Finding the Value in Hybrid UC

Hybrid -- cloud and premises-based -- unified communications has become a hot topic as businesses struggle to pick the best deployment model for their specific IT environments.

Decision makers understand the benefits of hosted (external) clouds, but are also well aware of the potential challenges. Moving to cloud solutions may mean compromises in security, control and reliability in favor of speed, flexibility and cost savings. Decision makers also face the sobering reality of huge investments in premises-based infrastructure that can lead to sunk costs if migration to the cloud happens too fast.

That's why hybrid clouds are often touted as compelling solutions for many businesses with complex communications requirements. While it's easy to argue that hybrid clouds could provide the best of both worlds, we often get lost in translation in trying to understand what hybrid really means.

Defining Hybrid UC
Hybrid, very much like UC, means different things to different people. A variety of hybrid architectures and deployment models have gained popularity and are likely to make further inroads going forward. Two hybrid deployment models appear most frequently. In these models, companies either:

In the first scenario, different vendors often supply the premises-based and cloud solutions. In the latter scenario, the same vendor provides the end-to-end solution.

A Plethora of Hybrid UC Options
Premises-based UC solution vendors are launching cloud UC platforms and/or services to provide a cost-effective migration path to the cloud as well as to provide companies a way to bridge existing premises-based systems with new cloud deployments. Emerging solutions based on multi-instance platforms are rapidly gaining traction, presenting a viable alternative to the more established multi-tenant platform-based solutions.

Services based on these platforms allow businesses to reuse phone terminals, gateways, and other components while leveraging familiarity with existing technology for cost-effective cloud migrations. SIP trunking services add value in this regard by enabling businesses to use common directory and extension dialing across the premises-based and cloud solutions.

This model is best-suited for businesses with substantial investments in these particular vendors' technologies.

Fibernetics, Fonality, and Star2Star Communications are among the most successful providers supporting the second deployment model, whereby a company chooses a hybrid architecture as a long-term solution and deploys some UC capabilities on premises and others in the cloud. Some UC vendors have also launched pure-cloud solutions (e.g., Cisco Spark, Interactive Intelligence PureCloud, Microsoft Cloud PBX, ShoreTel Connect Cloud) providing cloud connectors to enable businesses to deploy hybrid architectures (e.g., cloud PBX with local connectivity or cloud team collaboration apps integrated with local PBX functionality). Interactive, for example, offers a hybrid architecture whereby the Interaction Edge Device provides local call routing and survivability while the PureCloud UCaaS platform delivers the majority of the UC functionality.

No matter the architectural approach, a hybrid solution aims to provide businesses with the flexibility and convenience of the cloud model along with the reliability of a customer-premises edge device. The hybrid model may also provide greater cost efficiencies than either a cloud or a premises-based solution through more efficient bandwidth utilization (via premises-based call routing) and more economical access to advanced features and technology updates (via cloud applications delivery).

Depending on customer functionality, cost, security, reliability, control and other preferences, businesses can choose from a broad array of options -- from fully managed premises-based solutions to a variety of hybrid architectures and pure-cloud solutions.

Fibernetics Newt is closest to a managed customer premises equipment (CPE) solution. Most of the PBX functionality resides on a premises-based appliance, whereas solution configuration backup, as well as auto-attendant, voicemail, contact center and other apps sit in the Fibernetics core. Newt includes all telco services; Fibernetics bundles the cost of all hardware and software with the monthly service fees. Compared to managed CPE solutions, Fibernetics' managed Newt offering takes customers further along on the cloud path as it alleviates up-front CAPEX requirements and ongoing maintenance costs.

Fonality, Interactive, and Star2Star hybrid solutions also leverage fully managed premises-based devices, which enable local call routing and survivability. They host the rest of the apps in their service provider cores.

Similar to Fibernetics Newt, these other hybrid offerings provide the flexibility and convenience of OPEX by converting hardware and software costs to operational fees. Star2Star also provides telco services (DIDs and dial tone) whereas Fonality lets customers bring their own SIP trunks. Interactive provides both options. While an all-inclusive package has widespread appeal, the latter approach allows the providers to serve customers in international locations where they do not have access to local numbers. This model also allows customers to choose their own SIP trunking providers.

These deployment models appeal to a broad spectrum of businesses and are likely to remain viable options over the next five to six years. UC deployment options by the more established UC providers warrant more detailed discussion to properly understand and evaluate. What follows is a brief overview of Fibernetics, Fonality, and Star2Star, which have clearly defined solutions and strategies for the hybrid UC market.

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Continued from Page 1 Fibernetics
Newt is the Business Services Division of Fibernetics as well as the brand name for the company's managed PBX business phone system. Newt leverages a home-grown, Asterisk-based communications platform, delivered as a fully managed service (networking, connectivity, and communications) in a hybrid architecture.

A key part of the Newt solution is an on-premises scalable PBX appliance that enables local call routing and SIP registration, provides a secure point of management, and optimizes WAN bandwidth usage. Premises-based call control/switching reduces costs and improves service reliability. Fibernetics creates a "peering" network to allow extension-based dialing among company sites. With Newt, businesses also can make free calls in all of their sites' local calling areas.

