UC] tools," said Tina Herrera, director of campus marketing for Juniper Networks during a bring your own device panel at Interop.
Supporting real-time communications begins with network assessment phase
Many UC deployments begin with selecting a vendor, but the network should be one of the first considerations. Many enterprises are moving to an all-wireless environment, and running UC on wireless networks can present new opportunities. Businesses may be able to avoid congestion on the wired network by running UC traffic over the top, on the wireless network, said Bill Haskins, partner and senior analyst of Duxbury, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research LLC. The problem is, "many wireless networks were not implemented, with the expectation of seamless, real-time traffic coverage. The ability to send and receive email is there, but not the ability to walk around with a laptop while doing a voice call," he said.
A high-quality link to carry UC traffic requires headroom or extra capacity for scaling, something many wireless LANS are not designed with, said Craig Mathias, principal at the Ashland, Mass.-based advisory firm Farpoint Group.
"A lot of businesses have installed wireless LANs in such a way that they are stretched to the limit, often oversubscribed way more than 50% of the time," he said. Capacity is further driven down, thanks to factors like interference, radio propagation and roaming clients.
Juniper recently rolled out Microsoft Lync globally across all its offices, Herrera said. "We are a networking company, and it was really hard to do this," she admitted. "Our networks were originally not designed to have voice and video running consistently over the network from a variety of different locations and devices." Auditing existing infrastructure and conducting a wireless LAN site survey are critical first steps that must come before rolling out UC technology, she said.
While site surveys for coverage is a good first step, the best planning phases also include spectrum analysis for determining heavy pockets of usage within the building, followed by a proactive testing phase, Wainhouse's Haskins said.
"You want to gather metrics based on testing before deploying any UC to the end users -- rather than just doing a sizing exercise," he said.
Capacity and management upgrades will help support a UC rollout
Denser deployments of access points -- a combination of adding more, or moving some access points closer together -- is the best way to immediately improve overall capacity, Farpoint's Mathias said. "You want to minimize latency, provide as much headroom as possible, and take advantage of multiple channels so you have enough room for real-time, streaming traffic," he said.
Many modern wireless LAN products also offer ways to tune performance to support voice, like deep-packet inspection capabilities tied to specific UC platforms. But even mission-critical networks designed for one function -- such as a Voice over IP network -- will still fail once and a while. "You never know when there is going to be a huge burst of traffic -- it's a question of how it's managed and is it tuned properly," Mathias said.
More on UC and real-time communications on enterprise networks:
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Expert answer: Can UC technology be tied to a smart grid system?
How to integrate mobile UC into your infrastructure
Rather than upgrading the network in stages by accommodating voice first and growing into supporting more demanding traffic -- like real-time video communications -- some enterprises will want to make changes to their infrastructure all at once. Separating voice and video workloads is becoming less important as video protocols improve, allowing for better quality with less bandwidth, Haskins said. "It depends on what kind of collaboration culture you want to implement, and what you want to grow into -- it's a personal decision that is going to change for every business."
Employees will be using video whether or not the network is ready, Mathias said. "YouTube is one of the most popular sites, and [video] is being added into social networks as well, so you shouldn't upgrade piece by piece," he said.
Businesses still have the option to prioritize certain traffic, however.
"Assuming [employees] are using video for productive purposes, enterprises want to make sure they aren't disappointing anyone," he said. "Networks should always be optimized for the productivity of the user."