VoIP done right: 11 best practices for moving to cloud-hosted PBX

cloud voip

Too often, cloud hosted VoIP gets a bad rap on the internet. People bashing provider A because call quality stunk. Or giving provider B a tough time because staff constantly had "fishbowl effect" issues with the service. I've read many of the reviews out there, and I'm here to set the record straight about cloud VoIP: the majority of these negative reviews are pointing fingers the wrong direction.

Much of what people see online about cloud hosted VoIP negativity is FUD -- partially being peddled by customers with poor networks, and partially by some nefarious traditional premise-based VoIP telco providers trying to stem the wave of customers moving to the technology.

I'll be the first to admit that when done right, cloud hosted VoIP (or cloud PBX, as some refer to it) is a wonderful option for modern business telephone service. It's extremely cost effective; can be used nearly anywhere if needed; and requires none of the hardware investment that traditional on-prem systems necessitated in the past. But what exactly constitutes done right?

As a managed service provider (MSP), I've been responsible for proper implementation of dozens of successful cloud hosted VoIP installations. And I've also had to render just as many SOS cleanups for those who jumped in two feet first without doing their homework. Furthermore, some clients that decided to take the VoIP plunge without consulting us or adhering to best practices, ended up ditching their systems and pinning their misrouted blame on those "terrible providers" as they call them. Hence the reason the net is full of so many untruthful reviews on otherwise good and honest providers.

If there's one thing I've learned about cloud PBX over the years, it comes down to one simple theory:

On Cloud Hosted VoIP, You Are Only As Good as Your Weakest Link

That's it. Short and sweet as a concept, but the real meaning here is different depending on client situation. Therein lies the devil that sits within the details. Your weakest link may certainly be far different that someone else's weakest link. What shapes do weak links take when discussing cloud hosted VoIP?

I have to look no further than real client situations for examples here. It could be a terrible single DSL WAN link as an internet provider. It could be cruddy Cat5 wiring within the walls, without a proper patch panel system at the rack backbone. It very well could also be a terrible SMB router that they picked up from the local office supply store for under $100. You name it, we've seen it.

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A clean network backbone for VoIP follows industry best practices, which includes discrete Cat6 wiring going into quality patch panels, which is then interconnected into business class switch equipment. A messy/incomplete network closet should be the first order of business before ordering VoIP service. (Image Source: L-Com.com)

Before you decide to consider a transition to cloud hosted VoIP for your company's telephone needs, here are some tried and true best practices I've gleaned from years of handling this in the wild. We don't need any more facetious reviews of cloud VoIP providers that are getting an unjust bad wrap due to circumstances beyond their control.

11. Questions You Should Be Asking Any Prospective VoIP Provider

Too many times, we are pulling people out of bad provider situations that could have been avoided with either proper consultation in conjunction with a neutral VoIP expert. Or, due diligence could have been accomplished just by pegging a prospective VoIP provider with some simple questions that put providers' feet to the fire.

Before signing on the dotted line, here are the items you NEED to get answered:

