No one would argue that enterprise-level IT engineers and system architects had it easy in the days before the Covid-19 pandemic, but in most cases companies and organizations had a consistent number of users and endpoints with plenty of on-premises unified communication infrastructure to handle the volume.
But suddenly in March, those systems went from serving something like a few hundred video rooms and a fairly consistent number of user accounts to having many thousands of endpoints – most of them on UCaaS apps – that needed the full capabilities of a robust on-prem system to allow users to work from home. That has meant a large shift to a hybrid setup in most cases, as companies bring on vendors like Cisco Webex, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or BlueJeans to rapidly add capacity at the edge of their systems. Those platforms have helped companies rapidly scale up their capacity and flexibility, providing the ability to make video or audio calls and the bridging options that allow multiparty calls to take place so teams can collaborate.
The on-prem building blocks are still in place and doing important work, but the hybrid environment makes it easier for outside participants to join in without having to navigate extensive security protocols in place for internal users.
The Building Blocks
Here are some of the base components of on-prem UC systems, which can be augmented by cloud-based platforms to create a hybrid system capable of meeting the increased demand of the new remote work reality.
Endpoints – the devices such as a phone, video conference unit, softphone or other equipment that allows a video or audio call to take place. An endpoint includes a microphone and camera, monitor and speaker (together known as a codec) and can take the form of a simple desktop monitor setup, a smartphone, a conference room collaboration system, medical video cart or a large-scale immersive video system. Leading endpoint makers include: Cisco, Poly, Lifesize, Dolby, Logitech, Crestron and others.
Call Controls – the hub, or layer of the on-prem system that allows calls to be connected via Session Initiation Protocol for signaling and controlling multimedia communication sessions on IP networks.
Call controls handle the registration of all the endpoints and users in a system, which allows calls to be directed to the right place for the right users. Other functions of the call control include routing calls according to the system’s dial plan rules; enforcing security policies, managing bandwidth control, and enabling secure firewall traversal to handle public-to-private calls.
Some of the most widely used call control hardware: Cisco Unified Communications Manager, Cisco Expressway C and E, Polycom RealPresence DMA, and those present in cloud collaboration platforms like Cisco Webex, Zoom, etc.
Bridges – the tools that allow multiple parties to join a call to meet, share content, or collaborate on projects as a team. Popular providers of on-prem bridge capabilities include Cisco Meeting Server, Polycom RealPresence Collaboration Server, Pexip Infinity, Microsoft Skype For Business.
Gateways – an increasingly important piece for on-prem systems, which allow incompatible technologies like Microsoft’s Skype for Business to interoperate with SIP-based devices like Cisco telepresence endpoints. Gateways act as a sort of universal translator for all protocols, which is vital with so many people relying on UC technology to carry out their job duties on a wide assortment of devices and platforms. The most popular way to implement a gateway today is via bridges like Cisco Meeting Server and Pexip Infinity that are designed to support multiple protocols and combine them into seamless meetings. They can also operate as pure gateways allowing one type of system to call another directly.
All The Pieces Fit
Large nationwide or global organizations may have stacks of all of the above on-prem components, with thousands of endpoints and call controls clustered to serve different locations. Management of that massive amount of hardware can become overwhelming and while manufacturers provide tools to monitor their performance, Vyopta provides the previously missing unified view and detailed data on call quality, usage and trends in performance.
That level of detailed data makes it possible to pinpoint the cause of poor calls caused by excessive packet loss, jitter or down-speeding and to set up alerts, so when problems are lurking they can be caught and fixed before they interfere with a call that’s critical to a team or an entire organization’s future.
As part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vyopta is currently offering a free trial to help IT teams support massive expansion in remote work.
Chad Swiatecki is a business writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Billboard, New York Daily News, Austin Business Journal, Austin American-Statesman and many other print and online publications. He lives in Austin, Texas and is a graduate of Michigan State University. Find him online on LinkedIn.