Cloud-Based Communications: Right for You?
The success of migration to cloud services will depend on executive management participation as well as participation of the network staff.
The Cloud Environment
Moving to a cloud solution for communications is the next big thing for CIOs to consider. Think of this hosted solution as Communications as a Service (CaaS), communications in the cloud. The cloud solution can offer rapid expansion capability, flexibility, cost control and expense reduction.
How do you define CaaS for communications? SaaS, Software as a Service is the umbrella term. CaaS is a subset. Both can be called cloud or hosted offerings. SaaS and CaaS are forms of outsourcing. There are about two dozen competing definitions for SaaS. There are multiple definitions for CaaS as well.
There are cloud based voice services, IP Telephony (IP PBX), Unified Messaging (UM), call center and Unified Communications (UC) services. The cloud/hosted service can also support backup and recovery for remote offices and can deliver business continuity at a lower cost. Acquisition and support costs can be reduced. Service levels may even be improved. All of these advantages lead CIOs to at least consider and analyze cloud based communications services.
An attraction of CaaS or cloud communications service is that the enterprise accesses the services through the Internet or IP managed network service to gain access to managed technology services. The enterprise does not buy hardware (though the enterprise generally does need endpoints and some internal network to access the services) or software. The use of a pool of servers in the cloud, either dedicated or shared, is a form of virtualization.
The communications services are delivered as a common set of features and functions. The enterprise subscribes to the features and functions desired. The financial arrangements for access can be by the seat, phone, feature, usage, or unlimited usage with flat fee. Pricing models are still evolving, which makes it somewhat difficult to compare cloud service charges. Overall, however, the promise of lower cost to the enterprise is the major attraction of considering cloud communications services.
Why Look at a Cloud Solution
Reducing costs is almost always the primary driver for considering a cloud solution. A major benefit is a reduced, controlled and predictable cost. Because the cloud site is shared with many other subscribers, the overall hardware, software and operations costs can be prorated over the subscribing organizations. The enterprise benefits from the service provider's economy of scale, which should translate into lower cost service.
However, there are other advantages that can accrue to the subscriber to cloud communications services:
* Flexible sizing--The cloud solution can expand or reduce the number of seats/phones/endpoints very quickly. This is especially useful when the number of active seats varies by season or for special events or situations.
* Business continuity/reliability--The cost of high availability (99.999%) may be beyond most budgets. Ensuring continued operation or rapid recovery when a disaster occurs can prove more affordable with a cloud solution than if the enterprise tried to deliver the same level of business continuity itself.
* Staffing--The enterprise ICT staff responsibilities are significantly less with a cloud solution. The ICT staff can be smaller and will not require expensive certification training. The ICT function is mostly administration of the service.
* Software--The enterprise does not have to deal with software subscription fees and licensing costs. These are included in the service subscription fee.
* Management--The enterprise should not have to allocate significant time to managing a cloud solution. Management will deal primarily with a contract that has specific deliverables and SLAs.
* Features and functions--The enterprise can gain access to features and functions that are not available on their existing system/service or that are too expensive to implement. Features and functions can be tailored to individual users, thereby avoiding a one-size-fits-all solution.
Cloud Implementation Models
There are six possible business models for the cloud communications providers. Different business models may complicate some and maybe all of the issues that may arise when subscribing to a cloud service. Here are the business models now in place:
* A total cloud service where the provider owns the hardware, software, and network, and has the staff that implements and maintains the service.
* The cloud service (private or public) can be located on dedicated or shared servers that run customer owned software. Amazon's EC2 platform is a cloud based business service that already exists. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides resizable compute capacity in the cloud. Here, the Service Level Agreement (SLA) covers the platforms and network but not the features and functions offered.
* Another model is a communications software vendor (e.g. call center software) operating on another provider's hardware and network. The Amazon EC2 service is a candidate to support this model as well.
* A third party installs licensed communications software in the cloud (like EC2) and sells the service directly.
* A reseller that owns nothing, but resells cloud services from one or more wholesale providers.
* The provider locates the system/solution on the enterprise premises, charges by the seat but manages the system remotely through the cloud. The enterprise becomes responsible for some of the business continuity capabilities as well as power and cooling costs. Some providers call this a managed service and not a cloud service.
The business model will have a great influence on the SLAs and Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) that an enterprise will encounter. The stability of the service may be in jeopardy if the service provider's business model is not successful. What if the cloud provider goes out of business? This has already occurred with some wholesale as well as retail providers. What if the provider decides to terminate some function and features? The enterprise should have a backup plan (possibly an alternative cloud provider) in place in case any of these situations occur.