  • What kind of support do they offer? Any cloud VoIP company worth their weight should have 24/7/365 support. A bonus is if the support is all American based, but this comes at a premium, mind you. CallTower, the company we use for our own hosted Skype for Business VoIP needs, offers this.
  • What large customers do they service? Quality VoIP providers all have larger enterprise "wins" which they should be able to brag about. The actual names don't matter as much as them being able to attest to owning such accounts. If the company stutters on its enterprise client list, be wary. Enterprises are definitely moving to cloud hosted VoIP, and you want reassurance that this provider is handling some large accounts that have their own reputations on the line.
  • Do I need any special equipment onsite? Some providers like to sneak in equipment requirements, like the need for session border controllers (SBCs), specialized servers, or other pricey gear which may not be discussed on sales calls. Be blunt on initial conversations and ensure that no specialized gear is needed beyond the core basics of what a VoIP-grade network needs anyway like a good firewall, switch(es), and desk phones. Specialized equipment usually leads into talk about pricey maintenance plans which are money makers for some sly VoIP companies.
  • Can their desk phones/soft phones work anywhere? This is hitting at the heart of the viability of their service as being accessible and usable anywhere with a data/internet connection. The best cloud-hosted VoIP providers all promise usability anywhere there is internet. But be precise on this question. While the likes of CallTower, RingCentral, and 8x8 allow you to truly take your desk phone anywhere you go, some VoIP providers qualify their statement by saying you need to be on your "home base" internet line aka your office.
  • What is the contract term? Cancellation fees? This varies by provider, of course, but you need to ensure you know your term details and what it will take to back out of an agreement. Cancellation fees are the last item any salesperson would ever choose to discuss without being asked.
  • Is pricing promotional or locked in? Many providers out there will use crafty promotional pricing to lure you in. Many of the cable providers are very guilty of this on their hosted phone systems (which I DO NOT recommend by the way). Get your pricing details in writing, and ensure you know how long a promotion is lasting, how many desk phone lines it affects, and what the new pricing will be post-promotion.
  • How many toll free minutes are included? Almost all providers advertise fancy toll free capabilities. But toll free minutes usually come at a premium in the industry. As such, get these details in writing and ensure you are getting the package you need if you are going to rely on toll free incoming calls.
  • How many fax pages are included? Faxing, either via ATA adapters to physical fax machines, or eFaxing, comes with limits on incoming/outgoing pages. Find out up front how much faxing you can do and across how many users/adapters. Many providers gloss over these details during discussions as people usually don't ask for clarification here.
  • Do I get my own web-based administration portal? How easy is it? The best providers out there have rock solid web based admin portals you can use to configure your service. The not-so-great ones advertise portals, but they are buggy, messy, and usually require calls to support to fix issues caused by the cruddy interfaces. I've got a few providers I could name, but I'll refrain here. Get a test drive on the web portal to see if it meets your needs. RingCentral and 8x8, two providers we love, have awesome web portals which allow clients to make any adjustments they wish.
  • How fast do they implement new technologies? This is key in distinguishing if the company is a market leader, or just one playing constant catch up. Many lesser hosted PBX providers are slow as molasses to implement software updates or make evolutionary leaps on their systems. This was one of the biggest factors which pushed us to go with CallTower for our hosted Skype for Business service, as other players we checked out were lagging far behind the curve in the software they were using.
  • Do they have a trial period? Don't be afraid to take a test drive. All the best players in cloud VoIP have trial periods you can take advantage of. If a provider claims they don't offer trials because their other clients don't ask about them, or that they don't have the ability to, steer clear. The major players we recommend to clients like CallTower, RingCentral, and 8x8 all have industry standard trials which allow any client to play with the system they are buying into before jumping two feet forward. You wouldn't buy a car without test driving it; don't treat your VoIP system any differently.
  • What does your SLA look like? While Service Level Agreements (SLA) aren't rubber stamps for the uptime you will see from a provider, they do outline the kind of reimbursements/credits you are owed in situations of non-delivery or outages. A level of four 9's (99.99% uptime) is the very least you should be seeking from a provider. This equates to about 52 minutes of downtime per year which is quite acceptable for most companies. Obviously, the more 9's you can garner, the better, but be realistic and don't pay hefty premiums to get a 100% out of a provider. It's a baseline to use for comparison among providers for the most part.

Be sure to get input from key stakeholders in your organization BEFORE calling a sales rep, as you will likely build a question list with items that are custom to your needs. Fact finding up front is critical to avoid wasting time on providers who can't match your requirements list.

10. HIPAA Certainly Does Apply to Cloud VoIP

Are you a Covered Entity (CE) or Business Associate (BA) regulated by HIPAA's iron grip? Then the question of HIPAA compliance should be one of the first items you peg a VoIP provider with. Many VoIP providers out there love to wiggle around this big issue by stating that they are covered under the "conduit exception" under HIPAA regulations. Unless they are offering you service which is purely in the form of a simple analog telephone line for calling/faxing, they likely shouldn't be using the "conduit exception" argument.

