When is the Right Time to Move Collaboration to the Cloud?

20 Sep 2016


Those of us in the UC market have keenly watched the growth of cloud solutions for several years, and can clearly state that the UC Cloud is going mainstream. We have seen many SMB customers migrate to the cloud, and now enterprises are taking the plunge. As a consultant, I am seeing our clients considering replacing their legacy telephony systems with cloud-based UC and Contact Center systems. In fact, all of our clients have asked for cloud solutions to be included in their RFPs.

Market projections for hosted UC and collaboration are significant. To quote some resources:

  • Infonetics - UCaaS/Collaboration is growing in popularity. Over 50% of medium and large organizations in North America will be running some of their UC applications over either a private or public cloud service by 2016
  • Wainhouse Research - A November study 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
  • Transparency Market Research - Perhaps the most aggressive prediction, uCaaS/Collaboration annual growth at over 20 percent for the next six years, totaling almost $38 billion by the year 2022.

The number of world-wide seats can be almost staggering from where the UCaaS market started just a few years ago. Based on Wainhouse Research's projections, the number of end points 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 use some type of cloud-based services 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.

Key Market Drivers

There are a variety of reasons enterprises are moving to cloud services in general, and to cloud-based UC and collaboration in particular, including:

  • The Unprecedented Rate of Technological Change - Some organizations see Unified Communications and associated IT applications changing at such an unprecedented rate that the move to a cloud infrastructure is more about business strategy and going to market faster than the competition, and less about lowering or managing costs
  • Faster Ramp Up Periods - Because the cloud model is already built by the provider, the ability to implement a cloud solution quickly typically provides the advantage of a faster ramp-up period compared with a premises-based solution. In addition, a cloud solution can expand quickly among endpoints and applications.
  • Less Capital Available Due to the Recent Recession/Recovery - Many organizations have less capital today than they did just a few years ago, and are looking to move to an operating expense (opex) model rather than a capital expense (capex) model.
  • Less Staff for Complex Projects - In today's right-sized market, many enterprises are forced to work with fewer staff, creating a challenge when dealing with more complex projects. With a cloud model, the cloud provider is responsible for ongoing maintenance and support, and the enterprise customer does not need to dedicate staff to managing and maintaining the solution.
  • Telephony and UC are Not Part of the Native IT Infrastructure - Telephony and UC are, in some CIOs minds, "headaches" as they are not part of the native IT infrastructure. Telephony is a different model and has greater QoS requirements at every touch point than a data-only model. Some CIOs can "simplify" and delegate their telephony and data infrastructure outside of the organization.
  • Increased Number of Applications to Manage - The growing adoption of Unified Communications applications creates more management issues for IT, and the ability to "outsource" management to a cloud provider becomes more attractive.
  • Reduced Costs - In our consulting practice, we are seeing a slow but steady decline in the monthly cost for a UC end point in the cloud. In some cases, we have seen a reduction of 20% and more compared with UCaaS/Collaboration costs just 24 months ago.

Overall Advantages of a Cloud Collaboration Solution

UCaaS/Collaboration cloud providers deliver many benefits for enterprises, including:

  • Quick Ramp Up - In many cases, a UCaaS/Collaboration solution can be implemented in less than 90 days, and in some cases less than 30 days, depending on the size of the enterprise. This totally changes the timeline 'game' for delivering on the promise of a full UC suite from the cloud for some enterprises.
  • "Forever Upgrade" Model - Upgrades are generally provided at no additional cost. Most upgrades are performed in a passive manner either out-of-hours or in real-time
  • Complexities of UC Now Managed by The Vendor - UC is a complex technology and the best practices for delivering on a successful UC model require a specific UC skillset. The maintenance required for keeping the network alive is now relegated to the cloud provider.
  • Lower CAPEX - Depending on the provider, little capital expense is required. In most cases, cabling, data switch, and IDF closet upgrades are still required, while most everything else can be rented or leased by the provider.

