GUIDE: Is it time for your business to move to the cloud

by Steve Leaden

Cloud systems are rapidly replacing old technology. Those of us in the UC market have witnessed cloud solutions grow for several years—so much so that the unified communications and collaboration (UC) cloud is on its way to mainstream.

Many SMBs, thanks to their nimble nature, have migrated to cloud solutions, and more recently, enterprises have been taking the plunge. As a consultant, I am seeing our clients consider replacing their legacy telephony systems, and all of them have asked for cloud solutions to be included in their RFPs.

Research supports the observed increase in UC cloud adoption

Many market projections for hosted UC and collaboration support this perceived growth in popularity. A study by Wainhouse Research projected global UCaaS/collaboration sales of $5.3B by 2018 with a 5-year compound annual growth rate of 24%, with considerable growth coming from the mid-to-large enterprise segment. Wainhouse also projects the number of endpoints supported annually can be as many as 20+M by 2018. This, from my vantage point, is a significant market trend that will happen.

Most organizations have some type of cloud in use today, and therefore the leap to a UC/collaboration cloud platform is not as great as it first appears. For example, most enterprises use some form of outside conferencing or collaboration, which are all cloud-based. Off-site storage, Google Docs and Office 365 are other examples of cloud usage.

Why more enterprises are moving to the cloud

It’s faster

  • In many cases, a UCaaS/collaboration solution can be implemented in less than 90 days. This totally changes the timeline for delivering a full UC suite from the cloud.
  • Because the rate of technology is constantly increasing, moving to a cloud infrastructure allows going to market faster than the competition.
  • It’s quicker to implement a cloud solution than a premises-based solution. Cloud solutions can also expand quickly among endpoints and applications.

The price makes sense

  • Many organizations have less capital today than they used to, and are looking to move to an operating expense (OPEX) model rather than a capital expense (CAPEX) model.
  • There’s less staff required—the cloud provider is responsible for ongoing maintenance and support.
  • In our consulting practice, we are seeing a slow but steady decline in the monthly cost for a UC endpoint in the cloud.

IT convenience is key

  • Telephony and UC are, in some CIOs minds, headaches, as they are not part of the native IT infrastructure. But some CIOs can simplify and delegate their telephony and data infrastructure outside of the organization.
  • The growing adoption of UC applications creates more management issues for IT, and the ability to outsource management to a cloud provider becomes more attractive.
  • Upgrades are generally provided at no additional cost, and most are performed outside work hours or in real time.  

Not all UCaaS/cloud collaboration providers are alike

While there are a very large number of UCaaS and cloud collaboration providers, the majority offer very basic features and functionality without the high scalability and reliability large enterprises require. Leading-edge providers can offer:

  • A full UC suite of features
  • Telephony/call control
  • Voice messaging, visual voice messaging
  • E911 and emergency notification
  • Contact center capabilities
  • Security and encryption to each remote site and desktop
  • UC mobility clients, integration and twinning – including single number each
  • Scalability (up or down), with no limits
  • Minimal-to-no downtime
  • Disaster recovery functionality
  • Extended knowledge worker staff

Debunking concerns about the cloud

Many enterprises are hesitant to move services to the cloud, as they have less control and little or no control of SLAs and uptime. But just like any good carrier network design, specific elements can be introduced to provide a robust, highly redundant and resilient solution. The necessary design elements used by leading-edge providers include:

  • Multiple data centers for active/active or active/standby failover, thus maintaining UC calls in progress even with the loss of a data center
  • Survivable remotes for key sites
  • POTS and PRIs for failover and 911/E911 purposes
  • QoS-based network management tools for managing network availability and performance
  • SBCs at remote sites for managing security “at the edge”
  • Online visibility tools from the service provider, enabling the enterprise to see the ‘state of the network health’ and the status of the UC cloud components at any given time
  • A QoS-based WAN with redundancy for failover leveraging BGP protocol
  • For mid-to-large enterprises, a private, dedicated resources model, rather than a public ‘shared model’ may be important.

AT&T is one UCaaS provider to consider as a part of your overall cloud strategy

The offering from AT&T is substantial. Some of the UCaaS features it offers include instant messaging, web, video and audio conferencing, email, unified messaging, team collaboration, and voice calling with presence behind a single user interface. This interface is accessible via select desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets.

In addition, AT&T offers a hybrid architecture approach to help protect enterprises’ investments, and a mobile-centric design for full UC functionality across diverse devices, platforms and networks, and other communication capabilities. This can all be leveraged with the enterprise utilizing AT&T IP networking.

Lastly, AT&T offers what appears to be strong integration with Cisco Jabber UC and Microsoft Skype for Business products. This includes Skype For Business Presence and IM, Outlook  integration, outbound and inbound simultaneous calls on Cisco hardphones and Lync softphones, single number reach, visual voice mail, and federating to external parties available.

Recommendations and next steps

If you’re still undecided about moving to the cloud, you may want to compare cloud with a premises model by creating a premises/cloud RFP and asking for either model when looking to procure a new UC system.

For those considering a move to the cloud, I recommend the following two phases:

1. Become an expert on your needs

  • Identify a strategy to move to the cloud, considering a cloud model, ramp-up period, overall budget, flexibility and minimum UC functions your enterprise requires now and up to two years.
  • Identify opportunities for ROI and cost savings, including removal of legacy circuits and maintenance contracts, and migration of POTS to PCI-compliant VPN access. Additional savings can come from having services such as audio conferencing as part of the overall UC solution, rather than using a third party.
  • Ask key questions and assess vendors regarding security, SLAs, OPEX models, contract outs for cause, ramp-up periods, redundancy and resiliency “under the hood” and more.
  • Plan for a cloud collaboration environment for the next 1-3 years, and then 3-5 years. Consider growth, rightsizing, market risks and unknowns, and other factors that may affect your enterprise costs and infrastructure.

2. Take everything into account, using readily available resources

  • Engaging a Subject Matter Expert to help through the process can make it easier to get the project approved at high levels. The consultants at UCStrategies provide clients with the expertise necessary to help build a UCaaS strategy and overall plan for deployment and transition from a legacy system.
  • Assess your enterprise infrastructure for UC readiness. These elements include Layer 1 cabling, Layer 2/3 switching and routing and QoS (including Network Assessments), data closets, WAN, security and more.
  • Work with your provider to understand their responsibilities and commitments for delivery, management, metrics and SLAs. Look for providers that will over-deliver—with guarantees, as well as a robust UC infrastructure network, simplified maintenance and, in most cases, better downtime statistics over 12 months.
  • Review the provider’s contract elements (including credits for outages), SLAs, and contract outs for non-performance. A review of their network related to their processes, redundancy and guaranteed uptimes can quickly uncover their credibility factor.

The UC cloud future is here, now

Today’s cloud delivery model is a bit more mature than it was two to three years ago. The reality of delivering a full UC suite in the cloud is just that—a reality.

If your organization requires a robust UC infrastructure capable of significant growth, little capital outlay and quick ramp up, it is time to take a serious look at the cloud collaboration market.