And as such, this is an area with a lot of hot air around it. I'll be quite honest here and say it like it is: the only cloud hosted VoIP provider I know of which is 100% guaranteed HIPAA compliant is 8x8. I'm not trying to do a cheap plug here -- these guys will sign a business associate agreement (BAA) on the spot for any client who needs one, and they have numerous pages online outlining their strict adherence to HIPAA compliance regulations.

HIPAA compliance is an all-encompassing methodology not only relating to the security of the technologies being used on their backbone, but how calls are fully encrypted; how data like voicemails/faxes are stored; and the policies and auditing they employ to uphold their compliance stance.

A cloud VoIP provider sidestepping the topic by claiming "conduit exception" isn't serious about gaining your business, and you should walk away.

VoIP provider 8x8 has an excellent blog post about why holding your VoIP carrier accountable for HIPAA compliance is super important.

9. Don't Go With the Cheapest Provider Around

As if this one needs restating. But too many clients are purely shopping on price point. If you are one of those merely driven towards cloud hosted VoIP for cost alone, you may likely be sacrificing other important facets like stability/uptime or 24/7 support.

In fact, many of the "low cost" providers out there don't even have telephone support and rely on email based support or worse, forums. An example of a very low cost provider that advertises extremely cheap pricing, but skips on phone support, is CallCentric. Don't let cost alone override other considerations for a quality VoIP provider.

8. Don't Let Vendors Push On-Prem PBX Boxes as Silver Bullets

I see this a lot in our industry. Many vendors love to push traditional on-premise PBX units, like Avaya IP Office systems or similar, as they have shoe-ins which guarantee their ability to keep their feet in the door with service contracts, maintenance agreements, and the like. There are numerous reasons I dislike this approach for phone service these days:

  • These boxes are single points of failure. Only the biggest enterprises can afford truly redundant on-premise PBX systems, with dual or triple PBX boxes, etc. Most SMBs will be sold a single PBX which becomes the lifeline of their phone system. If the unit dies? You're down until it gets replaced. If it needs new parts in 6-8 years due to failures? You're hoping the phone guy can find parts on the open market, or you're plunking down the cash for a new PBX. Avoid this messy quagmire.
  • Your phone service is NOT truly universal. Want to take your desk phone home or on the road? Good luck without VPN. Traditional VoIP PBX boxes require consistent network connection back to the office where the PBX sits. Services like CallTower and 8x8 work ANYWHERE in the world regardless of what network you are on. This is critical especially for times of emergency where you can't take your PBX and rebuild in another office quickly.
  • PBX units usually require specialized PRI service. PRI lines are special carrier lines that are built to interconnect office PBX systems with the rest of the world. But they come at a price which is usually considerably more costly than what cloud hosted PBX can offer over BYO internet lines.

There are other specifics I could get into, but the above three are the main items of interest I use as pushback when clients talk to PBX-centric vendors. Unless you have a compelling business reason to go the PBX route, cloud hosted VoIP is (usually) your better option.

7. Know Your VoIP Quality Metrics: Bandwidth, Latency, Loss, Jitter

Too many clients on the hunt for VoIP are stuck in a tunnel-vision discussion about their internet needs related to a single metric: bandwidth. While important, this metric only tells one part of the story. This is because, simply put, you can have a pipe that is quite fat (like a 40Mbps connection from your cell provider) but that doesn't mean it's necessarily fast. And this is where many well-intentioned people get burned with VoIP.

Here are the key metrics for internet and VoIP quality which you need to know:

  • Bandwidth: Describes how "fat" of a pipeline you are being given, with numbers correlating to download and upload speeds.
  • Latency: This is the second part of the primary equation which determines how "fast" your link to another party is. Lower latency is ALWAYS better and is usually king on hardline ISP connections. Cellular and satellite ISPs are notorious for having terrible latency which is KILLER for quality VoIP calls.
  • Jitter: In plain terms, the timing gaps between data packets being sent out on internet lines. Bad jitter is higher in millisecond count, with low or nonexistent jitter being best. Hardline ISPs have better jitter metrics than cellular/satellite services on the average.
  • Packet loss: Ever lose mail you've sent out in the postal system? That's the real world equivalent of packet loss. Good ISP lines should have zero packet loss. Even just a few percent of packet loss equates to terrible VoIP calls.

