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Evaluating Cloud Options

This week I'm participating in a live panel discussion where I'll be presenting information on Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)--you can register for the event here. Preparing for this event got me thinking about the cloud and its role in the UC world. Anything that involves the cloud, hosted, or "as a service" is hot these days, and companies of all sizes are trying to determine whether it's time to move from the tried-and-true premise-based solutions to a cloud/hosted service.

It's been interesting to watch the cloud phenomenon, and the huge amount of interest in all-things-cloud. I consider myself somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to the cloud--at least for certain businesses. Yes, there are many, many benefits that the cloud provides, and it certainly makes sense for a variety of organizations, as discussed below. That being said, I have a problem with hype making it seem as though the cloud is the panacea for all companies.

As with any new technology, once we get past the hype, the reality remains. Today, the pendulum is swinging more towards the cloud, but longer-term, we may see some organizations coming back to on-premise and hybrid solutions. Hosted services have tremendous value and benefits, and I encourage anyone looking into a UC solution to include UCaaS offerings in their evaluation. But I also encourage them to use their critical thinking skills and not be overwhelmed by the hype.

Businesses will have many decisions to make:

* What should they be looking for in terms of features/functions, scalability, reliability, etc.?
* How will the total cost compare with a premise solution?
* Which vendor/hosted provider best meets their needs?
* How will a cloud-based solution compare for delivering the intended benefits?

The decision whether to use UCaaS will be challenging for some companies, and obvious for others. For small and very small companies, UCaaS should be a "no brainer"--it's easier to deploy, can be up and running very quickly, and most importantly, doesn't require IT resources and expertise to implement, manage, and maintain.

UCaaS is also a good decision for very large enterprises that need to manage and maintain multiple UC systems, often from different vendors. The UCaaS provider is responsible for managing the service at all of the sites, removing this burden from the enterprise.

In addition, it's more cost effective to deploy the functions and capabilities needed on a per-user basis, which is important in large organizations with a wide range of workers and requirements. UCaaS solutions generally provide the various required capabilities in easy-to-consume bundles and packages, making it simpler to deploy the functionality needed for the individual workers that need them, without having to purchase servers, software licenses, etc. for the sub-segment of users that need the various capabilities. However, the cost for a hosted solution will generally be higher, even after accounting for offsets of labor, space, etc. Most very large enterprises will want to opt for a hybrid solution of both premise-based and hosted.

Mid-to-large-size businesses will have more challenging decisions to make. UCaaS offers more flexibility in terms of the ability to easily add more users when needed; the ability to stay current with technology and upgrades; and ease of turning up new locations and users as needed, including remote workers.

However, on the minus side, customization and integration with applications and business processes are more challenging; the TCO is actually higher for hosted services than premise-based solutions; and the company has to give up some control over the solution. Similar to very large enterprises, many mid-to-large businesses will opt for a hybrid solution.

Regardless of the size of company, hosted services make a lot of sense for geographically-dispersed organizations with multiple locations. It's generally much easier to connect various locations through cloud-based services rather than have equipment sit in every site.

The good news for all of these businesses is that there is a very large variety of providers to choose from. The bad news is, there is a very large variety of providers to choose from.

Businesses will need to choose between traditional premise-based vendors that offer cloud solutions, traditional carriers and service providers offering UC solutions, a new breed of hosted voice providers, and even resellers that put together their own hosted offerings. Everyone's gotten into the game, and businesses will have to carefully evaluate which provider to choose.

Hosted VoIP and UC providers such as 8x8 and Fonality are up against more well-known names such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, which are up against UC vendors that also offer their own hosted services. Some savvy system integrators and VARs also offer hosted services for their customers. The choices for organizations looking for a hosted solution are vast--and confusing.

UCaaS is great--there are lots of decisions and choices to make. Choose wisely.

Please register and join Phil Edholm, Joe Hines of Voice & Data Networks, and me this Thursday for this live panel discussion.

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