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Even over a single, crummy Internet connection, SD-WAN survives


SD-WAN is one of the best technologies to catch fire in the last couple of years and if you are a little fuzzy on it, here’s an opportunity to learn another tidbit about this wonderful, disruptive technology.

Despite the acronym “WAN” (Wide Area Network), in its name, SD-WAN is not solely for companies with multiple sites. It is just as useful to a company with 1 site as it is to a company with 100 sites. Contrary to popular opinion, it is also nearly just as useful for a company with a single Internet connection as it is for a company with multiple Internet connections.  A good, cloud-enabled SD-WAN solution, layered onto a single, shaky Internet connection, will transform a normally choppy VoIP call, into a thing of beauty. You may even find yourself  wanting to take a call from a salesperson, just to hear their voice!

On-the-fly application prioritization

When you order SD-WAN, you are shipped a bare-bones, plug-n-play router and you are given a login to an online control panel with a GUI interface, where you can configure and monitor your SD-WAN service.

One of the first things you do within your control panel, is identify the different applications on your network and group them into different levels of priority (i.e. VoIP vs. email vs. Internet browsing). The high priority applications get to go first, while the others need to wait.

The best thing about SD-WAN is at any given moment, it is detecting the application flow and throttling non-priority traffic appropriately. This alone will help your VoIP call quality, since calls are no longer competing for bandwidth , for example, with training video or  listening to hits on itunes.

Forward error correction

Another common feature SD-WAN solutions offer is called Forward Error Correction (i.e. channel coding), which essentially duplicates your phone call’s data packets, giving every packet of every phone call, 2 chances to succeed. That’s a very layman way of explaining it but you get the point.

Even better, the SD-WAN solution will sense if you have enough bandwidth on your circuit to perform forward error correction and if not, will throttle non-priority applications or quit running FEC, all-together. Forward error correction drastically reduces packet errors and packet loss ( things that make VoIP phone calls drop or sound terrible). Some cloud-enabled SD-WAN providers will not only perform this on-site but also within their cloud gateways.

Dynamic jitter buffering

Some SD-WAN solutions offer a feature called “jitter buffering.” It sounds complicated but all it means is that the SD-WAN service is reducing the nasty jitter on your voice calls by collecting the data packets (that comprise your phone call in this example), storing them, then sending them out in evenly spaced intervals. Add the word “dynamic” to this feature and it means the SD-WAN solution detects the need for jitter buffering on-the-fly, and applies it, as-needed.

Like Forward Error Correction, some cloud-enabled SD-WAN providers offer this on-site, as well as at the cloud-gateway-level. Or, SD-WAN will probably make your VoIP phone system work, even if you have one location, with a poor Internet connection.



How to optimize Network Infrastructure for High Quality VOIP?


How to prepare your network for high-quality VoIP?VoIP is a fast-growing area for SMBs. If you’re switching to VoIP, then it’s critical to ensure that your network infrastructure is fully optimized for it. Almost 40 percent of small businesses have said goodbye to their traditional, telephone services and hello to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) because of the significant cost and productivity benefits that VoIP delivers. VoIP uses data packets to digitally transmit voice over the internet and performs extremely well as long as the network is properly provisioned.

Given that voice travels over the same lines as data and is sensitive to the fluctuations within data transmissions, call quality can be degraded by internet slowdowns and low bandwidth. This is often related to under performing or overly constrained networking gear. Having the right connection and network infrastructure in place is critical to high-quality VoIP calls. Let’s look at ways to prepare your network.

  1. Evaluate the WAN connection.

It’s important to allocate the right amount of bandwidth to ensure optimal results for VoIP, which means knowing what you need. Bandwidth requirements depend on the number of VoIP clients (phones) and the number of concurrent calls you want to make. Beyond your maximum call volume, it’s good to identify which other network applications consume a portion of your available bandwidth. Now, let’s talk connection. Forget DSL. A fiber T1 line or coax cable connection is much faster. SMBs deploying VoIP should look at a business-level internet provider with a decent throughput. Check requirements of your VoIP service to determine minimum download and upload speeds based on VoIP lines. The quality and number of lines on a VoIP system will be higher with a faster internet connection.

