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Unified communications vendors outlooks on cloud differ

While hybrid deployments are the reality now, some unified communications vendors might disagree on the future of cloud communications and on-premises systems.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A cloud is hanging over unified communications vendors. Legacy UC providers that have not transitioned...

quickly enough to the cloud might be playing catch-up to pure-cloud services. Yet these longtime unified communications vendors tout the current benefits of hybrid deployments with some services on premises and other services in the cloud.

On the other hand, pure cloud providers have enjoyed significant growth in recent years. But the current trend of hybrid deployments and some enterprises' penchant for on-premises systems is also raining on the pure-cloud parade.

A panel of providers discussed the current and future state of cloud communications yesterday at Enterprise Connect 2017, a UC conference in Orlando, Fla. The session included representatives from 8x8, Cisco, Microsoft, Mitel, NEC, RingCentral and Vonage.

Noticeably absent from the panel were big-time cloud service providers and newly minted UC players Amazon and Google. Amazon recently unveiled its UC service, Chime, while Google has repositioned Hangouts as a UC product.

Hybrid hailed as king, for now

Understandably, the pure-cloud players -- 8x8, RingCentral and Vonage -- hailed the benefits of cloud offerings. Meanwhile, legacy customer equipment vendors -- Cisco, Microsoft, Mitel and NEC -- straddled the line between cloud and on-premises services while also endorsing hybrid setups.

Despite their differences on some level, all the unified communication vendors agreed that hybrid deployments are the current reality. And, they said, don't expect companies to immediately rip and replace their on-premises systems as they move to the cloud. 

Hybrid setups make sense for several reasons, said Microsoft corporate vice president Bob Davis. Enterprises, for instance, have already invested heavily in on-premises equipment and want to maximize that investment. Certain applications require on-premises functionality, and certain requirements won't be met by the cloud, Davis said.     

In some cases, cloud deployments are not optimal, said Jon Brinton, president of Mitel's cloud division. For instance, public safety answering points need highly hardened, premises-based deployments. At the same time, he said, the hybrid approach makes sense for global enterprises looking to move to cloud.

Cisco's general manager of cloud collaboration technology, Jens Meggers, said, "The cloud is just a really great tool -- not to use the cloud would just be stupid." But he later said on-premises video provides a better picture and user experience. "If you have a beautiful 100-gig [GB] network," he said, "you want to use it for video."

Unified communication vendors make the case for the cloud

Vik Verma, 8x8 Inc. CEO, said he sees a step-by-step evolution of more organizations migrating to the cloud because it has flexibility. If moving to the cloud, companies can begin by deploying one office, for instance, then a larger department and then maybe an entire enterprise. 

Verma said hybrid is a way for "enterprise customers to dip their toe into the water." He used this analogy for the cloud vs. on-premises dynamic: "It's like telling Amazon, 'Let's go back and build Walmart-like stores everywhere.'"

With the cloud, he said, the idea is to put all UC capabilities -- such as contact center, team collaboration, video, voice and other applications -- into one platform.

Businesses of all sizes are adopting pure-cloud models, said RingCentral CEO Vlad Shmunis. Cloud applications' innovation and update cycles are a key reason to adopt cloud services, he said. Cloud updates are measured in weeks, whereas on-premises updates could be measured in years.  

Additionally, he said, cloud technology helps companies with global reach if they want to operate in multiple countries or continents. The cloud also fosters an open platform for third-party integrations to engender a developer community.

In some instances, hybrid deployments work perfectly well, said Vonage CEO Alan Masarek. Unified communication vendors can't require customers to rip and replace non-depreciated equipment that's working fine.

But, Masarek said, "the long term is going to the cloud, unequivocally. There's an inevitability to it. Ultimately, you want to produce better business outcomes."

Next Steps

Consider these four key criteria before you invest in a UC system.

Listen to this podcast to learn how to approach a hybrid UC deployment.

Track these other trends in the unified communications market.

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For what reasons might you consider a hybrid UC deployment if your on-premise equipment is still meeting your business objectives?
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