While a company can manage its remote sites from the main-site Configuration Facility, Fibernetics stores configuration data and call detailed records (CDR) in the core, eliminating the need for a local configuration backup. A company can retrieve CDR and presentation data from its premises by connecting to the Configuration Facility through an intuitive user interface. In case of a disaster affecting a local customer site, Fibernetics leverages the hosted component of the architecture to restore configurations and/or route calls to other sites or phones.

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Fibernetics stores, backs up, and maintains auto-attendants and voicemail in the core, so these servers remain in the call flow even if a company's location is down. A company may use automated extension-based off-line number forwarding or let calls go to voicemail so users don't miss calls when local connectivity is unavailable.

The Fibernetics contact center offering, comprising queues, announcements, enhanced routing options and call recordings, also resides in the Newt core. This enhances survivability with the ability to queue callers in the core network. Fibernetics also provides network-based conference bridges with every PBX solution. This eliminates the need to occupy PBX voice lines during conference calls for participants joining from outside of the office.

The fully managed service covers the local phone network and voice access circuits, as well as the company's LAN and desk phones. Because they lease the premises-based equipment, Newt customers can take full advantage of the OPEX model.

Newt is a good fit for businesses looking to keep PBX functionality on their premises, but outsource solution management and all other UCC apps (e.g., business features, auto attendant, messaging, conferencing, and contact center).

Fonality
Fonality offers a variety of cloud solutions, including private, public and hybrid cloud, with each catering to different customer needs. With more than 200,000 users leveraging its hybrid architecture, Fonality effectively addresses specific customer pain points. Through a premises-based device, Fonality routes voice calls locally, rather than through a cloud-based server. This is ideal for locations under telecom contracts or lacking reliable broadband Internet access.

The provider's hybrid model enables service delivery in global geographies where direct-inward-dial (DID) numbers are not available to third-party providers. In this model, Fonality lets customers provide their own phone numbers (DIDs) and telephony services (dial tone and minutes). Through asynchronous caching, Fonality manages the system (including the edge device) remotely, through the cloud, where all intelligence (call routing, PBX and UCC functionality, etc.) resides. This model is good for businesses that wish to gradually move off of PRI connections to cloud communications, as well as those still concerned about cloud reliability.

The hybrid model enables such customers to centralize system management across cloud and legacy deployments. And, it allows businesses with operations in countries where other providers cannot provide telephony services (e.g., government-controlled DIDs that may not be ported to third parties) to deploy Fonality solutions throughout the entire organization.

Star2Star
Star2Star differentiates from other hosted UC providers through its unique blended architecture, combining a premises-based call routing and switching device (StarBox Cloud Connection Manager) with cloud solution management and a range of cloud-based applications. This architecture offers an appealing alternative and a safe migration path to businesses reluctant to make substantial investments in complex new premises-based systems or to entrust all of their communications capabilities to the cloud. The two key elements of the blended architecture are the StarBox Cloud Connection Manager and the Constellation Network.

Star2Star provides superior service quality and reliability by delivering the core telephony functionality through an intelligent edge device on the customer premises. The StarBox Cloud Connection Manager ensures availability of local connectivity at all times to reduce the possibility of disruptive service failure. Star2Star fully manages and controls the premises-resident StarBox device through the cloud. The device's fully dedicated software addresses the needs of security-conscious customers, as well as those that need to retain some of their existing telephony services capabilities or integrate their telephony solution with other applications.

The device routes off-net calls along the highest-priority path, but can switch to different paths if that path is unavailable. Star2Star achieves this flexibility by connecting all of an organization's StarBox Cloud Connection Managers to all points of presence in its Constellation Network. Two-way traffic shaping through StarBox Cloud Connection Manager allows Star2Star to prioritize outgoing calls as well as ensure incoming calls have sufficient bandwidth by slowing down data transmission, if needed.

Star2Star also delivers a broad communications and collaboration applications suite from the cloud. The suite includes voicemail and unified messaging, audio conferencing (StarConferencing), presence and chat (StarScope2 and StarChat), e-fax, mobile fax and classic, legacy fax (StarFax), contact center (StarCenter) and call reporting (Activities Starlet, Starview Reporting for StarCenter and StarReporter), call recording, customer relationship management integration (StarContact), PC/laptop soft client (Star2Star SoftPhone), mobility (StarPhone), video conferencing (StarVideo), and more. Its product roadmap includes the upcoming launch of additional social and collaboration capabilities.

Hybrid UC: To Be or Not to Be
Businesses must carefully inventory their communications assets and capabilities to decide what type of UC architecture best meets their current needs and future objectives.

Keeping all communications capabilities on the premises remains a viable option for businesses with stringent security requirements, substantial IT staff and expertise, and considerable financial resources. Pure-cloud solutions are best for companies that wish to fully focus on their core businesses and entrust the management of their communications and capabilities to an expert third party. Hybrid cloud fits various customer scenarios.

In certain cases, hybrid architectures provide a gradual migration path from premises-based to cloud solutions. However, the architectures I've described above are better suited for businesses looking to combine the best of both worlds (cloud and premises-based) as a long-term solution. In evaluating different hybrid solutions, businesses must conduct a thorough due diligence to ensure that they deploy the right kind of hybrid architecture.