There is an excellent primer on some of these terms with deeper explanation available on DSLReports.com.

And if you are interested in testing your WAN connection quality before getting VoIP, RingCentral has a great tool available for putting your line(s) to the test. They likewise also offer a capacity test tool to see how many VoIP connections your current setup can handle at various quality levels.

Bandwidth02

Bandwidth, which is the metric most ISPs sell their services upon, tells only part of the VoIP story. The term relates to how fat of a pipeline you are being given in two directions (upload/download) for your needs. But having a fat pipe doesn't always equate to a fast pipe. (Image Source: Coolnerds.com)

After reading the above definitions, your goal should be clear: stay away from cellular/satellite ISP providers and opt for cable/fiber service where possible.

6. Wired Always Beats Wi-Fi, But if you Must...

The highest quality VoIP backbones are always built on solid, Cat6 entrusted networks from the core routing/switching equipment out to the actual endpoints (desk phones, soft phones, etc). This is because wired connectivity has a high level of assured delivery and quality guarantees that we just can't achieve with Wi-Fi-based VoIP yet.

I know situations will arise where it's not possible, or financially feasible, to get wired connectivity back to all desk phones. Or some workers have no choice but to use Wi-Fi off devices out in a warehouse or similar office setting. If you've got to go off Wi-Fi, here's how to make the best out of a bad situation:

  • Get staff devices onto their own dedicated SSID. Using dedicated SSIDs for staff devices not only ensures segmented security from guests, but it also means you can put in place things like traffic limits on guest Wi-Fi traffic while giving your staff devices priority. We make it a point to always implement this when deploying our go-t0 access points of choice for VoIP, Meraki MR series units.
  • Get off 2.4GHz and onto 5GHz when possible. Again, another area that is made super easy if you're using the right gear. Meraki's MR series access points have native "band steering" capability which allows us to force any and all devices over to 5GHz transmission if they are capable of it. This ensures less congestion, and allows said devices to operate with more stable signals that will be less affected by the nasty items above like jitter and latency.
  • Disable legacy bitrates and 802.11b. Legacy Wi-Fi technology like 802.11b and associated speeds, usually under the moniker "legacy bitrate" or similar, drive down performance/stability of other devices. We simple switch this option off when we configure the Wi-Fi setup.
  • Plan your channel map wisely, or employ smart auto-channel access points. The more neighbors' toes you are stepping on when it comes to Wi-Fi spectrum, the worse off your devices will be. If you are using non-intelligent access points which need manual channel configuration, map your location out and plan your channel usage accordingly. We like leaving that logic up to intelligent auto channel tuning, something that Meraki's MR access points provide out of the box.

As I said, wired is king... but Wi-Fi can be made to work decently well with the right equipment.

5. VLANs Have NOTHING to do with VoIP Quality

There is a long held belief on the internet, coming somewhere from the trenches of geekdom, that VLANs are somehow this saving grace and panacea when it comes to VoIP performance. It's as if any mention of VoIP issues always circles back to this notion of "just use VLANs." This is absolutely WRONG and couldn't be more short sighted and off base.

VLANs are strictly a SECURITY related function of network design. Many people mis-associate the usage of separate subnets for data and voice networks as VLAN'ing, but this is merely because many intelligent firewalls combine both aspects into one operation. The usage of separate subnets is the key part to any kind of segmentation you want to build into your network -- NOT the VLANs.

You don't have to take my word for it. Discussions like this and this online do a great job at having other experts explain the nuances of why VLANs are ineffective for performance improvement or QoS needs.

The usage of strict VLANs unnecessarily complicates your network design with zero added benefit. Only if your DHCP backbone forces you into a combination VLAN/subnetting segmentation mentality should you be using VLANs (as do the Meraki MX series firewalls we usually employ in VoIP scenarios.)

