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Time for Hybrid Cloud Solutions

The huge R&D in hybrid-enabled solutions will change the bounds of possibility and could significantly impact best practices.

Public cloud services continue to enjoy double-digit growth, often at the expense of premises-based implementations. There's indications the growth will continue as cloud services become more prevalent, more trusted, and generally less expensive than they have been.

Compared with cloud services, premises-based solutions offer more control and tighter security. Costs are difficult to compare, but in many situations premises-based solutions are less expensive--at least on paper. So perhaps it's not surprising that premises-based systems continue to dominate share of new implementations.

Given these two realities--the growing popularity of cloud and the enduring appeal of premises-based systems--the question going forward may be whether enterprises are really facing an either/or decision. Can the two systems combine into a more powerful solution than either can provide by itself? Cloud/premises hybrid solutions are emerging, and they will likely become a viable option for many organizations.

Remember those old Reese's commercials? The angry reaction that ensued after someone accidentally mixed the chocolate and peanut butter that gave way celebration after the new taste was discovered. (In a nutshell) that's the modern hybrid. Prepare for, "You got your premises in my cloud!"

Cloud/premises hybrid solutions involve elements of both, but hybrids of CPE and network-based services could be construed as nothing new. Plain old telephone service (cloud) always required a premises-based telephone. Telephones are not only premises-based, but customer-owned as well (at least since the 1968 Carterfone decision). PBX dealers were known as "interconnects" because they interconnected systems and services.

That was a different era, one in which carrier services and premises-based equipment required each other to thrive. The dedicated cabling of yesteryear made centralized services resource-intensive. VoIP eliminated both the cabling and distance restrictions, enabling the modern cloud to emerge for communications. The interdependent relationship between network services and equipment began to fade.

Over the past decade, the market positioning of the cloud transitioned to an "instead of" rather than "and." Many cloud providers even presented their services as a cure to the common PBX. VoIP protocols and UC applications delivered full premises-like features without premises-based gear.

I recently wrote about the blurring distinction between these camps. Consider this premises-based situation: A customer rented the product via an operating lease, hosted it in a carrier's data center, and engaged to have it managed by the carrier under a managed services agreement--yet still considered a premises-based system.

Since location doesn't matter, premises-based is a bit of a misnomer. Key criteria really are around operating costs, control/outsourcing, and often shorter-term commitments. Cloud services offer immediacy with lower risk. Initially, IP-based cloud services were working to be as good as premises, but now offer many benefits over premises in areas like mobility.

Now the sides are coming together and re-examining the possibilities. Hybrid solutions can share the workload between hosted and premises-based systems to best meet customer requirements. Last week, AVST and BroadSoft announced that the University of North Carolina did just that. The university adopted hosted services from a BroadSoft provider, but chose to retain its premises-based unified messaging solution from AVST. By doing so, the university simplified the transition and the need for end user training. The hybrid solution also retained many valued features such as AVST's personal assistant and speech recognition.

What's particularly intriguing about the BroadSoft/AVST solution is that it leverages solutions from different vendors. Most hybrid solutions today use like-branded services and components. As solutions evolve from different vendors, expect to see management and provisioning services interoperate or consolidate.

Different Hybrid Approaches
There's multiple ways to approach hybrid solutions, with even more expected to emerge. The most common approaches are geographic and application hybrids, but other areas such as capacity planning, API/development hybrids, and financial hybrid models are also emerging. For example, instead of engineering the system for the busiest day of the busiest year, organizations can size premises systems more appropriately, with cloud services at the ready to handle overflow processing.

A geographic hybrid strategy allows an enterprise to deploy a mixture of premises-based solutions and public cloud-based solutions by location, such as premises at the main office, and cloud for branch offices. This allows organizations more flexibility than an all-or-none approach. A single virtual system can provide a single directory, a single dial plan, and feature consistency across both premises and cloud systems.

A geographic hybrid requires communications between the premises-based and hosted solutions. Most premises-based vendors can cluster systems, so "hybridizing" typically involves extending that protocol to the public cloud offer. For example, NEC uses CCIS and C-LINK, which it also supports within its hosted 3C offering.

An application hybrid model involves splitting deployment models by application. The university described above is an example, as it kept the messaging application on premises. In addition, conferencing is a popular service to combine with premises-based systems. Cisco's ASR1000 allows the WebEx hosted service to run on-premises, reducing WAN traffic. Cisco positions hybrid as a key part of its HCS architecture, but which elements can run where varies by provider. Microsoft Lync refers to this as a "split domain" which can move some functions (IM, presence, voice, video, conferencing) to Lync Online, but PSTN remains centrally managed on premises.

Disaster recovery is another powerful hybrid solution, instead of the traditional approach of duplicate resilient servers on-premises--which is costly and complex. A hybrid solution could enable failover to a hosted service. Mitel takes it a step further with its offer that fails-over to mobile phones. The IP desk phones also redirect to the cloud, but the mobile alternative adds protection against a disaster that closes the office.

It's not just the premises vendors that are so excited about hybrid solutions. Zoom.US, a web conferencing provider, offers a hybrid solution that puts the conferencing software on premises, and uses its cloud service to authenticate users. It's a cloud-based pay-as-you-go service that lets the user keep the sensitive information within a conference on its premises.

All of the major UC vendors are currently touting hybrid solutions. Some solutions are available today, and many more are expected in 2014. The result will be unprecedented levels of flexibility for the enterprise. What will likely emerge will be a new set of best practices around capacity planning, application design, mobility solutions, and disaster recovery.

Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.

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