Software-defined networks could give UC performance a boost

Software-defined networks could be what enterprises need to ensure the performance and reliability of their UC applications and services.

Despite its status as an emerging trend and favored buzzword in the industry, software-defined networking hasn't gotten off the ground in the enterprise. Sonus Networks, a session border controller specialist, is betting that software-defined networks will become a necessary component for managing bandwidth for unified communications applications and services.

Sonus announced its $10.1 million acquisition of Treq Labs last week, and the vendor plans to use Treq's software-defined networking (SDN) technology to give its session border controllers (SBCs) the intelligence needed to dynamically manage UC traffic. 

Most enterprises are still unsure if their environments will benefit from SDN. However, as more enterprises adopt demanding applications that are causing network congestion -- such as voice and video UC tools -- SDN can ensure UC traffic has the resources it needs for reliable performance.

How software-defined networks can support UC

Enterprise network infrastructure is seldom able to handle taxing, real-time UC traffic, and UC performance suffers as a result. Once performance degrades, user adoption drops off.

Not every business will need a highly programmable network. But software-defined networks can give enterprises the ability to spin up capacity on the fly for high priority UC or collaboration sessions, as well as to set bandwidth policies that can dynamically adjust the quality of service (QoS) level based on user or communication mode. For example, voice could have priority over video.

Routers and switches typically have the intelligence to direct traffic, but Sonus is building this intelligence into its SBCs for enterprise customers. The vendor believes the SBC's placement in the network lends itself to broker requests to connect application needs with what the network can support, Kevin Riley, chief technology officer of Sonus, said.

"I see SDN as something that can help preserve, or even enhance, the UC experience within the enterprise, as UC adoption ramps up," Riley said.

But even though SDN could help combat real-time traffic, most enterprises still view SDN as a data center concept. Education would be needed to extend SDN into UC environments, Diane Myers, an analyst for Infonetics Research, based in Campbell, Calif., said.

"On the data side, we have routers and switches, and in the UC, voice, and video world, we have SBCs," she said. "It's not far-fetched for SDN to trickle into [the UC space] in order to deliver high levels of QoS for these applications and services."

Routers do not have visibility into MPLS tunnels, so they can't apply policies to all traffic flows. SDN allows for fine-grained policies to be changed in real time for individual sessions. Enterprises with a programmable network will be able to configure it to manage network traffic in real time and to determine whether to accept a specific UC session at the time it's requested, according to Riley. Enterprises would also be able to build in intelligence around user profiles by setting granular policies that can prioritize bandwidth between specific user addresses.

The Sonus SBC can give services or applications the intelligence to scale a video call down to audio when the network becomes too congested.

"Consulting with the network to decide what's possible in that moment is better than having 100 video calls taking place, and the 101st [video] session trashing the rest of the [sessions] that were humming along nicely," Riley said.

Software-defined networks trickle outside of the data center

It's no longer economical for enterprises to throw money at the problem by purchasing more routers, switches and bandwidth to accommodate an influx of real-time UC traffic. Expanding SDN outside of the confines of the data center could help enterprises lower capital expenses (capex), Riley said.

"Enterprises could run their networks hotter, and take advantage of existing investments instead of doubling down on hardware," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Gina Narcisi, senior news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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