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Pairing SD-WAN, UCaaS together has benefits and challenges

Organizations may combine SD-WAN and UCaaS to gain synergies and avoid multivendor complexities. But the combination of the two technologies can create challenges.

Nowadays, communications come in many forms, including voice, video conferencing, meeting services, messaging, streaming and more. Companies like Avaya, Cisco and Vonage, for example, bundle these capabilities together and sell them as unified communications, or UC.

As organizations change their consumption models and buy more communications as a service, they can now purchase UC as a service, also known as UCaaS.

When UCaaS ties branch offices back to headquarters, the service runs over WAN connections. Additionally, companies are deploying software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) for improved WAN management and cloud connectivity. As a result, it seems UCaaS -- which also runs over that internet connection -- would synergize well with SD-WAN if bundled together.

While bundling SD-WAN and UCaaS could provide certain benefits for organizations, some challenges and hidden drawbacks could be lurking. Let's look at the pros and cons of combining SD-WAN and UCaaS.

How SD-WAN, UCaaS work together

Bundling SD-WAN and UCaaS can have its advantages. The following are three distinct advantages:

  • Reap better packet performance. Viewing SD-WAN and UCaaS traffic together can help improve video quality through better quality of service, while also reducing packet loss or packet duplication. The possible benefits of more efficient bandwidth and the ability to identify priority traffic, while also addressing packet loss mitigation, can help overall communications.
  • Gain more complete visibility. Combining SD-WAN with UCaaS enables better visibility into the holistic environment. The combination of the two technologies could spot potential issues more easily, especially if there's a shared console for the two services.
  • Flex some pricing leverage. If SD-WAN and UCaaS are handled as a package deal or as part of an overall services agreement, a business may see purchasing and support advantages from a single vendor.

Why SD-WAN and UCaaS might not pair well

Will an organization always gain efficiencies if it bundles SD-WAN and UCaaS together? Probably not always. Businesses should also consider some hidden downsides, including the following:

  • Bundling disparate services isn't easy. UCaaS is designed to cover a complete enterprise, not just branch offices. A business would likely create a suboptimal pairing if it bundled a branch office connectivity product with an enterprise-wide communications product.

    Even if a business has Cisco as both its SD-WAN vendor and UC provider, the business either manages these two products as separate entities within the Cisco world or this single-vendor reliance may result from separate company acquisitions. The only real synergy may come on the purchase order, but the purchasing cycles for these products may be out of sync because different organizations drive their own purchase decisions.
  • Watch out for future limitations. An SD-WAN deployment should be invisible to applications and edge devices that are behind the SD-WAN appliance. The whole idea behind SD-WAN is to abstract control of a connection from everything running over it.

    If UCaaS traffic is optimized for a specific SD-WAN implementation -- including managed SD-WAN -- this begs a bigger question. Namely, would an SD-WAN-UCaaS combination limit a business's future decisions, especially if public cloud migration for these services is the long-term strategy?

Ultimately, when considering the integration of SD-WAN and UCaaS, the decision will be different for every business. But, before deciding, organizations should consider both the positive and negative outcomes.

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