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The Cloud is NOT the Answer to Everything
You've probably heard the joke about the 5th grader that got an 'F' on his test because his response to each question was "the cloud." When quizzed by the teacher about why he answered this way, the child responded that his dad told him the cloud was the answer to everything. Of course, we know that the cloud is the right answer at least some of the time. It might seem as if the unified communications cloud vs. premises war has been decided, with the cloud forces winning decisive victories in terms of marketing and mindshare. However, as long as vendors continue to provide choice as to how enterprises architect and deploy solutions, the debate will continue -- and for good reason! (See related post, "Is Cloud Communications Inevitable?")
I do not believe that third-party cloud-based approaches are always cost effective or the best fit for every enterprise. Premises-based/private cloud still has its place as the most effective solution for many entities (note: I define private cloud as a cloud operated by the organization's IT staff). In general, premises-based systems are acknowledged for having the lowest TCO for medium to large sized organizations that are stable in terms of rate of growth. In addition, enterprises that are characterized by few large sites are also often a good fit for a premises-based/private cloud architecture. Third-party cloud solutions are acknowledged to be a good fit for SMBs where internal IT support is a scarce resource, enterprises that have many geographically dispersed small locations, enterprises that are experiencing volatility in growth/decline, as well as enterprises that do not see UC/telecom operations as a strength (i.e. strategic outsourcing).
However, many enterprises do not fit conveniently into either pure model of on-premises or cloud. It is not unusual to see a large enterprise comprised of a few large locations and many small ones where some aspects of both on-premises and cloud solutions are highly desirable. In this example, the enterprise can choose to provide functionality to large locations via premises-based/private cloud systems (cost-effective in scale), and leverage third-party cloud-based services for its small locations where support costs may be too expensive for premises-based solutions. I recently completed a consulting engagement that showed this approach to have a robust ROI and lowest TCO for all architectures investigated.
Another approach could be to provide a universal core set of functionality (i.e. voice, IM, presence) through a centralized premises-based/private cloud system and an additional set of functionality (i.e. video/Web conferencing) through a cloud service. In my consulting practice, I see many examples of this where it is not cost effective to upgrade the existing premises system, but adding cloud-based services ranging from WebEx to messaging services such as Circuit provide a more affordable alternative.
Although hybrid cloud solutions have been discussed for a while, it's only recently that useful hybrid products have been introduced into the market.
A couple of examples of useful hybrid solutions come to mind. ShoreTel recently improved its Connect platform that allows enterprises to provision either cloud or premises-based functionality that it claims are almost identical. (Reportedly, more than two years of engineering work was required to obtain this parity on its premises and cloud platforms). The recent improvements included directory and dial plan synchronization between premises and cloud platforms (see related post, "Know Your ShoreTel Hybrid Options). I have not yet implemented this for any of my clients, but it seems promising in making the hybrid integration somewhat seamless for users. Unify's Circuit is another example of a cloud-based team collaboration/workflow application that can be delivered to complement premises-based offerings, as Circuit has a telephony connector that integrates third-party telephone systems (including non-Unify PBXs).
The Microsoft ecosystem has a plethora of hybrid options -- both from Microsoft itself as well as from third parties such as AudioCodes' second generation Skype for Business hybrid product, CloudBond 365, which offers an appliance-based, fully-featured instance of the Skype for Business Server software solution with optional SBC. This has been used in conjunction with Skype for Business Enterprise Voice within Office 365 environments for quicker deployments and added reliability.
I am on record as saying that the UC/voice market will continue to be segmented for quite some time, with premises, cloud and hybrid offerings. Although cloud technology has won the mindshare of many today, strong business cases can be made for on-premises solutions. Look for more from me on this topic at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2017. Hope to see you there!
"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.