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Cloud vs. Hybrid: What's Best for Your UC?

Here's the burning question: Should you put your unified communications systems in the cloud or should you take a hybrid approach, keeping some UC systems on premises while moving others to the cloud?

The reality is that the UC industry is moving inexorably to the cloud. Even enterprises once reluctant to make the shift are now gazing skyward, so to speak, and putting users into the cloud.

Of course, many organizations are still concerned about the risks of transitioning to the cloud. And that's why we've put together this list of pros and cons to help you answer the big question of whether to go full cloud or take a hybrid approach.

Benefits of Moving All Your UC Capabilities to the Cloud

  1. Cost savings. Perhaps the primary benefit of moving everything to the cloud is that you will spend less money on physical equipment such as PBXes. In-house UC is rooted in legacy telephony, which is notoriously capital intensive. But now that UC can be hosted in the cloud, organizations can embrace a new model in which they pay only for what they use. This makes cloud UC a much more appealing option from a cash-flow perspective.
  2. Enhanced productivity. The ability to focus IT on strategic initiatives and agility is another significant benefit of moving to the cloud. IT organizations can focus on higher-value tasks rather than managing in-house UC systems. Cloud-based UC not only makes life better for IT, but also increases business agility by freeing employees to work more productively.
  3. Preparation for the future. The industry as a whole is generally acknowledged to be moving away from systems installed on customer sites and toward the cloud. All leading UC vendors are focusing their R&D efforts on cloud-based systems and models. Going forward, the option of buying UC equipment and deploying it in-house will diminish and will become a less attractive proposition.

Drawbacks of Moving Entirely to the Cloud

  1. Unreliable networks. When you're migrating to a cloud solution for UC, not only do you have to worry about the performance of your own internal network, you also have to worry about that other network -- namely, the ISP's network and the public Internet -- that sits between you and your cloud vendor's UC service. What if you're on a conference call with an important customer and the network seizes up? This could potentially cost you business. We're still early in the cloud journey, but your cloud-based UC systems need to be highly reliable and ready for prime time.
  2. Security risks. Customers will have concerns about data privacy. All of a sudden you're outsourcing your critical data, including your customers' personally identifiable information like usernames, email addresses, and phone numbers. Those personal details are now stored in someone else's cloud, so you need to be confident in your vendor's security practices before you make your move. What's more, the nature of a multitenant environment like the cloud means that video, voice, and data from numerous companies are going through the same channels at the same time, which can leave your data exposed. Ask your provider how it's managing security and maintaining compliance.
  3. Cloud complexity. You need a strategy that supports a broad set of vendors in your journey to the cloud. Most organizations today are not on a single UC platform, they're on disparate platforms from many UC vendors. To best handle this, you need a performance-management solution that can accommodate the vendors' various technologies, especially as you shift from one platform to another and transition more and more of your UC operations to the cloud.

Benefits of a Hybrid Approach

  1. Best of both worlds. Moving to the cloud does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Many organizations take a hybrid approach, transitioning some systems to the cloud while continuing to run others on their on-premises infrastructure. It might be ideal for you to move some functions to the cloud right away, while other functions, such as the contact center, you can keep on premises. Hybrid UC solutions take advantage of the on-premises infrastructure you've already invested in and successfully marry it with cloud services. A hybrid approach lets you move gradually to the cloud at a pace that best suits your organization, while maximizing your investment in existing on-premises infrastructure.
  2. More feature options. Even though UC cloud services are coming on strong, the reality is that on-premises systems still offer more feature-rich services, especially for advanced users. For instance, one large UC vendor only just recently released its auto-attendant capabilities in the cloud. The feature gap between on-premises and cloud systems is wide. The beauty of a hybrid approach is that it allows your advanced users to still use all the features they need in-house, while more basic users can immediately reap the benefits of the cloud.
  3. Risk mitigation. Moving entire systems to the cloud all at once can be risky. Hybrid provides organizations with the flexibility to move gradually to the cloud, one application at a time. It's common to conduct a cloud pilot with, say, 100 users to see how it goes. This is fine and the pilot may be a complete success. But what happens when you go live and add another 5,000 users? Forced to handle this additional traffic, your new system may suddenly not work so well. Hybrid cloud provides a platform on which you can test a completely new service without putting undue pressure on your computing infrastructure.

Drawbacks of a Hybrid Approach

  1. Greater complexity.
  2. Effectively running a hybrid cloud solution is no easy task. You need a robust infrastructure and the proper expertise to support a hybrid deployment. If you don't have the expertise in-house, you may need to find the right partners to help you facilitate the integration and deployment -- and that can add to your costs. What's more, a hybrid environment introduces more moving pieces and additional infrastructure needing to be managed.

  3. Less clarity. Hybrid adds more uncertainty to the mix and introduces questions of who owns what. If a call fails, for instance, is an on-premises application or the cloud provider responsible? Troubleshooting and triaging issues is more difficult in a hybrid environment than in either an all-hybrid or all-cloud deployment.
  4. Insufficient performance management. A hybrid cloud environment might involve a lot of equipment from many different vendors. This means you must be able to take data from several sources and stitch it together to get a complete picture of what's happening across your entire solution. Proactive performance management is actually more important than ever in a hybrid environment, because you need to know about potential problems immediately to maintain an efficient workforce and a positive user experience.

The bottom line is that organizations need monitoring and troubleshooting systems that are capable of managing both a complete cloud solution and a hybrid environment. A holistic experience-management solution that can accommodate a wide range of UC systems is vital as you shift from one platform to another and transition more and more of your UC operations to the cloud.