4. It's UPLOAD, Not DOWNLOAD Speeds, That Kill Cloud VoIP

Most internet providers offer service in asymmetrical manner these days, aside from dedicated pipes in the form of expensive fiber or metro ethernet. While these are very cost effective pipes most of the time, they are usually dogged by the reality that download speeds are almost always FAR greater than upload speeds.

So take a typical Comcast coax cable line, for example. Comcast offers various speed levels, such as 16 down / 3 up, 25 down / 10 up, and 50 down / 10 up price points, to name a few. As you can see, upload speeds are never as generous as download speeds.

And this is why I mention this very point. Your download speed is likely not to be a factor in poor VoIP performance, as download bandwidth from the big players is usually very generous even on low plans.

WAN pipes like DSL lines, which we are sadly stuck with as a backup pipe at our own office, are pegged at nominal speeds like 6 down / 1.5 up. If you are sharing a single WAN line for both regular computer/server data needs and your VoIP connections, then you are at very high risk for VoIP quality issues on such small lines.

The logic here is pretty easy to remember: be more watchful of the UPLOAD you are getting from an ISP; download speeds will rarely if ever come to be an issue.

3. Go With Cat6 Wiring When Possible, And Always Use PoE Switches

Core wiring infrastructure is critical to great VoIP performance. As I said earlier, you're only as good as your weakest link. In many situations, customers are fighting with old wiring and failing switches, and calling me curious as to why their VoIP experience is sub optimal.

Without getting too technical, VoIP is a VERY delicate transmission on your network, and traffic degradation/fluctuations due to poor wiring or cheap switches/routers shows very quickly. In some cases, we have had to come in and re-wire a customer network with fresh Cat6 and brand new gigabit switches to solve the problem. Many times, we catch this up front before a client even is allowed to make a move to VoIP, so as to avoid a bad experience preemptively.

If a wiring contractor is offering to install lesser Cat5 or Cat5e, just say no. The extra cost of going Cat6/Cat6a is very minimal these days, and will not only guarantee a cleaner experience on cloud VoIP, but will also doubly future proof your network for 10gig ethernet which will likely be standard on devices in 6-10 years.

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Going with PoE-enabled switches is a no brainer these days. It allows for the delivery of data and power over a single line (Cat6 usually) as opposed to forcing desk phones to use AC adapters plus a data line. Filtered power is guaranteed to all desk phones, and AC adapter hassles are completely avoided. We don't roll out VoIP without it these days. (Image Source: CableOrganizer.com)

Lastly, if you are replacing your wiring, it's usually a good time to address putting in new quality switches. Don't go with the cheap stuff here, but there's likewise no need to go top shelf either. We like to go with Meraki switches when possible, but due to their higher cost, great subs are Cisco Small Business SG200/SG300 series units, or Netgear's PROSAFE business line. And don't skip on the PoE (power over ethernet)!

The reason why using PoE to power your endpoint phones is critical is twofold. First, it allows you to ensure you are passing clean, filtered power to all phones since the switches should have power supplied from a secure power source like a UPS. Second, you are reducing the points of failure on the phones since you don't have to worry about staff unplugging AC adapters, kicking them, damaging them, or using up AC ports below desks.

PoE is almost a necessity if going with VoIP these days. The number of problems we have seen on non-PoE deployments is not worth the headache.

One last word on switches: if financially feasible, get separate dedicated switches for your VoIP phones and ones for data connections to computers. This is especially key on large deployments. We make this a requirement for most big VoIP rollouts we handle. The nice part about this is you can apply separate management/QoS policies to the switch ports for a given side en-masse without worrying about affecting the other side of your network. Plus, you can easily use subnetting segmentation that is controlled from the upstream port (in our case, usually a Meraki firewall) to hand out dedicated addressing for that side of the network.

This makes voice/data separation dirt easy and super manageable without much of the headache that traditional per-port VLAN mapping used to entail.

2. Two WAN Pipes Are Always Better Than One

Going with cloud hosted VoIP brings up the danger that we are potentially relying on the stability of a single pipeline back to the internet for our voice traffic. Pipes get cut, outages occur, and all of this is a common fact of life. Even dedicated circuits with supposed uptime policies/SLAs get hit -- and I've seen this countless times over the last few years.