  1. Assess your network infrastructure and replace outdated equipment.

Speed alone doesn’t guarantee optimal results for VoIP. The backbone of the network is important, and old network infrastructure is one of the biggest barriers to VoIP success. Know your network and make sure it’s properly prepared before cutover. For example, the speed of the switch is not the only problem – it’s about reliability. Old, outdated networking gear can have undetected problems that surface with latency-dependent applications like VoIP.

Consider upgrading specific equipment that’s key to network performance, like the routing and switching gear. If you decide to replace, don’t skimp. Low-quality, under performing equipment will cost you in the long run (remember those headaches?) and degrade your call quality. Equipment plays a major role in the success or failure of your VoIP deployment.

  1. Prioritize, segregate and segment VoIP traffic with a VLAN.

When there are different services running on a network, it can impact the performance of an application that needs more bandwidth, like video conferencing, or more priority, like VoIP. For the best quality of service (QoS), dedicate bandwidth for voice by segmenting the network with a virtual local area network. VLANs enable you to prioritize data traffic for applications that are sensitive to network delays, improving performance and maintaining QoS so you don’t have to worry about dropped calls, latency or jitter.

Network segmentation typically starts at the router, so invest in a business-class router with QoS features, and pair it with a managed or smart switch that offers other key features we will address later. Create a VLAN with a separate Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) range and apply it to the switch to specific ports, giving high priority to ports used for VoIP lines. For switches, look for hardware with gigabit ports that have high throughput and auto-configurations that adjust to QoS for each phone.

  1. Go big with PoE+.

Power over Ethernet was a technology initially built for VoIP devices. Simply put, PoE allows you to provide power to a device over the same wire that supplies the data or voice. This allows for simple, safe and efficient power provision to all PoE-enabled devices, like VoIP phone systems.

Unlike a traditional phone system, which continues to work during a power or internet outage, a PoE VoIP system relies on the electrical power from a network switch. If power to the switch goes out, VoIP will not work. This is easily fixed with UPS backup power.

In addition, by deploying PoE-enabled switches on the back end, you simplify installation for wireless access points, IP cameras, phones, and other equipment that needs data and power simultaneously. PoE allows you to control the power in the network via the switch. When you centralize power on the switch side, you streamline VoIP phone rollout and simplify connections for users – and minimize possible future problems.

How much power do you need? Check the maximum power wattage your phones need and the minimum power budget of the switch; the consumption by phones or other powered devices in the office has to be less than the switch budget. And plan for the future: Buying a bigger switch (i.e., more ports) and one with a bigger PoE budget will allow you to easily add devices in the future as you need them.

Achieving high-quality VoIP

A VoIP rollout requires a proper connection and adequate bandwidth, plus the right networking gear with a battery backup to protect the office in case of power failure. If you’re switching to VoIP and your business relies on communication, then it’s critical to ensure that your network infrastructure is fully optimized for VoIP.



Future of the Internet: A look at WiFi Mesh Networking


Why has WiFi become an inseparable part of our lives? It is just going to grow with the emergence of technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT). With more and more use of Software Applications for home and office, the need for WiFi becomes a basic necessity . The rate at which the IoT market is growing, it won’t be long before all our home appliances are connected to our WiFi network. But the big question is whether our WiFi networks are resilient enough to take on so much traffic? Well, that’s why we have something called wireless Mesh Networking.

What is WiFi mesh networking?

WiFi mesh networking is a network design that’s made up of different nodes connected to each other. In this network topology, there’s no central server. The Internet is probably the best example of a mesh network, and it is also the largest one in the world. Information from the source gets bounced automatically from one router to the next until it reaches its destination.

Likewise, a WiFi mesh network also transmits data from node to node until the destination. However, the difference is that one node in this network has to be wired directly to the Internet. That wired node shares the connection with the nodes or cluster nearest to it. In turn, this cluster shares the connection with the next closest cluster and so on until all the nodes are connected to the Internet.

