By Alan Percy, Senior Director of Marketing at AudioCodes

As a manager of Unified Communications, you have many concerns, from security, to survivability and operational costs.  You’ve probably been inundated with materials, whitepapers and reports from the vendors and analysts on the topic of cloud-based UC solutions.  They promise greater security, scaling, simplified implementation, better reliability through geographic diversity and the opportunity to “pay-as-you-go”.

However the question in many a UC architect’s mind is:

“If I put my UC application in the Cloud, should I expect a match made in heaven?
  Or am I making a deal with the devil?”

A closer look is in order... 

First it is important to acknowledge there are a number of theoretical advantages to cloud-based UC systems – by sharing the application, expertise and computing resources offered by a cloud service provider, your business can shift its focus from capital-intensive purchases to implementation of a pay-as-you-go subscription model with reduced up-front expenditures.

At the same time, putting your UC system (essentially the front door of your business) in someone else’s data center introduces new challenges.  Will you have control over software updates and aligning new feature introductions with your business schedule? What ability is there to customize the application to fit special business needs?  How well prepared is the cloud provider to weather natural disasters and maintain service in case of a significant failure?  What is the impact on WAN connectivity requirements and reliability risks? 

The challenge is choosing an architecture that balances the business risks with the business rewards.  A quick look at some of the popular architectures and their benefits and disadvantages:

On-premise – the classic means and still most-common means of implementing UCs is within the four walls of the business.    As reported by a 2013 Nemertes report, over 70% of businesses have no plans to move to cloud, while another 11% are only now looking at moving to the cloud.  On-premise UC offers the greatest control over operations and security.  However, without proper planning that control comes at an operational cost as the complete management and facilities costs must be carried without the benefit of shared datacenter resources.

Pure-cloud – the polar opposite of on premise, pure-cloud UC systems (aka: UC as a Service – UCaaS) put the entire UC software suite in a shared data center and shares a common application platform managed by the service provider.  Benefits include a dramatic reduction of on premise equipment and space requirements, plus the pay-as-you-go business model.  Issues with UCaaS come from feature parity to their on-premise brothers, a much greater dependency on WAN connectivity between users and the service provider, reduced control over the application, upgrades, and service access.  A common complaint from cloud application users is that upgrades and changes occur sometimes without consultation to the business needs, often occurring at what seems to be the worst possible time.  Interestingly, cloud service providers often invest significant effort to ensure the reliability of their datacenters, including multi-site geographic diversity.  But this only helps if your users can get connectivity over the WAN.

Hybrid-cloud– offering a hybrid approach, Hybrid-cloud UC architecture puts some portion of the UC application (email, databases, directory services) in the cloud, but leverages an on-premise UC appliances to handle call control, conferencing, and trunking to the PSTN.  This balanced hybrid approach satisfies the control-freak in most UC managers, while offering a reduced dependence on WAN facilities for reduced infrastructure costs and greater reliability.

Comparing the three common UC architectures:

Architecture Control Security Resilience Capital Costs
On-premise Greatest Greatest Least Greatest
Pure-cloud Least Least Moderate Least
Hybrid-cloud Moderate Moderate Greatest Moderate

AudioCodes supports all three architectures and more recently launched a Hybrid-cloud offering with One Box 365, a Lync and Skype for Business appliance platform that integrates into Office 365 for many cloud services, while keeping the voice features on-premise.   With three different scale platforms available, One Box 365 is ideal for growing mid-market businesses moving to Office 365.  One Box 365 fits many different financial models, purchased in either traditional cap-ex model or via innovative leasing programs that result in cloud-friendly per month/per seat pricing.

While no one single architecture is right for every UC deployment, hopefully you are now better prepared to weigh the risks and rewards for your implementation.  Whether it’s a match made in heaven or a deal with the devil, you’ll have to let me know…

To learn more about AudioCodes cloud UC solutions and architectures for resilience and reliability, visit AudioCodes One Box 365