Five Steps to Prepare Your Network for Hosted Voice
As your business prepares to make the transition, there are a few network elements you'll want to make sure are ready first.
Is your business considering moving to the cloud? You're not alone. According to Gartner, Inc.,"By year-end 2015, 60% of enterprises will provide 30% of their users with cloud voice services." This isn't surprising, given the cost, operational and performance benefits associated with hosted services. Businesses of all sizes are finding that the improved TCO, business continuity, worker mobility, and advanced features that the cloud provides simply make good business sense. But as your business prepares to make the transition, there are a few network elements you'll want to make sure are ready first:
1. Quality of Service. QoS availability and proper configuration on your MPLS network is key to your call quality staying high and calls staying connected. Without it, calls will be adversely affected by other network activities such as email and web browsing. Ask your network provider to explain how QoS should be configured on your network to ensure you get the best possible call quality.
2. Physical Infrastructure Compatibility. Even though you're moving your VoIP call control to the cloud, there are still physical elements in your network that must be correctly configured. For example, you'll want to ensure that Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol or DHCP is configured on your LAN and that your switches and cabling are all optimized for VoIP traffic. Additionally, make sure that your existing devices, like handsets, will be supported by your cloud provider, as well as ensuring that your cloud provider is aware of any outside servers or hosted services you need to access. Summary: make sure your cloud provider has a complete picture of your network's physical infrastructure and requirements.
3. Firewalls. You absolutely want to keep the bad guys from getting in, but you also need to let the good guys out. Voice calls must reach the cloud so they can be processed and connected, and users need browser-based web access so they can configure call services. So it's very important to understand how firewall rules work for the different types of traffic you'll be generating, from ICMP and UDP to HTTP and HTTPS. Ask your cloud provider for a comprehensive list of appropriate firewall and network settings so you can ensure good traffic is able to flow as it should while securely blocking the bad stuff.
4. Call handling and handset requirements. Give thought to your various user groups and their specific requirements--for example, receptionists, basic users, executives, conference rooms, fax machines, etc. Think about the array of Hosted PBX features your employees can use to work more efficiently and which will ensure your customers get the help they need when they need it. Do you plan to use the Auto Attendant feature to answer your calls, or to employ hunt groups that automatically route customer calls to the next available employee? Additionally, if you want to be able to move and use handsets anywhere on your network regardless of electric outlet availability, ask your cloud service provider if their Hosted PBX phones include Power-over-Ethernet switches.
5. Avoiding common "gotchas". In their move to the cloud, many businesses overlook a device that still holds a place of importance in many offices--the fax machine. If you need to send/receive faxes, ask your cloud service provider if their Hosted PBX service supports it. Also make sure they can support VoIP and data on a common access circuit, or you won't be able to enjoy one of the big savings benefits.
Additionally, be sure to ask potential vendors a few probing questions, such as: Is the network theirs (i.e., do they own and operate the network facilities) and do they have the reach to cover all your sites and likely expansion areas? Will they let you bring your own handsets? Do they offer the high-quality "business grade" voice service your organization requires? What about service up-time and SLAs? Don't be afraid to ask your cloud service provider how they would handle any scenario you require--their ability to answer your questions and help you up front will go a long way towards preventing bad surprises later.
Proper Planning and Preparation Leads to a Smooth Transition
Moving to the cloud is increasingly a wise decision for many businesses, but it's important that you take the steps to get your network ready for the move. Use the items above to help jump start your planning process and dialogue with your service providers and you'll be well on your way toward a smooth transition to the cloud.