Which is partially why I don't trust my eggs in one basket, even in the case of expensive fiber lines with lengthy SLA language. Going with dual WAN pipes, even from "best effort" carriers, is usually better than relying on the trusted word of a single carrier.

Our standard fare approach to dual WAN lines is usually to seek out two coax line providers that can offer great bang for the buck service, and likewise, bring in service from two separate networks. NEVER settle on two distinct pipes from a single carrier -- like Comcast, for example, which we've seen done on some installs. If the provider as a whole is experiencing issues with their coax backbone in the area, both of your supposed separate lines will be toast.

So double up with separate lines from different providers. Comcast as your primary, and maybe RCN as your secondary. Or ATT Uverse as your primary and WOW cable as your secondary. Whatever combination you choose, just be sure to size your bandwidth needs properly as mentioned earlier.

The likelihood of two carriers going down at the same time is super slim, and probably only going to happen in the face of a major disaster, like a tornado hitting a property. But at that point, you've got bigger issues on your hands than worrying about internet uptime.

The other bonus about dual pipes? As I discuss in further detail on my number 1 point below, dual pipes can be used to offer load balancing for your entire network. Given you are employing a smart firewall/router than can apply such logic, traffic load can be spread out amongst two lines simultaneously to take advantage of the additional bandwidth afforded by a second pipe.

In the case of a single line going down, your entire network then goes into a single-WAN operation until the other pipe comes back up. Then, you can go back to leveraging both connections at once. A crafty, neat feature which is well worth investigating. We use it at our own office on a Meraki MX60, and at many client sites, and it rocks.

One word of caution: stay away from cellular/satellite service as a primary or secondary line. VoIP, as mentioned before, does NOT like the latency/jitter problems with these wireless carrier services, and your VoIP quality will suffer greatly because of it.

1. Don't Skimp On the Firewall -- AKA the Brains of Your Network!

Not all routers/firewalls are created equal. And anyone that tries to say as much clearly doesn't have real world experience deploying high density, high stability VoIP environments. That $100 off the shelf unit from Best Buy or Staples likely won't do the trick. And yes, I do know many cloud hosted VoIP companies advertise some of these cruddy models on their websites. But the number of times we've had to replace these with business class units are innumerable thus far.

Even just searching for a "business class firewall" in general won't yield the right results without some fine toothed combing across what the innards of the actual devices truly offer. Here are the definite items you should be requiring of any new firewall to manage the backbone of a cloud hosted VoIP network:

  • QoS capability for necessary VoIP ports. Cheap routers will merely offer you switches that turn on/off basic QoS functionality for areas like "gaming" or "voice." These dummy switches are worthless in my opinion, as your VoIP provider and my VoIP provider could have completely different definitions of how VoIP travels to/from their network. This is why having the ability to custom control which ports get what kind of QoS treatment is critical.
  • Bandwidth limiting on a per-device basis. This is usually reserved for routers/firewalls over the $400 or so price range, but this aspect is key to ensuring everyone on a network is playing fair. Let's face it: bandwidth, no matter how much of it you have, is a limited resource. Even a 150Mbps pipe can be torn apart by just a handful of abusers. That's why we require the firewalls we roll out for VoIP have bandwidth governors, or limiters, that are enforced on a per-device basis. This ensures fair play, especially in situations where smaller pipes are at play.
  • Ability to track down abusers and what they are doing. There may be other bandwidth or performance sucks affecting your network which may not be identifiable up front before a cloud VoIP rollout. Are there some on the network using the office for their personal World of Warcraft updating needs? Are some people deciding to let personal laptops download BitTorrent files all day? These are the mystery items which can kill VoIP but which cannot be easily pinpointed without proper insight/analytics capabilities. Invest in a firewall which lets you dig into this data and take action on it. Meraki's entire MX firewall line, for example, offers this capability.
  • Ability to turn off SIP-ALG and SPI Firewall features. Many cheap firewalls have forced-on SPI Firewall functionality, which is excellent for security, but in many cases causes issues with cloud hosted VoIP due to how traffic is inspected and dropped. Likewise, SIP-ALG is a feature which many router makers implement to attempt to intelligently handle VoIP traffic, but which almost always fails to work (don't ask me why -- it just never works, and you can read up further on this messy feature here). Ensure that the router you are purchasing has explicit switches to turn this stuff off, or that these functions don't impede on cloud VoIP from your provider of choice. As a note, since I've been heavily speaking to the magic of Meraki's MX boxes, they do NOT use SIP-ALG as far as I know, and their implementation of SPI firewall technology actually works fine out of the box with no need to be shut down. Yay!
  • How does patching look on the device? Does the firewall need manual intervention to be patched, or can it handle its own patching? This is critical to ensure security fixes are being implemented; bugs squashed as they are found; and performance improvements delivered when available. We like Meraki devices since they do this without making us lift a finger.
  • Can you call someone to help with emergency configuration questions? For most cheap routers, the answer here is "no" outside of a small window you may get after purchase. This is unacceptable for companies that will rely on such a router to power their data and voice network day to day. I'd rather not leave my luck to the gremlins. Get a router that comes with 24/7 support, either in the form of bundled support or via a license.

