The difference between SD-WAN and MPLS

This topic is often how the SD-WAN discussion starts.

A network migration to SD-WAN may deliver cost savings, performance improvements and better security.

According to our partners Fortinet, the short answer is that SD-WAN offers better visibility, availability, enhanced performance, and more freedom of action. It’s why the industry has seen interest in SD-WAN rising over the past few years.

Fortinet list the following benefits of SD-WAN over MPLS:

  • SD-WAN delivers potential cost savings.
  • Secure SD-WAN from Fortinet provides better protection than MPLS, because the solution is delivered as an integrated function within a next-generation firewall appliance.
  • SD-WAN delivers better network performance, utilizing diverse links and paths based on application or traffic type, for example.

Click here for more information on Fortinet’s Secure SD-WAN solution, or get in touch to discuss a SD-WAN solution that’s right for you and your business.

Case Study: Advanced VOIP Solution for SEESA, by Switch and Intelys

VoIP Rollout: SEESA, Intelys and Switch

As first published at https://www.switchtel.co.za/news/voip-rollout/ on 18 November 2021

Background

The Client: SEESA (PTY) LTD offers a wide range of consulting services which include Skills Development, BEE Consulting, Labour Law and outsourced HR functions to over 36000 clients nationwide, across multiple industries. SEESA conducts a large portion of their business telephonically and is exceedingly reliant on their communication system. They have a staff complement of over 900 people based in 19 different branches across South Africa.

Intelys partners with Switch Telecom in order to offer their clients advanced VoIP solutions.

Initially, SEESA approached Intelys to provide their business with an SD-WAN solution. This would replace their traditional MPLS network infrastructure which had become cumbersome and inflexible. SEESA turned to Intelys and Switch Telecom for their Telephony solution once they saw the huge benefit of the SD-WAN solution.

The Requirement:

SEESA needed a VoIP provider that could provide a VoIP rollout that met the following business requirements:

  • SEESA needed a solution that could cater to their users’ hybrid working conditions driven mostly by the Covid-19 pandemic and the government imposed lockdowns.
  • They required departments such as Marketing Sales Teams and Legal Consulting Teams the ability to access call recordings for training and reference purposes. Call recordings had to connect via an API to their custom developed CRM tool for easy access and monitoring.
  • SEESA wanted to take back control of their telephony system, whereby they could add and remove users, set up their ring groups and hunt groups, add and remove departments and have full visibility of the system.
  • SEESA wanted to keep their existing SIP hard phones in order to keep their CAPEX cost down. They required a provider that offered a desktop and mobile softphone. They also wanted a provider that could offer a VoIP solution that was compatible with softphones. Their users had a combination of iPhone, Android and other brand mobile devices.
  • The platform needed to scale with the SEESA’s business growth.  Many providers could not scale and this was a prerequisite. Reporting was also an important requirement where several custom development had to be done to fulfil their needs.
  • They needed a cost-effective solution that was transparent with no hidden costs or confusing bundled pricing structures.
  • SEESA wanted as little downtime as possible and with as little change to their user’s telephony experience during and after the VoIP rollout.
  • SEESA required custom development to allow their Marketing department to add numbers to the system that would only allow certain Marketing divisions to call or disallow calling to that number entirely in order to comply with POPIA.
  • All existing geographic telephone numbers had to be ported and 087 numbers would have to be replaced with new geographic numbers.

The Challenges:

One of the biggest challenges that the parties faced was rolling out a 980 user telephony solution during Level 3 Lockdown. This meant as little onsite configuration and installation as possible. SEESA’s main concern initially, centred around making sure all the branches could continue with their day-to-day business. This meant minimal downtime and a minimal impact on SEESA’s employee’s productivity.  Moving away from their “legacy” system and Service Provider in a big-bang approach could potentially place SEESA at risk of unwanted downtime.

