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 | August 24, 2016 |


Hybrid Skype for Business: Service Providers Enter the Game

Hybrid Skype for Business: Service Providers Enter the Game Microsoft might not be selling its Cloud Connector for hybrid Skype for Business environments as a hosted service, but others are.

Microsoft might not be selling its Cloud Connector for hybrid Skype for Business environments as a hosted service, but others are.

When I drafted my first post on hybrid options for Skype for Business, I didn't plan to follow it up with a second, much less a third. But in recent conversations with a couple of telcos the topic came up and what they're doing is interesting. So I thought I'd delve into it.

Very quick refresher: Cloud Connector Edition (CCE) is the solution du jour for using existing gateways and PSTN connections to let users with Skype for Business Online with Cloud PBX place and receive PSTN calls. Its software you can run on a server or on a session border controller. Check out my last post, "Looking at Cloud Connector for Hybrid Skype for Business," for details about that.

But there are two rather cruel things about Cloud Connector. First, a business is supposed to run this software on premises, or maybe in a data center. But that business is subscribing to Office 365 and Skype for Business Online because it wants to move UC and other apps to the cloud, right? So what does it want with more UC stuff on premises?

Second, Cloud Connector is essentially bits of Skype for Business Server that the business needs to deploy and manage. But that business is subscribing to Office 365 and Skype for Business Online because it doesn't have or doesn't want to have its IT folks managing the Skype for Business software, doesn't it? That's -- at least in part -- why it's subscribing to Skype for Business as a cloud service. So it wants someone else to take managing Microsoft's UC software off its hands.

So why isn't Microsoft itself selling Cloud Connector as a hosted service? I haven't asked it directly, but it probably figures that this is a hybrid deployment option so the enterprise is probably prepared to support part of the solution on premises. But those that aren't do have alternatives.

The Orange Approach
Orange Business Services was the first provider I talked to about an alternative to an otherwise on-prem deployment of Cloud Connector, so I'll start with it.

Orange Business, like pretty much all major service providers, has long had a hosted Skype for Business service that it sells internationally, including in the U.S. And, like all major service providers, Orange Business resells Office 365, including Skype for Business Online and, since it became available, the Cloud PBX add-on. Now Orange Business is adding another Skype for Business-related service to its portfolio -- a fully managed option for Cloud Connector.

Harken back to my last post and you'll recall that AudioCodes offers a solution that runs the Cloud Connector software on its Mediant 800 appliance. Deployed on premises, this links Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX to whatever PBX or gateway is connecting the company's existing voice systems to the PSTN.

In the Orange model, rather than deploy and manage the Cloud Connector appliance itself, a company can have Orange Business deploy, manage, and otherwise take responsibility for it in much the same way any other kind of CPE is managed. Orange Business can do the same with CloudBond, AudioCodes' more robust, feature-rich alternative to Cloud Connector that I also detailed in my last blog. In both cases, Orange Business charges a monthly recurring fee for the managed service, as well as a monthly charge if it owns the Mediant device on which the Microsoft software is running.

The Other Orange Approach
As you recall from my previous posts, Cloud Connector Edition is for businesses using an on-prem gateway to provide Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX users access to the PSTN. Companies that have Skype for Business Server Enterprise Voice deployed on premises can connect it to Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX and provide users homed to the latter with PSTN connectivity. The thing is, a lot of businesses don't have Skype for Business Server deployed on premises, but rather rely on a third-party provider to host it for them.

So what if a company subscribing to a hosted Skype for Business Server with Enterprise Voice service wants to gradually introduce Skype for Business Online with Cloud PBX as well? As it turns out there's no reason why Skype for Business Server hosted in a provider's network can't be connected to Cloud PBX in the same way a Skype for Business Server on prem is connected to it on prem.

Orange Business has launched a hybrid service that does just this. In this scenario a Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX user dials a PSTN number and, rather than going out over Microsoft's PSTN Calling service, is routed to the Orange Business service that's already providing the PSTN connectivity for that company's hosted Skype for Business Server service. Orange Business currently has this in controlled introduction in the 80+ countries where its hosted Skype for Business service is already available.

The Tata Approach
Tata Communications, the other provider I spoke to about Cloud Connector as a service, has taken a very different approach. Rather than managing Cloud Connector Edition servers deployed on the customer premises, Tata hosts the software in its own data centers.

"What we did was reverse engineer CCE," said David Spears, director of UCaaS product management at Tata Communications. "We took elements of enterprise Skype for Business and compiled a solution that does the same thing [as CCE] and adds more capabilities required by enterprise customers."

Tata Communications' Managed Cloud Connector service (source: Tata Communications)

Deployed in four of Tata's global data centers, Tata's Managed Cloud Connector service connects Skype for Business Online to existing voice systems on premises and existing connectivity services used by the enterprise -- just as Cloud Connector was designed to do. In addition to this, Tata's solution is:

  • Fully Hosted - Cloud Connector is typically deployed on premises. Tata's service puts all Cloud Connector components in its data centers where they are fully managed on behalf of the enterprise. The overall solution is still hybrid since PBXs and gateways connecting them to the PSTN remain on premises. But SIP trunks -- whether from Tata or most any other carrier -- are now pointed to cloud-resident and Tata-managed Mediation Servers.

  • Highly Available - Cloud Connector currently supports manual failover only. It could take up to 45 minutes for a server in hot standby mode to take over when the primary Cloud Connector server has failed. Because Tata's service is based on servers deployed in multiple data centers, the servers are fully redundant with one another. This lets them automatically failover to each other in the event of a server or connection failure.

  • Highly Scalable - Cloud Connector is currently limited to 150 or 1,500 concurrent calls per server depending on configuration. Tata's service allows for an unlimited number of concurrent calls. It accomplishes this by assigning multiple Mediation Servers to a particular customer, as opposed to the typical deployment model of a single Mediation Server native to a server running Cloud Connector.

  • Connected to Skype for Business Server - Cloud Connector is designed for use with PBXs and gateways deployed on premises. As mentioned in my previous blogs, you can connect Skype for Business Online with Cloud PBX to Skype for Business Server. But that's not an inherent part of Cloud Connector Edition. Tata's service adds connectivity to Skype for Business Server, letting enterprises rely on one method for connecting to both legacy voice systems and Skype for Business Server.

So providers are tilting Skype for Business hybrid services more toward the cloud. Enterprises can leverage Cloud Connector Edition to bridge traditional telephony and Office 365 environments with a minimal amount of initial investment and by tying up a minimal amount of IT resources. Subscribing to a managed or fully hosted Cloud Connector service lets companies continue moving all communications resources to the cloud. Which, after all, is why they're considering Skype for Business Online and Cloud PBX in the first place.

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