With such a topology, you don’t need all the nodes to be wired directly to the Internet. All that’s needed is one node that’s connected to the Internet and some source of power supply to keep the network running.

In this network type, you can not only share the Internet connection over a wide geographic area, but your Internet will also be stronger and faster when you have more nodes. How? Doesn’t this defy our idea that the Internet will be slow when it has to be shared by more nodes?To answer this question, let’s look into how mesh networks work.

Workings of a WiFi mesh networking system

Mesh networks were first created in the 1980s, but they became commercially available only by the 1990s. Still, it was not widely used until the last few years because of availability and cost restrictions.

The mesh networks available today are similar to the ones used in the 1980s, except that it is much cheaper and commercially available. In this topology, each base station is called a node and this node exchanges information with adjacent nodes. No information is retransmitted at any time, so the entire process is fast. This is also why you’ll have more speed than traditional routers. WiFi mesh networks have also recently become available for home users.

In addition, all the nodes, even those that are not involved in sending and receiving information, know what is transmitted. This knowledge comes handy when one node is down or when the system chooses a different node for faster transmission. Needless to say, this network is fail-safe.

Advantages of WiFi mesh networking

WiFi mesh networking offers many advantages over your traditional router. Here are some reasons to make this switch.

  • It requires very few wires, and this means the setting up effort and cost are greatly reduced. This saving is especially significant when you have to cover large areas.
  • Contrary to existing opinions, your network will be faster as you add more nodes and devices.
  • These mesh networks use the same 802.11a, b, and g standards for wireless routers, so there’s nothing new to learn here.
  • This network is most convenient in outdoor areas, where Ethernet and wired connections are difficult to set up.
  • Mesh networks are self-configuring, so they can detect new nodes in the network without any help from the network administrator.
  • It works great when some nodes fail, as these networks can find the fastest and the best possible route every time. In other words, they are self-healing networks that ensure your information is transmitted at the earliest.
  • The network as a whole is fast because data packets don’t have to go back to a central server.
  • This network is easily expandable and adaptable depending on your coverage needs. All that you have to do is add or remove nodes to the network.
  • You can choose to wire devices such as VoIP phones, video cameras, and more to specific nodes using Ethernet cables. Such a setup gives you enormous flexibility to connect different devices to the same Internet connection.

Due to these advantages, WiFi mesh networking is likely to replace our traditional WiFi routers in the near future, especially as we go deeper into the world of IoT.

Practical applications of WiFi mesh networking

Now that we know what a WiFi mesh network is and the advantages that come with it, let’s look at a few areas where we can use it.

Smart cities

Almost every major city is on the threshold of becoming a smart city, and one of the catalysts for this transformation is the WiFi mesh network. In this implementation, you can connect almost the entire city and all its residents to the same Internet connection. Many municipalities have even started creating public WiFi spots using this mesh network.

Economic development

WiFi mesh networking can be a catalyst for economic development in developing and underdeveloped countries. When you have this network in place, a single connection to the Internet is enough for all houses and offices within a given geographical area. Even solar-powered nodes are enough to keep entire villages online all the time.

Difficult terrain

WiFi networking can be useful in difficult terrain where it’s hard to lay cables. Sometimes, these places can be too isolated for service providers to operate, too. In such situations, this network is the best way to provide connectivity.

University campus

WiFi mesh networking is ideal for university campuses simply because they don’t have to bury cables under old buildings. At the same time, everyone can remain connected with indoor and outdoor nodes.

Hotels, hospitals, and more

This network works well across hotels, resorts, hospitals, and other clusters of buildings that were not built with Internet connectivity in mind. Instead of wiring through these buildings to connect every area to the Internet, you can opt for WiFi mesh networking.

Traffic monitoring

Highway-based wireless mesh networks can connect a bunch of surveillance cameras and car sensors to help law enforcement monitor traffic conditions, and even inform residents about dangerous driving conditions. It can also be used to give drivers the best route to reach their destination. In fact, the application of WiFi mesh networking is only limited by our creativity and imagination.



