Brian Riggs
Brian is a member of Ovum's Enterprise team, tracking emerging trends, technologies, and market dynamics in the unified communications and...
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Brian Riggs | July 25, 2016 |


Looking at Cloud Connector for Hybrid Skype for Business

Looking at Cloud Connector for Hybrid Skype for Business If you're going to take a bring-you-own-SIP approach to connecting Cloud PBX users to the PSTN, Cloud Connector Edition is your path forward.

If you're going to take a bring-you-own-SIP approach to connecting Cloud PBX users to the PSTN, Cloud Connector Edition is your path forward.

In my previous No Jitter post, I detailed the various -- OK, two -- ways that businesses subscribing to Skype for Business Online can take a "bring your own SIP" approach to PSTN connectivity. To review, you can either connect Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX users to:

  • An on-prem PBX or gateway using Skype for Business Cloud Connector Edition
  • Skype for Business Server, which in turn connects to an on-premises PBX or gateway

General options for connecting Skype for Business to the PSTN are available too, although I'm not addressing them here. Just for reference, these are:

  • Connect Skype for Business Server to the PSTN, as has been possible for years
  • Connect Skype for Business Online to the PSTN using a third-party provider like those I profiled in my slideshow, "Cloud Telephony Options for Office 365"
  • Connect Skype for Business Online to Microsoft's new PSTN Calling service

But none of these have a bearing on the new hybrid options that I'm zeroing in on here. Like I mentioned last time, if you're going to take a bring-you-own-SIP approach to connecting Cloud PBX users to the PSTN, Cloud Connector Edition is your path forward.

According to a No Jitter survey, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they're planning to use Cloud Connector Edition to bridge the gap between Skype for Business Online and existing telephony systems. Presumably these respondents are already planning to adopt Skype for Business Online with Cloud PBX, otherwise I can't imagine the number would be so high.

But it shows that many enterprises either won't or can't simply terminate their relationships with telcos providing their connectivity services and replace them with Microsoft-provided trunks. Instead -- whether for the near or long term -- Cloud PBX will have to work hand-in-glove with many enterprises' legacy telephony systems and existing telephony services. And -- at the risk of repeating myself -- Cloud Connector Edition is how this happens.

Cloud Connector on a Server
Technically, Cloud Connector Edition is a subset of Skype for Business Server software. More specifically, it includes the Edge and Mediation components necessary for connecting Skype for Business Server to PBXs and gateways so Enterprise Voice users can make and receive PSTN calls. So the Edge and Mediation functions in Cloud Connector Edition do the same thing for Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX users.

Cloud Connector Edition runs as a set of virtual machines on a dedicated server. A company deploying it would need to buy the Windows Server software (about $3,000 if I remember correctly) and server hardware (maybe another $4,000), as well as have Microsoft-trained technicians on staff to set up and support it. This will not jibe with many companies looking to adopt Skype for Business as a hosted service specifically because they're trying to avoid capital IT expenses and keep IT support for on-premises systems to a minimum.

Cloud Connector on an SBC or Gateway
So let's consider an alternative. Cloud Connector can reside on a session border controller (SBC) or other dedicated appliance. Or perhaps I'm better off saying it will be able to reside on one, since these solutions are only now getting ready to become available.

SBCs already play a central role in the hybrid scenarios I've been describing. An SBC or gateway often acts as the gateway to the PSTN, as well as provides resiliency to the PSTN connection that ultimately connects Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX to the PSTN. SBCs and gateways are the only way Skype for Business Online customers can connect to analog devices such as paging systems and fax machines... at least until Microsoft adds such connectivity as a native Cloud PBX feature.

So, for example, while AudioCodes' Mediant hybrid SBC/gateway can be deployed alongside a dedicated server running Cloud Connector Edition, AudioCodes also ships a Cloud Connector Edition appliance. That comes in two models, one with the software running on a Mediant 800 device and another, more scalable, one running on an HP server. Both include hardware, SBC, and Windows Server license, saving businesses from procuring each separately. The Mediant 800 also is available in a gateway configuration with ISDN/T1 interfaces.

The story is similar at Sonus Networks. Its SBC 1000 and SBC 2000 SBCs can run alongside a dedicated server for Cloud Connector Edition. But by year's end, the Cloud Connector software will be able to run directly on the SBCs on an appliance called Sonus Cloud Link. This presents enterprises with a turnkey appliance for integrating Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX with existing telephony services and on-premises PBXs. This should simplify deployment and lower TCO in the same way appliances that run apps on gateways, routers, and whatnot have long simplified deployment and lowered TCO.

Cloud Connector Edition on an SBC via Sonus Cloud Link (source: Sonus Networks)

Beyond Cloud Connector
When all is said and done, what Cloud Connector Edition does is kind of limited. I mean, it connects Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX to an on-prem gateway and out to the PSTN. That's about it. What it doesn't do is natively connect Cloud PBX users to other on-prem communications resources... things like contact center systems, call recording software, attendant consoles and so on. And it doesn't make the larger set of telephony features in Skype for Business Server Enterprise Voice available to users homed to Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX.

Comparison of telephony features in Skype for Business Server and Online (source: Sonus Office 365 Cloud PBX whitepaper)

AudioCodes remedies some of this with its CloudBond 365 appliance. CloudBond 365 uses its own connector -- not Cloud Connector Edition -- to connect Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX users to the PSTN as well as to make third-party comms apps available to them.

Running either as an appliance or a dedicated service, CloudBond 365 runs a full version of Skype for Business Server. So if the contact center or call recording app can connect to Skype for Business Server, the app can also connect to CloudBond 365, which in turn makes it available to users homed to CloudBond. Additionally, all Skype for Business Server features are available to users homed to CloudBond 365. This extends things like Response Groups and Call Admission Control -- currently unavailable to Skype for Business Online -- to users homed to CloudBond.

So the deployment scenario goes something like this: Home end users who have fairly simple telephony needs to Skype for Business Online with Cloud PBX. These folks can put calls on hold, transfer calls, view caller ID, view call history, and do all the other stuff listed here. But they don't need and don't get anything fancier than this.

Meanwhile, an enterprise can home other users to CloudBond 365 to give them access to more advanced telephony requirements. That is, they get the much more complete set of Enterprise Voice features because they're attached to Skype for Business Server.

How is this different from simply connecting Skype for Business Online to Skype for Business Server? It's not, as far as I can tell. But connecting Skype for Business Online to Skype for Business Server assumes that the enterprise already has Skype for Business Server in place. The assumption with CloudBond 365 is that it's not. CloudBond 365 is a way for a company to quickly and easily deploy Skype for Business Server to supplement Skype for Business Online as needed. This could resonate with businesses considering Cloud PBX, but are concerned that it doesn't yet support a set of telephony features rich enough to meet their business communications needs.

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