Using a vLAN for VoIP Traffic

Posted on: 2018-02-16 | Categories:SIP

VoIP adoption has been growing steadily over the past few years but this has not always been the case. In the early days of VoIP, call quality and reliability were two of the main reason for businesses to stick to the PSTN. After all, the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) had been working reliably for decades. So why should a business switch to a new technology that is notorious for bad audio quality?

In 2018, the environment is vastly different. Most users will be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a traditional phone call and one that is made with VoIP technology. With many providers offering HD voice paired with superior hardware, VoIP call quality is better than ever. However, it doesn’t mean that your business won’t have any issues. Whether you use hosted VoIP services or deploy your own SIP trunking solution, there are certain factors within your control that affect audio quality.

What is a vLAN?

A vLAN is one of the many tools you can use to protect your phones and ensure high-quality calls. VoIP brings voice to the same network that hosts all the other different types of data like text, pictures, documents, emails etc. Some organizations prefer to keep this traffic separate and segregate VoIP calls to a separate, physical network. Unfortunately, that is often expensive and out of reach for most businesses.

An effective strategy is to use virtual LANs or vLANs instead. As the name suggests, a virtual LAN is a subset of an existing network. You can segregate certain devices that can communicate privately even when they are part of a larger network. Since this is a logical segmentation, the devices don’t have to be next to each other. Most enterprise-grade routers and network equipment support vLAN creation and deployment.

You can use a vLAN to group VoIP devices and traffic and segment it away from other types of data. Virtual LANs are useful for more than just VoIP traffic. You can use them to group users or devices together to implement security policies and control traffic flows. For instance, employees working on a confidential project can be grouped on the same vLAN. Outside devices cannot access the traffic within, ensuring security and confidentiality.

Benefits of vLAN for VoIP Segmentation

Improved Performance

The first benefit you’ll see with a vLAN is also the reason why most companies do this in the first place. Since you’re separating data and voice traffic, network equipment does not have to differentiate the two types of packets. On a network without segmentation, voice packets are tagged to have higher priority than other types of data. Now that voice is not competing with anything else, you’re likely to see better performance and audio quality. This type of logical segmentation also reduces the overhead on your servers since they don’t have to filter traffic based on type. Real-time VoIP traffic that is sensitive to time delays gets the highest priority automatically.

Better Security

Security concerns were nonexistent during the initial phase of VoIP adoption. But with more companies adopting the technology, their networks are becoming lucrative targets for hackers and criminals. VoIP fraud is on the rise whereby scammers break into systems over the weekend and make thousands of calls for which the victim will be on the hook. Businesses are now waking up to the realization that their phone systems also need protection, something that was not a concern with PSTN lines.

Moving to VoIP introduces security risks to enterprise networks. vLANs will give you better control over security. You can lock down the VoIP specific virtual LAN to a much greater extent than other parts of the network. With VoIP traffic only allowed on the virtual LAN, it becomes easier to spot unauthorized flows. You can block specific ports or destinations and even set voice specific security policies that may otherwise hinder other types of data.

Easier Troubleshooting

This benefit should come as no surprise. Configuring virtual LANs allows you to troubleshoot problems quicker and easier. Since different types of traffic flows are not on the same network, you can identify trouble spots before they become unmanageable problems. The different routers and switches on the network have to deal with one type of data only. So traffic flows are predictable and consistent. Administrators can spot anomalies, resolve bottlenecks and identify malfunctioning hardware with ease. Since half the work involved in troubleshooting is identifying the problems in the first place, you can save your efforts for resolving the issue.

Setting up and configuring virtual LANs is not a new strategy for network administrators. However, not many people know of its effectiveness when it comes to VoIP. If you are not already segmenting your network for VoIP traffic, it may be time to start.