Cloud use is booming in Germany. When it comes to Unified Communications (UC), many companies use the cloud or UC as a Service (UC-aaS). However, when introducing this, it’s important to use the right hardware.
A survey by Nemertes Research has revealed that the number of larger companies with plans to introduce cloud-based UC services has fallen in the past year. Out of 800 major companies surveyed, 15% said they would give up the cloud, which is almost twice as many as the year before.
Cost factors in UC-aaS
The survey showed that large-scale implementation of cloud-based UC did not lead to cost reductions. There was also a lack of important administrative and security features.
For large companies with sufficient IT staff, the cost of managing and administering on-premises systems is typically less than monthly fees for cloud services, according to the study. "Many of these companies believe that running UC internally is better and more efficient," said Robert Gareiss, an analyst at Nemertes.
This means that a number of large companies are looking at on-site solutions. Clearly, anyone planning to use an on-site UC solution for their company should first evaluate whether their existing network and equipment are optimally designed for this. It’s only practical to use a UC solution when all these requirements are met.
When vital components aren’t optimal in terms of their configuration and equipment, users may find that connections drop during online meetings with customers and colleagues, telephone conversations, and video-conferencing. This means that they won’t be able to work with their new system and won’t benefit from the expected productivity gains.
Continuing to use analogue devices
The results of a representative survey by Bitkom Research on behalf of the digital association Bitkom show that 70% of all German companies still use fax machine to communicate with customers, colleagues and business partners. Last year, numbers were at 79%. Small companies with 20 to 49 employees use the fax machine even more (77%), as do service providers (81%).
However, there’s no provision for connecting fax machines to VoIP providers. Even internal system telephones and additional analogue devices such as EC terminals, remote maintenance modems, alarm systems or door intercom systems are connected to ISDN systems. Introducing a cloud solution and replacing these components is costly. Fortunately, hardware can help in that when a VoIP gateway is connected to a traditional system, it can simulate ISDN signals, acting as a smart intermediary between the ISDN system and the new VoIP provider.
Planning for peaks in usage
Providers of UC infrastructures recommend that you homogenise your network architecture, servers, control systems, routers and switches as well as all end devices when planning to implement a UC solution. Modern UC solutions allow full network communication between terminals, servers and other network components. Therefore, any planning you do must also include plans for the network.
To start with, make an inventory of existing components. By doing this, you can also plan which components will connect to a modern UC system and which you’ll need to replace. Of course, you’ll also have to check the cables, as these must be suitable as well.
Your company’s internal network, as well as your Internet connection, must be able to cope with traffic levels of a UC system. Not only must your bandwidth be sufficient but also network latency between branches and the Internet. A UC solution must be able to withstand many users on the system at the same time and so it must also be resilient when it comes to peaks in usage.
Low latency and good bandwidth
Many UC solutions use database servers to store configuration and log-on data. These must be optimally designed to provide a UC system with the data it needs. The network connection between the UC server and database servers is particularly important, since these two UC system components constantly need to exchange data. Servers should be able to communicate with the network at a rate of at least 1 Gbps. Of course, switches and routers must also provide the same speed, especially when multiple servers are involved.
Therefore, UC servers need to be connected to a network with low latency and high bandwidth. In larger environments, these servers should be part of a network that supports over 1 Gbps, especially if video conferencing and application sharing is required, as this significantly increases the demand placed on the network.
T1/E1 lines or SIP trunking can be used to integrate a VoIP system into a fixed network. In this case, companies must also check that their data cables are fast enough and stable enough to connect a UC system. In addition, if a company is using an intermediary server with their UC system or hardware devices like load-balancing traffic shapers, each intermediary server must be configured with a public IP address.
Calculating data requirements
In order to use video conferencing on your network, you need to have least 65 Kbps per audio stream and 500 Kbps per video stream. VoIP calls typically require a 100 Kbps symmetrical connection.
So companies need to work out how many conference calls on average they’re likely to have going on at the same time and whether data lines and network hardware have a high enough capacity. Traffic peaks should also be taken into account.
Data traffic also depends on the resolution required. A client using a resolution of 1920 x 1080 needs a bit rate of between 1500 to 4000 Kbps, although lower resolutions will need less.
In an environment where the network isn’t the right size, it can make sense to disable the video feature for some users. In general, you should be able to work out exactly which users need to have video features enabled and which only need to have audio enabled. Under peak load, the latency should be a maximum of 150ms.
UC clients only send audio streams when a user is speaking, but they send audio streams to every participant. This means that the more participants there are in a meeting, the higher the volume of data and the required bandwidth.
Here too, hardware helps with stability. A traffic shaper can give data services a lower priority compared to voice services so that customer phone calls aren’t interrupted because, for example, data is being uploaded to the FTP server.
Stable server operation
Using UC software places high demands on the server. An in-house UC system should be as enduring as possible and work without failing. Also, wherever possible, there should be no latency when VoIP data is being processed. Power consumption is also an important consideration when choosing hardware. This means that high-end server systems aren’t necessarily the best. In terms of a server, a dual-CPU configuration with 64-bit processors is often recommended. In addition, UC servers should have at least 8 GB of RAM. The server should have as few moving parts as possible and use SSD drives rather than hard disks. Where possible, companies shouldn’t run other applications on the server so that real-time VoIP data processing isn’t affected.
Above all, the priority should always be security and stability of the system, since VoIP systems are particularly vulnerable to attack over the Internet.
There are several types of attacks – from denial of service attacks that paralyse phones to personal data theft.
A Session Border Controller (SBC) provides more security at an All-IP connection and the German Federal Office for Information Security recommends it for VoIP systems
Companies will benefit from using a UC solution when their hardware meets all the requirements. Many experts also recommend homogenising your network so all components can freely interact and are easier to monitor. Manufacturers such as beroNet offer special optimised hardware to run UC solutions on the network.