May 15, 2012

Unified Communications and WAN Performance - A Delicate Balance

  • Béatrice PIQUER DURAND
  • Ipanema Technologies
(Sponsor-Contributed Paper)

Unified communications (UC) offers significant opportunities for enterprises to improve productivity, foster collaboration among employees and increase customer satisfaction. Ultimately, UC can lead to higher profits by delivering more efficient teamwork and a greater competitive advantage. 

But UC comes with its own distinct challenges.  If these challenges aren't addressed and overcome, the UC project will not yield its anticipated return on investment (ROI). The primary challenges are:
  • UC implementations are a significant investment. If they are to deliver a strong ROI and a suitable user experience, UC performance must be guaranteed. This is challenging because UC among users and resources in geographically dispersed sites rely heavily on the wide-area network (WAN) which is a shared resource, hard to control.
  • UC comprises data, video and voice flows with dynamic, variable traffic patterns that grow or subside based on user demand. This makes capacity planning difficult. If not managed properly, not only UC applications can perform poorly but they are likely to impact the performance of other business-critical applications during peak traffic periods.
  • UC encourages desktop-to-desktop video communication, which can considerably boost productivity. However, video can place enormous strain on inter-branch WAN links that carry this traffic. A single desktop video flow often requires 300Kbps to 500Kbps between branch office sites, for example. Together, many such flows can consume considerable bandwidth. 
Just adding bandwidth will not solve all the problems and traditional classes of service (CoS) are too static to match such complex traffic situations, thus putting overall business application performance at risk.

Advanced Application Performance Management Meets these Challenges

Advanced application performance management systems are able to overcome these challenges. They identify specific traffic types and dynamically adjust network behavior and resources to the exact application traffic demand. This way, bandwidth can "expand and contract" as needed to ensure continued performance of all applications on the network.

Enterprises deploying UC expect to cut their legacy enterprise voice systems costs in half through the use of conferencing, instant messaging, internal voice, integrated administration, lower long-distance charges and other measures. But they need to ensure that the replacement system works reliably. This is where advanced application performance management becomes necessary. 

What is the TCO for unified communications?  Recent research about UC deployments from industry-leading UC suppliers like Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft and ShoreTel demonstrated an average total cost of ownership (TCO) of $30 to $40 per user per month, excluding WAN circuit costs and long-distance charges. 

Looking at this from another perspective, consider a 20-person branch office of a company with 5,000 employees in the professional services industry that is deploying UC. The company has an IT (not just UC) budget aligned to its industry standard: $975/user/month, of which $320/user/month is allocated to applications. 

So the key is to make sure that this investment in IT is optimized and protected.  Advanced application performance management will:
  1. Guarantee the quality of the UC applications (an investment of $30 to $40/user/month as noted above); 
  2. Protect the performance of the other business-critical applications (ERP, CRM, file sharing, cloud apps, Internet and so forth) against resource-intensive UC (an average investment of $320/user/month as noted above); 
  3. Automate incident prevention, better help desk productivity and IT governance, and delay bandwidth upgrades by a few years, which we estimate to be an average saving of $30/user/month.
To realize this protection, the typical TCO for an advanced application performance management solution from Ipanema, called the nano|engine, is $3.00 per user per month for the prototypical branch office described above. That cost includes central devices, management operations expenses and unforeseen project incidents.

The investment of $3.00/user/month saves $30/user/month while protecting services costing more than $300 per month.

The Bottom Line

Not deploying advanced application performance management systems in the branch jeopardizes not only the success of UC deployment but also the performance of the other business applications. Unsatisfied users and business managers are likely to complain, lowering UC adoption and forcing IT to upgrade the WAN at a high cost. IT can't be entirely sure of the impact of the WAN upgrade, given that "throwing bandwidth at the problem" isn't sufficient when it comes to delay-sensitive voice and video applications.

Because it can control WAN network behavior based on application type and do so dynamically, intelligent WAN management is a critical component to successful UC implementations. It helps ensure that UC implementations deliver the benefits they promise by meeting the challenges they present to the corporate network.


Your analysis presented in this paper focuses on two aspects as I see it: both guaranteeing good UC performance and, perhaps more important from an economic perspective, making sure other applications are not degraded. (The other applications have a cost per user that’s almost ten times the cost for UC.)

Can you expand a bit on exactly how your product addresses this?

You hit a fundamental point: enterprises need both – performance for the new UC as well as for the other applications (would you accept to switch off the lights when you switch on your washing machine?) Our nano is an ultra-compact device able to structure each user connection at branch offices to ensure that real-time flows inside UC (like voice) are prioritized above less critical applications like file transfers. Conversely, the nano prevents dynamic video codecs to expand beyond reasonable levels, ensuring that other critical applications such as SAP or transactional systems still function to the required SLA anytime, even in the complex case of hybrid networks. In addition, it makes UC performance transparent with simple metrics, comprehensive KPIs and quality scores. All of this at high speed (up to 20 Mbps) at the lower price on the market.

Have you had any customer feedback yet on the nano, or is it still too new?

We’ve been shipping the nano for a few months only and see already a very good traction. Its performance/price ratio makes it fit perfectly for retail and hospitality, for example. As one of our customers in the retail business said, “Without the nano the WAN aspects of our UC implementation would have been largely guess work. The nano gives you confidence that your legacy branch office WAN can cope with the demands of heavy and fluctuating UC traffic flows and user demands.”

Easynet is a Managed WAN service provider and we include this Ipanema service element within our WAN solutions.

This is a great article - I'm stealing your numbers Beatrice :)

I just tested these numbers and they were quite close to a recent Easynet customer example. In your example, you're talking about a type of enterprise that makes at least $1 billion turnover. A billion dollar international enterprise that is centralising and virtualising applications can't afford not to use this technology because traditional IP QoS just isn't enough. You could throw more bandwidth at the problem but it seems that you typically need 5X the bandwidth to solve the problem that way.

I see it every day! Customers (without our Ipanema based service) rolling out, Citrix, VDI, VoIP, VC, UC etc..
We've built a consultancy business just purely based on helping with failed rollouts of this stuff. What Beatrice hasn't mentioned in this article is the constant change in IS infrastructure and change in the usage profile of end-users. Ipanema allows us to provide the visibility to help our customers plan and properly budget and monitor performance to avoid these car crashes.

The problem we had with IP QoS is that there is nothing to differentiate the services within each class. We couldn't solve this problem by growing the number of classes because they're static, you end up with more problems as you move up to a 6, 7 or 8 class model. The more classes you have, the quicker your static QoS profile will become out of date. With the number of centralised applications you have these days, you need a dynamic QoS policy applied for each application type and applied for each flow session on demand. Ipanema helps us manage this very well. We still provide up to 2 or 3 QoS classes in the WAN but we let Ipanema dynamically handle detail.

We're so happy with this performance that we've started to offer Application Performance Guarantees in our WAN SLAs. So along with Availability, Round Trip, Packet Loss, etc..You also get a guarantee for any of your critical applications based on the Ipanema quality score metric, "AQS".

What about smaller Enterprises?
I like how Ipanema structures the price for this. These solutions seem to cost in very well for the $100m enterprise as they do for the $1b enterprise because the pricing scales up based on what you need in terms of sites and bandwidth. For smaller companies, it becomes more of a case by case basis perhaps - I must admit to not focussing/targeting these smaller sized customers.

We're very happy with the Nanos on paper, but we haven't had them long enough to judge whether they meet expectation yet. The other devices in the portfolio gave us enough confidence to go ahead with this. The biggest thing for us is hardware reliability - We don't want to have to swap the devices. So we depend on a long MTBF.

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