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How to manage hybrid cloud QoS in unified communications

The two most common approaches to a hybrid UC configuration require different management techniques to maintain hybrid cloud QoS for voice, video and other real-time communications.

If you're looking to the cloud to offload some of your unified communications but aren't ready to go full SaaS, then a hybrid cloud UC architecture might be the right choice for you. That said, it's important to note that hybrid cloud design and management are different from full on-premises deployments. This is especially true regarding your ability to maintain quality of service for end users.

The capacity to manage QoS depends on where the UC data flows go and if you can manage various quality settings across those links. For on-premises deployments, these questions are easy to answer. But, for hybrid cloud deployments, it becomes more complicated.

Let's look at two of the most common hybrid cloud communications architectures and what you need to do to facilitate end-to-end cloud QoS.

Corporate offices on premises, branches in the cloud

One hybrid cloud UC strategy is to maintain on-premises UC hardware and software in the corporate office and migrate branch offices to a UC as a service (UCaaS) model. For many organizations, the corporate office is where most unified voice, video and collaboration use resides. Thus, a legacy on-premises design is probably already fully integrated within the organization and operates well across a high-speed corporate LAN.

But remote branch offices are a different story and where UCaaS truly shines. That said, however, branch office communications may require some network design and UC configuration changes to help them run optimally.

For most UCaaS deployments, all communications will flow through the public cloud. Usually, this is done across the internet but could also be a private WAN link to the service provider's data center. If your branch offices use the internet to connect to public cloud UCaaS, little can be done from a strict cloud QoS perspective once the data leaves your network.

However, if the branch office has multiple internet links, you can architect intelligent internet link load balancing with intelligent path analysis. This provides the ability to monitor both internet links in real time using probes sent down the circuits to where your UC cloud resources are located. The load balancer will then send UC data down the path that provides the lowest network latency and jitter at that given moment.

While this public cloud UC architecture doesn't provide complete control over quality, it certainly helps and is often sufficiently reliable for many enterprise organizations.

Managing hybrid cloud QoS locally

The second hybrid cloud communications architecture requires UC administrators to install a hardware appliance at the branch office that is cloud managed, yet performs most UC services locally. This includes connectivity across a WAN to the corporate on-premises UC platform for real-time data flows that are sensitive to latency and jitter, such as voice and video.

In this hybrid cloud scenario, the quality design for maintaining intercompany UC quality will include traditional QoS configurations to identify, mark and prioritize voice, video and other time-sensitive collaboration data flows across the WAN.

Additionally, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) architectures can add an additional layer of intelligence to load-balanced flows in a similar fashion to intelligent link load balancing. Yet, in this SD-WAN scenario, you have far greater control over the QoS because you have full control over the network. That said, keep in mind hybrid models that include private WAN links and SD-WAN technologies are more complex and expensive to manage.

The bottom line for hybrid cloud communications and quality boils down to business need. If UC is considered business-critical, then the added resiliency and control should be built in by keeping data flows local. However, if UC is simply a nice-to-have technology, then the simplicity and cost savings of public cloud hybrid deployments will be appealing.

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