SEESA’s most basic requirement was that each of the Hosted Switchboard Extension numbers corresponded with each of their telephone numbers.  Each SEESA user has their own direct dial number and extension number. What made the setup slightly more complicated was that these extension numbers did not run sequentially within each branch. It was incredibly important not to create duplicate extensions on the Hosted Switchboard.

Perhaps, the biggest challenge with any roll-out of this nature is not to affect the users. It’s important to enhance the end-users experience but not to change how they work on a daily basis. Other challenges included provisioning of the Astra handsets, which had to be manually configured.

Another specific requirement was the number blocking functionality.  At this point, Switch Telecom did not offer a call blocking function on its Hosted Switchboard. And the Call Recording API was still in development.

No Remote Hands and a Baby on the Way

As SEESA’s IT Department is based in Pretoria, there were no remote hands available at most of the other branches. This meant that the cutover had to take place remotely with each party working at their respective offices.

Switch Telecom’s project manager went into early labour a week before the first branch VoIP rollout.

Overcoming the Challenges:

A strategy was developed between the parties that the rollout would take place on a branch-by-branch basis. Predetermined dates and times for each branch cutover were agreed to. The entire 19 branch roll-out would take no longer than 1 month to complete. It was decided that all the larger branches would be cut over last. The timelines were heavily linked to the implementation of new mediums of connectivity to several branches. The Intelys Project team took the lead on this to ensure that everything was carefully managed throughout.

The project timelines were planned in such a way that reduced (as far as possible) double-billing during the rollout.

Weekly video meetings were scheduled between all the stakeholders. Regular ad-hoc teleconference calls were held to iron out any issues that emerged whilst planning the VoIP rollout. SEESA had their in-house IT Team gather all the MAC and serial numbers of their existing handsets. All Yealink device details were added to the Switch Telecom Auto-provisioning system prior to cutover.

The Switch Telecom Support team ensured the branches specific extensions and routing were set up on the Hosted Switchboard. This was done prior to each branches cutover date.

All parties worked off a master spreadsheet that listed each of the branches, the numbers they were porting, each end-users details, phone make and model plus the MAC and serials of the hardphones.

No Challenge too Great to Overcome

Once Intelys successfully installed the SD-WAN solution; they were able to ensure that the underlying infrastructure and connectivity requirements were in place and ready for the additional voice traffic prior to each cutover.

19 separate porting requests for the 943 numbers were logged on the CRDB. Port approval was chased regularly by the Switch Telecom Porting team to ensure that the numbers were available to port prior to each cutover. Managed porting dates were agreed to with the previous voice provider.

Processes and guidelines were also set up to ensure that users could easily understand how the new system worked.

The Switch Telecom development team worked with SEESA to scope their requirements for the call recording API and Call blocking feature. Both features are now available to all Switch Telecom Hosted Switchboard clients.

Although we couldn’t prevent little Stefan from coming early, Switch Telecom’s team is only comprised of VoIP professionals and someone else took over the project management with no disruption to the rollout plan.

The VoIP Rollout:

On the day of each branch’s cutover, all relevant parties joined a conference call an hour prior to the managed port time. Auto-provisioning was activated. All parties worked together to ensure that the phones were remotely reset. Intelys and SEESA’s IT Department manually provisioned the Astra hardphones. Status was monitored to ensure that each phone came registered on the Hosted Switchboard platform. Lastly, porting was activated and test calls were made to ensure that everything was working as intended.

Switch Telecom, together with Intelys Technology Africa and our mutual client SEESA achieved all the objectives set out prior to the VoIP rollout.

As of today, SEESA has been using the Hosted Switchboard platform for more than one year. SEESA’s IT Department is able to do most changes on the system themselves which saves them a considerable amount of time. Together with Intelys Technologies, Switch Telecom still provides high-level support.

The following quote from Jesse Machill from Intelys sums up the partnership of all concerned and the success of the VoIP rollout: “A great collaboration of committed professionals, in terms of both the client; SEESA, and the suppliers; Switch and Intelys, ensured the successful rollout of VoIP services to 980 users across the country with little to no physical interventions required.”