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. All UCaaS/collaboration cloud providers offer basic functionality, but a smaller number of providers are what we would consider leading edge, and offer:

  • A full UC suite of features (presence, chat, audio conferencing, video conferencing, collaboration, LDAP/active directory integration)
  • Telephony/call control
  • Voice Messaging, Visual Voice Messaging
  • E911 and Emergency Notification
  • Contact Center capabilities (routing, reporting, IVR, callback, call recording, workforce management, speech analytics, social media integration, and more),
  • Security and encryption to each remote site, even to the desktop
  • UC mobility clients, integration, and twinning - including single number each

In addition to offering these enhanced features, leading-edge providers also deliver:

  • Scalability (Up or Down), with "no limits" on the growth capability of the UC platform they are delivering on.
  • Minimal-to-No Downtime - Only a limited number of UCaaS/Collaboration providers deliver on a four 9s (99.99%) to five 9s (99.999%) uptime model in the cloud. They deliver on high availability redundant models across multiple sites in hardened data center environments. Some contracts even offer a 100% availability model (note the key word contract).
  • Disaster Recovery Functionality - Leading-edge UCaaS/Collaboration providers deliver on the promise of Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity, keeping UC services alive, even in the event of a local or regional disaster.
  • "Extended knowledge worker staff" delivered in the cloud at a fraction of the cost of an internal engineering staff member.

Debunking Concerns About the Cloud

Many enterprises have concerns about the cloud, as they have less control over what is built by the provider "under the hood," and little or no control of SLAs and uptime. But just like any good carrier network design, specific elements can be introduced to provide close to a five 9s (99.999%) uptime model in the cloud. A well-designed cloud architecture can provide a robust, highly redundant and resilient solution. This is where the leading-edge cloud providers have risen to the promise of UCaaS/Collaboration.

The necessary design elements 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. Researching offerings from AT&T and other cloud providers, the offering from AT&T is substantial. Some of the UCaaS features being offered 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 lbuilt upon 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, Next Steps

If you're still undecided and wondering 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:

  • Identify a Cloud Strategy - Identify a strategy to move to the cloud. Perform an assessment for considering a cloud model, ramp up period, overall budgetary costs, flexibility and minimum UC features and functions your enterprise requires short term and for the next 36 - 48 months.
  • Facilitate ROI and Possible Cost Savings Areas - Identify opportunities for ROI and cost savings including removal of legacy circuits, elimination of legacy maintenance contracts, and migration of POTS to PCI-compliant VPN access. Other areas of cost savings may come from having services such as audio conferencing as part of the overall UC solution, rather than using a third party.
  • Ask Key Questions - 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 Cloud Collaboration Migration - 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 have an effect on your enterprise costs and infrastructure.
  • Leverage the Help of an Independent Subject Matter Expert/Consultant - Engaging a Subject Matter Expert to help through the process can be just the leverage you need to get 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 - Whether you opt for premises-based, cloud, or a hybrid approach, your enterprise infrastructure needs to support a UC environment. These elements include Layer 1 cabling, Layer 2/3 switching and routing and QoS (including Network Assessments), data closets, and WAN, security, and more.
  • Work with Your Provider Towards Delivery, Management, Metrics and SLAs - Work with your provider towards understanding their responsibilities and commitments for delivery, management, metrics and SLAs. These areas will distinguish one provider from another and can be used for baseline comparison purposes. Look for providers that will over-deliver on the promise of Cloud UC and Collaboration with guarantees, a robust network and UC infrastructure network, simplified maintenance and, in most cases, better downtime statistics over 12 months.
  • Review Contracts and Processes - Review the provider's contract elements (including credits for outages), SLAs, and contract outs for non-performance can provide insights to what the Cloud provider is (and isn't) willing to deliver. A review of the provider's network related to their processes, redundancy, and guaranteed uptimes can quickly uncover the 'credibility factor' of the cloud provider.

Summary and Conclusion

Today's cloud delivery model is a bit more mature than what was being promoted just 24-36 months 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.

The UC cloud is here, providing a clear alternative to a premises-based solution. Consider a UC cloud solution - you may be surprised of the outcomes after a deep dive "stare and compare."

This paper is sponsored by AT&T.


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