How does SD-WAN support video conferencing requirements in times of delay and jitters on VOIP platform?


Video quality can suffer if the network can’t meet its high bandwidth needs. Video conferencing can take on many forms and protocols. For enterprises that have experienced problems, such as delay and jitter on voice over IP platforms, you know some platforms are better than others. The big variance in supporting video conferencing requirements is the integrity of traffic over wide-area connections.

Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology removes the need for physical connections from point A to point B by using logical connections or tunnels. But the biggest advantage is SD-WAN is link-agnostic. It doesn’t care if the line is Long Term Evolution, OCx or DSL; the software still manages the links. These lower-cost circuits can provide significant savings for small or remote offices when compared with more expensive MPLS circuits.

With increased video traffic, transmission problems can only get worse. For proper support of video conferencing requirements, you want to prioritize traffic or provide better links to improve service. Data, such as file transfer, can handle some retransmissions. But, with voice and video, dropped packets create gaps that materialize in the form of missing words and pixelated video.

If a company is not using dedicated MPLS for voice and video, it will need some way to assign a higher priority to voice and video, or provide a better circuit to mitigate dropped packets. SD-WAN is one such service for video conferencing support, as it can measure round-trip time, jitter and packet loss to map the best path based on the application’s type, such as real time.

A nice feature of SD-WAN is the ability to bond internet connections — regardless of type — to create higher-speed tunnels that function like point-to-point links with bandwidth that is faster than any single link in native form.

Another advantage is devices are placed at remote sites, but centrally managed. This allows for ready reconfiguration without having to attach to each device. But because some quality-of-service functions don’t exist in SD-WAN, it can’t actually guarantee QoS. But making the links robust and mapping best paths can help with some of the issues you would find without SD-WAN.

SD-WAN can support video conferencing requirements with various optimization techniques, such as deduplication, caching and buffering. In several ways, you can figure out some VoIP and video functions without jumping to an MPLS link, which translates to big savings. Some vendors put the savings at around 70%, but it will vary from company to company.



Ideal way to set up Wi-Fi network in Small Business!


A look inside a typical small business today will likely reveal lots of wireless devices, with little, if any, wired hardware in evidence. Problems could occur, however, if the small business deploys consumer-centric access points targeted at home users.

There are some important considerations that smaller businesses need to bear in mind to have a safe, reliable Wi-Fi network. A common question often centers on the need for a business-grade access point over the many less-expensive alternatives with similar specifications. However, it is worth noting that an important premise for a business-grade access point is reliability under sustained, heavy usage, which is unlikely to be the case from an access point picked from the bargain bin.

Indeed, Wi-Fi st have shown that even top-tier wireless access points do not perform the same when placed under heavy load. Sustained performance aside, IT professionals also know that access points can crash or lock up, which makes robust operation an important consideration.

Of course, access points that are designed for use in business environments also offer a variety of capabilities that allow for more powerful and flexible deployments. We take a closer look at some of them and explain how they can be leveraged for your wireless network.

Support for multiple SSIDs

Unlike consumer access points that typically support just one wireless network, it is often possible to create scores of wireless networks – also known as Service Set Identifier (SSID) — on a business-grade access point. More importantly, each SSID can be assigned a different access policy for fine-grained security, such as being tagged to a different virtual LAN or configured with a different authentication or encryption options.

The most obvious advantage is the ability to support guest users without giving them unfettered access to the network. Businesses can create an Internet-enabled SSID isolated from the rest of the corporate network, and either disable it or change its passphrase to revoke access when it is no longer needed. Moreover, additional SSIDs could also be created for devices such as IP cameras, wireless speakers and IoT sensors, leaving the production network untouched.

Easy management

An important capability of a business access point would be the ease of managing multiple access points, with changes to configurations made centrally and propagated immediately to the entire cluster. Some of these systems could even migrate Wi-Fi client devices from a congested Wi-Fi access point to a less busy one.

Users on Wi-Fi enabled devices are also less likely to be disconnected from latency-sensitive applications such as video streaming or voice-over-IP calls as they move around the office. This is possible thanks to various controller-managed techniques to cut down the time needed to switch between access points, including support for standards such as 802.11r and 802.11k.