While the above won't guarantee that you won't get stuck with a non-compatible or functional firewall when it comes to cloud VoIP, these are tried and true facets that we have come to rely on over the years.

In general, our company stands behind the reliability and stability that has been proven from the Meraki MX-series firewalls we have in the field. These units are so entrusted with our cloud hosted VoIP rollouts that we pretty much exclusively have settled on using them for nearly every client situation. In fact, if you want to come onboard as a managed support customer with our company, we won't let you on without having one of these boxes at your office.

mx64w-mantle

The Meraki MX64W, shown above, is a firewall we have battle tested time and time again with excellent results handling cloud hosted VoIP. We've tried Sonicwalls, Cisco ASAs, Netgear units, and everything in between, and keep coming back to Meraki's MX line of devices. They just work. What more could we ask for?

Many people have had pretty decent luck with Sonicwall, but after a messy support experience during a stressful deployment on a TZ-series router last year, we are steering clear of the devices now. I know full well it's a situation that could be isolated to us, but we have little reason to move away from the rock-solid nature of Meraki's boxes.

Regardless of which direction you go with your router, just remember: DO NOT SKIMP HERE! A cheap firewall usually yields cheap results.

Cloud Hosted VoIP Works Well When Planned For Accordingly

Like with any new technology change at your business, proper planning is key and downright critical in many ways. Jumping the gun and ordering service from the likes of a RingCentral or CallTower Hosted Skype for Business offering without due diligence is recipe for disaster.

And trust me, we have seen it countless times out in the wild. Just like you can't push the best race car in the world to its peak performance if the road beneath it stinks, cloud hosted VoIP is very much a similar beast.

It loves low latency. It expects redundant, dual WAN pipes. It excels when delivered over quality Cat6 lines and matching switch equipment. And downright thrives when managed with intelligent, VoIP-aware firewalls such as Meraki MX-series boxes.

Is there a cookie cutter approach to delivering the sole "answer" for quality cloud hosted VoIP? Absolutely not. Each office and scenario will require its own dedicated plan for filling in the blanks.

Hopefully the above best practices can give you the tools necessary to make the right decisions when investing in cloud hosted VoIP. For most companies, they only have one solid chance to do VoIP right -- make it count on the first try.

Photo Credit: Gazlast/Shutterstock

Derrick WlodarzDerrick Wlodarz is an IT Specialist who owns Park Ridge, IL (USA) based technology consulting & service company FireLogic, with over eight+ years of IT experience in the private and public sectors. He holds numerous technical credentials from Microsoft, Google, and CompTIA and specializes in consulting customers on growing hot technologies such as Office 365, Google Apps, cloud-hosted VoIP, among others. Derrick is an active member of CompTIA's Subject Matter Expert Technical Advisory Council that shapes the future of CompTIA exams across the world. You can reach him at derrick at wlodarz dot net.

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