UCaaS and SD-WAN: The next dynamic duo?

With the rise in hybrid work, UCaaS adoption is up and the SD-WAN market is sizzling. We take a look at why you might want to consider deploying both technologies in tandem, the pros and cons of this approach, and best practices to ensure a success rollout.

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UCaaS and SD-WAN may just become a dynamic duo.

Independent analyst Steve Leaden is a believer. At the most recent Enterprise Connect conference, the president of Leaden Associates presented a case study outlining how one of his own clients deployed both technologies in tandem.

Here’s a look at potential reasons to combine them, various ways of doing that, and possible pros and cons of a UCaaS/SD-WAN combo.

Why UCaaS adoption is up

Three C’s are driving adoption of unified communications-as-a-service: consolidation, cost savings and COVID-19.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 is compelling enterprises to adopt a hybrid business model. As a result, enterprises are particularly consolidating multiple communication features and enabling cross-functioning to ensure efficient collaboration,” Grandview Research stated last month in a report on the global UCaaS market.

“Companies are also adopting UCaaS platforms and tools as the … pandemic prompts them to evaluate their operational costs and protect their margins amid dwindling revenues,” Grandview added.

The firm expects the worldwide UCaaS market to grow by 23.6 per cent (CAGR) between 2021 and 2028, with revenue reaching US$210 billion in 2028.

Why SD-WAN is hot

The SD-WAN market is also sizzling.

“SD-WAN has dramatically increased in adoption in the past couple of years,” research firm TeleGeography stated in a 2021 report based on surveys of 125 enterprise WAN managers around the world.

Among those surveyed companies, 43 per cent said they installed SD-WAN in 2020, more than double the 18 per cent who implemented it in 2018.

What’s behind this high demand for SD-WAN?

“SD-WAN frees WAN managers to select a broad mix of underlay technologies, and can also boost performance,” TeleGeography noted in its analysis. “Key motivators … were increasing site capacity and using alternative access solutions.”

In a blog post last month, TeleGeography’s senior research manager Brianna Boudreau suggested security (Zero Trust, specifically) is also driving SD-WAN adoption.

“While the key SD-WAN transformation use case was built around network cost and resiliency, its focus is now shifting to security,” she wrote. “Interest (in Zero Trust) among enterprise customers is high, and many SD-WAN vendors now incorporate the (Zero Trust) approach into their SD-WAN overlays.”

UCaaS and SD-WAN: Pros and cons


Like Steve Leaden, John Fruehe is an independent analyst who’s given some thought to pairing UCaaS with SD-WAN. In Tech Target, Fruehe raised some potential pros and cons of deploying them together:


  • Improved QoS: SD-WAN uses bandwidth more efficiently and identifies priority traffic, which improves packet performance; this could boost the quality of UCaaS video and communications.
  • Visibility: Combining SD-WAN with UCaaS “enables better visibility into the holistic environment” to see and address issues more easily, Fruehe asserted.
  • Pricing and support: By bundling UCaaS and SD-WAN from a single vendor, a business may gain pricing and support advantages for both products.


  • Disparate designs: Bundling UCaaS (designed for communications across an entire enterprise) with SD-WAN (designed for branch office connectivity) could “create a suboptimal pairing,” Fruehe wrote. He said this could also involve purchasing cycles for both products that aren’t in sync.
  • Future limitations: Fruehe suggested that a combination of UCaaS and a specific branch office SD-WAN could perhaps “limit a business’s future decisions, especially if public cloud migration for these services is the long-term strategy.”

Read more:

Business phones: Why make the move to UCaaS
Top UC&C trends for 2022: Beyond online meetings
5G to power UCaaS in the new world of hybrid work

Case study: A dynamic duo

At Enterprise Connect, Leaden presented a case study on a not-for-profit client with 1,000 end points across 20 sites in metropolitan area of New York City. This client:

  • was using an MPLS network to connect larger sites and some smaller ones
  • wanted to move to UCaaS
  • needed a way to justify the higher cost of UCaaS adoption vs. staying on-prem

Based on Leaden’s calculations, implementing UCaaS alone would have a higher TCO ($1.24 million over five years) than an on-prem VoIP PBX upgrade ($985,000 over five years).

But additional calculations showed installing SD-WAN alone would be 32 per cent cheaper than MPLS. Here’s the kicker: a combined deployment of UCaaS and SD-WAN would generate cost savings of $202,000 annually or $1 million over five years. For this particular client, SD-WAN was a necessary ingredient to offset the higher cost of moving to UCaaS.

Here are Leaden’s tips from his client case study:

  • try to combine both UCaaS and SD-WAN into a single RFP if possible
  • create a single virtual building environment with a single dial plan connecting all sites
  • leverage a strong contract with outs for non-performance
  • if you already have UCaaS: poll your provider for partnerships it has with SD-WAN vendors to seek better pricing, performance and SLA terms
  • if you already have SD-WAN: poll UCaaS vendors about the approach they would take and terms they would offer if partnering with your existing SD-WAN provider

Every organization has different needs and circumstances, of course, so due diligence is paramount. Leaden noted vendors are in the “early adopter” stage of offering bundled UCaaS/SD-WAN, which is even more reason to really do your homework.

Images: erhui1979/iStock; finevector/iStock

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