PoE for power

The use of Power over Ethernet (PoE) eliminates the need to run separate power cables to individual access points and cumbersome power bricks. This serves to greatly increase reliability, as it is much easier to replace standard compliant PoE network switches or power injectors than external power adapters with their differing power output and connectors.

How to boost performance?

Unreliable hardware aside, the biggest bugbear to a Wi-Fi deployment is probably poor wireless performance. Despite a gradual increase in bandwidth in the latest Wi-Fi standards, available spectrum is finite, subject to external interference, and typically shared among multiple devices on the wireless network.

Choosing the right access point hardware

The first step towards a high performance wireless network would probably be choosing the right access point hardware. While it would be illogical to get anything other than an 802.11ac access point today, device makers often differentiate their product lineup with varying levels of support for multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO), which allows for access points and Wi-Fi clients to simultaneously transmit and receive multiple streams of data.

Deploying multiple access points

Unless your office consists of a handful of users and is located within a very compact area, you will need to roll out more than one access point to properly blanket your working areas wirelessly across both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Obviously, this only works with a business-centric Wi-Fi system where access points are centrally managed. It is usually not necessary to manually choose a channel as these systems generally incorporate some form of dynamic channel management system. This entails monitoring and analyzing Wi-Fi emissions over time, switching to the least congested channel, and even ensuring that neighboring access points within the cluster are not causing interference.

Position your access points properly

Often overlooked by small businesses, poorly positioned access points are the bane of a good wireless network. Businesses rolling it out themselves should avoid placing access points next to walls and other obstructions that can prematurely attenuate wireless signals.

A simple way of estimating coverage is to visualize the RF energy emanating in a straight line from each access points. Locations with multiple obstructions are likely to be wireless dead spots, and should be supported by placing another access point nearby. In this vein, mounting access points on the ceilings or high on walls is ideal given the fewest obstruction there.

Of course, organizations should probably get a professional site survey done if rolling out a large-scale Wi-Fi network. However, an installation with less than 10 access points would probably not be an issue.

Wiring up the office

Having a good underlying wired network is also crucial, in terms of both supplying sufficient bandwidth to the access points, as well as keeping them powered through PoE. While some access points support Wireless Distribution System (WDS) or a proprietary wireless mesh capability to bridge between access points, there is little reason not to do so for indoor Wi-Fi networks.

It also makes sense to ensure that printers, IP cameras and network storage devices are connected through the wired network where possible, leaving the maximum amount of spectrum available for devices that require it, such as laptops and tablets. As usual, make sure the LAN wiring takes advantage of recent standards such as CAT6 or CAT7 cables.

Internet access

While some business-grade access points offer the ability to perform basic routing, businesses may want to set up an external internet router with built-in network address translation (NAT) and DHCP capability built in. Depending on the speed of the internet link, it may be possible to hook up an older Wi-Fi router with wireless disabled. Alternatively, small offices can also use a compact router to deliver internet connectivity to the access points.

Security concerns

As small businesses grow beyond a handful of users, it quickly becomes unrealistic and insecure to use the same static passphrase for the entire organization. The solution is to create a new SSID configured for per-user authentication, and entails selecting 802.1X under authentication for the new SSID and deploying a corresponding RADIUS server such on the backend.

User accounts could be added directly to the RADIUS database, or synchronized with a directory service such as Active Directory. This allows Wi-Fi access to be managed as a seamless part of IT, with user accounts removed as employees leave and added with new hires. To ease the switch over to the new 802.1X enabled SSID, businesses can operate the old SSID in parallel during an initial transitional period.

Finally, it is worth noting that most business access point systems are controller-based, which necessitates the use of a controller appliance to manage all access points on the network. An access point can double up as a virtual controller in some cases, though it may entail an additional licensing fee and limits to the size of the Wi-Fi network.

There is no question that Wi-Fi networks will continue to evolve as engineers and device makers seek to support ever denser deployments of wireless gadgets and IoT devices.