Elements Of Unified Communications

Unified communications is an important buzzword these days. It can mean several different things. There are some things in common though. Almost all implementations include messaging, VOIP, and some sort of collaboration. I want to talk about those today. 

Table of Contents

Quality Of Service

This is a feature on most routers. With it, you can prioritize network traffic. This is useful at home and in the business. Depending on your router, it can work with computers, applications, protocols, or even interfaces. It does this by giving your most important applications the lions-share of your capacity when it needs it.
To get these features, they will have to be enabled on your router. Log into your router and select the QOS section. Every router will be different. There will be a noticeable difference in each one. Its capabilities will be different. Set your traffic rules. Use whatever makes the most sense in your network.
It is important to monitor network traffic. You will need to know if your QOS rules are working. Look at your applications that are sensitive to latency. You will want to monitor these carefully. VOIP or conferencing software is easily affected.

Traffic Shaping

Traffic shaping is a subsection of QOS. It is a specific technique that delays network traffic from low-priority applications. These applications will work slower until it finishes the more important ones. It is possible to use this feature on non-applications, but it is uncommon.
Again, you do not want to introduce latency to your VOIP system from someone starting a download. If traffic shaping is not used then whatever packets arrive get through first. It does not matter the application. We do not want this. Our most important applications need the best service.

Communication Types

Now I want to talk about the applications used in Unified Communications. The most popular are chat, videoconferencing, and VOIP. These are the foundation of real-time communications. A chat application lets you discuss topics instantly with a group of people you have something in common with. Conferencing will let you attend a meeting remotely and take an active part. VOIP lets you have voice calls over a network.
VOIP is the most sensitive to latency. It will usually get the highest priority QOS rules. The reason for this is that latency will cause the other person to be unintelligible. Video conferencing is the next most sensitive. It is the middle ground of unified communications applications. Latency will affect it, but it is not as sensitive. Chat is usually the lowest priority. If a message arrives 0.25 seconds later than usual, it is barely an issue. The same delay causes VOIP to not work.

Implementation Strategies

When shifting your business or home to unified communications, you will want to consider a few elements. These mainly include training, requirements, and finances.
Training users will be important. Your users will probably never have used the solution you have chosen. So getting good adoption of your chosen implementation, you will want to provide good training. This will help their morale and make them more efficient. If you can, automate this to make it easy for the user to acquire your training.
The physical or network requirements could also play an important factor. Make sure your network will be sufficient for the increased usage. I can guarantee that once users get used to sharing files seamlessly, you will tell. Do an evaluation of your server hardware. It could need additional storage, for example, to suit your needs.
The last important part of this is the finances. Some solutions cost money while others are free. Look carefully at several solutions and see what makes the most sense for your organization. Don’t always assume the most expensive is the best. Many times open-source and free is a more complete solution.  

Deployment Options

There are several considerations here. You can choose on-site or hosted. Variations exist between those options. On-site can be physical or virtual. Hosted can include public or private cloud. Each has their advantages. It will depend on if you are a business or home organization. If you are a business, I would recommend private cloud to protect sensitive data. You have fewer requirements if you are just testing at home.
On-site usage should be virtualized. It is a rare case these days where you should use a whole physical server to host your application. There are many advantages to virtualization, use them.

Elements Of A System

There are many elements to mention. I will only talk about the most used. You will need a server, either on-site or in the cloud. For a phone system, or VOIP, you will need a PBX. I won’t go into the details of a PBX here, that will be a future article. Then you will need to buy phones. You will probably want a mix of desktop and conference. Software for voicemail, messaging, and an auto-attendant will also be useful.
Chat software is popular these days. It is usually quicker than composing an email and useful for quick and simple questions. You don’t have to get fancy here. Usually something basic will serve your needs well. If you need something more advanced, you can pend money on it later. It is better to hold off on spending lots of money upfront.
Collaboration is a boiling topic today. There are several options in this category. Some free and some paid. Check their features list to make sure you get what you need. Chat combined with file sharing, and storage can be useful. If your solution includes storage, make sure it has enough for your future growth. You find that users store all kinds of things there. Be prepared!

Benefits of Unified Communications

Setting up a system for first use will require work. There will also be issues that were not apparent at first. Don’t worry too much. There is a reason that many organizations have moved to these solutions. Benefits are everywhere. Since everything is real-time, questions and decisions happen quicker.
People that are remote can be much more efficient. Their work and discussions are available immediately. Ideas and the resultant productivity increase rapidly in systems like these.
- Jason Moore