The Cloud: Middleware
Middleware is important in migrating toward cloud, and I think will remain key for those wishing to push hybrid solutions and to protect their existing investments.
In a post: The Cloud: Front End Alignment, I described the process to connect a hosted PBX to our company PBX. Our hosted PBX and our on-premise PBX have dial plan modifications to see one another for station dialing. Calls between either are via the SIP trunks. Both the SIP trunks and hosted PBX are from the same provider.
CounterPath is a popular client used by users of both Microsoft and Apple. Bria 3 is the client we've used to test numerous hosted platforms with various providers.
Bria 3 allows for multiple SIP accounts and adding an extension to the hosted PBX and then adding the same extension settings in Bria for either desktop (Mac) and/or smartphone (iPhone). The Bria 3 app resides on my desktop, iPhone and Windows based Toughbook.
Moving our DID numbers from our current SIP trunk provider will yield another 20-30% cost reduction and we gain features. Also, by moving the Automated Attendant and Voice Mail (AA/VM) function to the cloud we gain the ability to queue calls in the cloud without buying additional virtual or physical trunks.
Now, the key limitation in this configuration appears to be that, if we have five SIP trunks with our hosted provider, that means we have five possible simultaneous connections for our inbound traffic destined for our internal PBX. This doesn't mean that we can't queue calls. Then, if all five channels are busy, remote users calling our PBX automatically overflow to our other SIP trunk provider and ring in on a ring group and lose the ability to dial extensions directly. This is a default and not really a feature, since our hosted PBX provider is using our existing MBTN as a backup route. This would cease once we remove the former provider and revert to using a cellphone as a backup route.
What we also lose is voice mail integration to the desktop phones that reside on our PBX; since the hosted PBX assumes this role, all voice mail messages are delivered via email instead of both email notification and message waiting lights on desktop phones.
What we don't have is true integration between the two platforms. Presence is lacking, in the sense of call control and visibility of all users on both platforms. This remains a key barrier for businesses that want to escape the licensing penalty box of their telephony solution.
For an improved integrated solution, I can envision that our hosted provider will need to advance their level of call control to our gateway. Then, to illuminate message waiting lamps on extensions on our PBX, the provider will likely need call control beyond the gateway, and my guess is our endpoints will all need to become SIP instead of the mix of 2500 sets, proprietary, IP and SIP endpoints that we have. Once the lamps are lit, then there's the exchange of turning them off after message receipt. There's also paging and a few other features that require further dial plan manipulation.
Stopping here, you may begin to think: Is this really worth the effort, or will the provider advance their development on their end, and will the PBX manufacturer cooperate?
What's interesting is the CounterPath Bria 3 client is leaps and bounds better than Lync for Mac, namely because it works with voice. The audio and hardware compatibility issues that exist when you use gear "Optimized for Lync" with Microsoft Office for Mac are absent on CounterPath. Perhaps the Lync components within Microsoft's Office for Mac have since been improved--I don't know. Then, the presence off all user extensions and email with Lync is absent on CounterPath using the hosted solution (PBX).
Now, what's cool is I ran CounterPath's client on my Mac desktop. The audio quality went unnoticed by everyone, meaning zero negative comments about the audio quality, or sounding like my voice was in a barrel. Then, also having Bria's "iPhone Edition" client on my iPhone proved that we could reduce my cell minutes, just as Todd Carothers of CounterPath explained to me in CounterPath and NEC Shave Enterprise Cell Bills.
Next, I contacted Todd with a few questions:
MB: Do any of the Bria clients show extension status for hosted PBX extensions? (I suspect this is dependent upon the provider)
TC: Yes. You are correct this depends on the service provider. We support via standard SIP message. There are two parts: (1) The "Display Name"--which is an "informal" in the context of the user name and (2) if the Display Name is not entered, we strip out the front end of the SIP URI firstname.lastname@example.org and display that (i.e., the user_name).
MB: Do the Bria clients (Bria 3 or Bria iPhone Edition) integrate with Microsoft's cloud service 365?
TC: Unfortunately (from what we know) Microsoft does not allow soft SIP endpoints to work with their service. However we are looking towards other solutions where we can get around this limitation.
I found that I had to remove CLIR (Caller ID Restrictions) on our PBX extensions used to lock down station CLIP, and once I removed these restrictions and inserted extension numbers; these extensions could dial the hosted PBX extensions.
Now going back to my earlier concern--is this really worth the effort, or will the provider further development on their end and will the PBX manufacturer cooperate?
Not too long ago, managed service providers (MSPs) weren't thinking of integration with customer PBXs unless it was a straight SIP trunk sale. Now I have remote extensions connecting to my PBX via a hosted PBX.
I won't say there's motivation from the PBX manufacturers but I will say how easy it is to retire our PBX and convert to an all hosted solution using just our Mac desktops and iPhones. The negative is the cost to do so with the number of extensions we have and our investment in our existing gear. Middleware is important and I think will remain key for those wishing to push hybrid solutions and to protect their existing investments.