If you are in some way connected to the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry, you probably have an opinion on cloud-based services. The past couple of years have seen a frenzy of activity in the business to business cloud services with manufacturers, service providers, and users extolling the virtues of the virtual. Product and service models once confined to the realm of the consumer have started gaining mindshare within the business community. As someone who went through the stages of being confused, then convinced, and finally converted, some of my learnings from partnering with Cisco to launch a Unified Collaboration as a Service (UCaaS) in Canada may be of interest to some of you.
Interest in UCaaS typically stems from one of two areas of the market – providers and users. Irrespective of which side of the business you fall, you are likely to come across some, if not all, of the concerns listed below when considering the deployment of a UCaaS solution.
Why move to the cloud? Business drivers for moving to a cloud-based solution vary from customer to customer. The flexibility and convenience offered by a UCaaS service is hard to duplicate on premise-based deployments of such services. Scaling up and down based on seasonal demands and special projects would be a good example. Taking advantage of new consumption models help in reducing capital purchases related to IT and Telecom. The ability to reallocate available capital to key internal projects without jeopardizing the company’s communications needs is an attractive proposition for the CFO.
It is too complex: Unified Communications (UC) and Collaboration products are complex to deploy. However, the fact that it is offered as a service from the cloud does not necessarily add another level of complexity for the user. The provider, on the other hand, needs to deal with the additional complexity of providing a multi-customer, secure environment along with network connections to reach the customer’s location. Having someone else deal with the complexity may be a good reason for companies to consider a cloud-based service.
We lose control: It is not unusual for customers to view the deployment of a cloud-based solution as relinquishing total control of the system and its administration. Depending on the level of skillsets within a company and its desire to share administrative tasks, most providers offer a level of shared responsibility for the ongoing support and administration of the user environment.
Our existing service is cheaper: Most customers compare UCaaS services with legacy services that offer basic dial-tone and voicemail. The value, convenience, efficiency and cost savings that a collaboration tool combined with an integrated voice-data-video network delivers is often underestimated by the users. Customers need to understand the value that they get from the service. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) calculations and comparisons with existing services should fully account for all current and ongoing costs including hidden ones like technology upgrades, software assurance and training.
How about security? No cloud conversation is complete without the security aspects of the deployment being addressed to the customer’s satisfaction. UCaaS deployment architectures take into account security requirements at various levels – customer premise equipment, access layer, aggregation layer, provider edge and core. A combination of firewalls, VPNs, VLANs and SIP Trunking ensure that the customer separation is maintained through the systems. Security considerations for such deployments also take into account specific requirements like mobility, BYOD, and Social Media integration.
In conclusion, it is important to note that the above is a small subset of a large number of questions and concerns that are typically raised by companies and individuals exploring cloud-based solutions. As you foray into the cloud, you will come across many more that are unique to the product set and environment that you are engaged in.
So where do you fit in? Are you confused, convinced or converted?