Unified Communications (UC) has significantly impacted how individuals, teams and businesses collaborate and perform, whether delivered via a single vendor solution, or a portfolio of applications and platforms spanning multiple vendors. In most businesses, UC is being deployed to extend and add functionality to established communications technologies.
UC is increasingly a hybrid solution, with enterprises choosing a mix of cloud and premise-based components or combining other solutions with existing premise-based systems.
There is a great case in point that’s also highly topical. Microsoft’s Skype for Business (or Lync in earlier times) has commonly been added as such a secondary or extended UC platform in recent times, with implications for the planning, design and deployment of solutions that incorporate it.
With the accelerating adoption of SIP as the main form of connectivity for UC deployments the question of how to achieve practical, secure and reliable interoperability is increasingly important.
One obvious implication is that a Session Border Controller (SBC) is becoming essential to successful UC deployments, and especially so when deploying hybrid and multi-vendor solutions.
An Example – Skype for Business
Skype for Business has created significant interest in Microsoft’s UC offering and built on the existing footprint and momentum of Microsoft in the marketplace with its on-premise and hosted solutions based on Lync. Enterprises now typically face clear deployment options when implementing or extending their UC platforms with solutions like Skype for Business.
Typical enterprise customer profiles for Skype for Business have significant investments in Microsoft Office and Exchange for email, on existing enterprise licensing agreements, with collaboration-driven workers and partner ecosystems.
Many such businesses will almost certainly deploy a multi-vendor solution, driven by an interest in sustaining existing IP telephony solutions with Microsoft’s UC applications providing an effective and consistent user interface and experience.
Some enterprises may opt for a hybrid comprising a centralised, premises-based UC platform, with their remote facilities and mobile workers supported by Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud.
Alternatively, Skype for Business can also deploy as a stand-alone UC platform, entirely supplanting established PBXs and other IP telephony systems.
So why do I need an SBC?
Whether using an additional component like Skype for Business as a standalone platform, as part of a multi-vendor UC solution, or in a hybrid cloud solution, a Session Border Controller (SBC) is a key component.
There are a number of reasons, kicking off with the recognition that Skype for Business uses Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) for call session control.
SIP is certainly a widely deployed standard, but SIP devices are not always fully interoperable, especially with so many enterprises deploying multi-vendor environments. An SBC’s gateway services assure essential interoperability when;
- connecting to a service provider’s SIP trunk
- using a different vendor’s solution for IP telephony and Skype for Business for the desktop user interface
- deploying SIP-based video conferencing and collaboration
An SBC also fixes interoperability issues when bit rates vary on different endpoints by providing transrating, or transcoding when different codecs are used in the same session. These are typically needed to afford support for mobiles or when managing sessions with external 3rd party endpoints.
In our experience there is no doubt that enterprise adoption and adaptation of an overlay solution like Skype for Business has created greater integration requirements, especially where organizations are rolling out multi-vendor solutions that encompass them.
SBCs are invaluable for monitoring and managing network performance as they offer an end-to-end view of the sessions, visualising key network parameters like latency and jitter. Their proven capability in delivering consistent performance and management for UC deployments is valuable in the typical multivendor platforms of today.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for certain enterprises, SBCs also provide critical security features, with Skype for Business needing these every bit as much as other UC offerings. Although SIP has yet to see the range and frequency of security and fraud issues that is experienced with depressing regularity in TDM platforms, it can only be a matter of time before this changes. Unsurprisingly the aptly named “border control” element of the SBC defends a UC system from attacks such as Telephony Denial of Service (TDOS), spoofing and phishing. Internally, SBCs’ Network Address Translation capabilities can determine access and featureset permissions at the user level, providing a degree of granular control and automatic provisioning of services.
As an independent testing and certification partner for UC solutions such as Skype for Business, as well as for the leading Session Border Controller vendors, tekVizion has a unique, vendor-agnostic perspective on the proven and growing need for SBCs in UC deployments.
As solutions like Microsoft’s gain momentum as a commonly-deployed element of the enterprise UC solution, the need for SBCs to provide end-to-end control, performance management, and security in a fully validated, smoothly deployed and easily supported solution is paramount.
Whatever your choice of SBC, we can ensure it plays its part reliably in your and your customers’ evolving, multi-faceted UC architecture.