Over the past few years, we’ve assisted a number of clients who are upgrading from an older telephony platform to a more modern unified communications solution. When choosing between cloud and premises-based solutions, most of our clients face the same dilemma. There are advantages and disadvantage of each, with neither being a perfect fit. Just like with Goldilocks, one is too “cloudy,” the other is too “premisey,” while the third “just right” option is hard to find.
Advantages of Premises or Private Cloud Solution
For the purposes of discussion, we are generally referring to premises-based solutions or those privately hosted in the customer data center that are typically leased or purchased under a Capex model. Most vendor contracts for Capex solutions allow for refinement and customization to support specific requirements, including those covered by an RFP.
Service-level agreements may be refined to reflect the organization’s priorities, as opposed to a contract that must be applied across a broad range of clients sharing one platform. In addition, traditional solution providers are accustomed to a hand-holding implementation style, which is often required by enterprise-level organizations. The types of companies that prefer this method have complex business needs requiring precise, phased rollouts, with high-touch project management and customized, live training plans. A team of vendor resources is expected to be available on site to guide the customer’s project and internal technical staff through the process.
Custom contracts and service agreements, and a full complement of implementation support resources to walk the organization’s team through the process, are often among the top reasons enterprise clients select a premises-based solution.
Disadvantages of Premises-Based or Private Cloud
The disadvantages of a premises-based or otherwise “owned” solution most often cited are slower rollout of upgrades and features, difficulty in scaling up and down, having to maintain the hardware and license environment, and needing to employ additional staff to maintain it. In addition, with this arrangement customers often must purchase and manage SIP trunks and other network infrastructure separately.
Advantages of a Public Cloud or Hosted Solution
Here, we are generally referring to a cloud-based solution, on a shared instance of the application, sold as an all-inclusive, per seat per month cost. Most contracts for hosted solutions are priced per seat to include the desired features, such as mobility, minutes, and contact center. Some include end user handsets as part of the per month cost, while others sell the phones separately up front as a capital investment.
Either way, when paying a monthly fee, featured upgrade cycles are faster. Additionally, with this model little or no on-site staff are required to support the core elements of the solution itself. In this scenario, the vendor also provides SIP trunk connectivity, DIDs, and sometimes direct connection from the cloud provider’s data center to the customer location(s). The customer can quickly make desired changes by accessing the cloud management portal. The “self-service” nature of this arrangement can be appealing to smaller, nimbler organizations. The ability to scale quickly as the company grows or re-organizes is an improvement over long lead times of the past.
Disadvantages of a Public Cloud or Hosted Solution
While a nimble, self-service alternative may be attractive to some companies, as mentioned above, enterprise clients require a customized approached rather than a self-service model. While a public cloud model may require less internal staff to support the infrastructure itself, the initial set up and programming of all user devices and features can be daunting. When it comes to implementation, many of these organizations are disappointed to discover that the extent of the installation they purchased involves the vendor providing them access to log in to the portal so they can do the programming themselves, shipping them boxes of phones, and giving them a link to online training videos.
Additionally, the standard contract terms offered by most cloud providers do not meet the legal requirements of many larger organizations, often favoring the vendor, with little flexibility to make changes. In one recent example, the contract called for the customer to commit to keeping all the originally contracted quantities of licenses on the system, while allowing the vendor to cancel the contract for no reason with just 30-days’ notice. And as far as flexibility, if the contract doesn’t allow for attrition without penalty, any advantage disappears.
“Just right” Alternatives
Most mid to large enterprise or government entities want the benefits of a hosted solution -- ability to scale, the latest advanced features, and minimized internal staff requirements -- while at the same time desire the white glove transition treatment, implementation, and contract terms traditionally provided by premises solution providers. In the old fable, Goldilocks stumbled on the perfect solution on the third try. In the real world of unified communications, the perfect option is harder to come by -- but it does exist.
One alternative is to consider using a “boutique” partner firm to stand up a private instance of the manufacturer’s system with a managed service type of arrangement. With such an approach, the customer owns the equipment, but it resides in the vendor data center(s) and is managed by its staff. These firms also often offer custom contract and SLA terms to meet specific customer requirements and can be flexible with arrangements to accommodate non-standard requirements.
There are also value-added reseller firms who bundle their implementation and management along with the hosted solution to provide a comprehensive package.
So, if your search hasn’t yet led you to the perfect option, keep looking. It does exist.
"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.