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Despite the big push to migrate applications, data and services to public and private clouds, unified communications platforms have largely remained within the confines of private data centers. An organization's dependence on voice, video and messaging tools -- the heart of unified communications -- can make it difficult to make major architecture and service changes.
That said, businesses with aging on-premises unified communications platforms should seriously consider moving to a hosted UC or UC as a service (UCaaS) platform. The advantages far outweigh the pain points of the migration process and end-user learning curves.
Learn how on-premises, hosted and SaaS UC services differ, as well as five business benefits of unified communications in the cloud.
Differentiating between on premises, hosted UC and UCaaS
Nearly every enterprise unified communications platform used to be designed and deployed in private data centers within the corporate network, aka on premises. On-premises deployments often involve proprietary infrastructure and hardware, higher upfront costs and in-house maintenance. Updates to on-premises systems also require ripping and replacing older infrastructure and technology.
Thanks to improvements in internet reliability, as well as increased WAN speeds and redundancy capabilities, the migration of latency-sensitive services, such as streaming video and voice, can be done with relatively low risk.
IT departments have plenty of decisions to make when they start investigating a managed service alternative to on-premises unified communications products. One is to decide whether the business would prefer a hosted UC service or UCaaS. With a hosted service, the customer purchases the unified communications platform for the organization. The service provider will then host the software in its public or private cloud. Connectivity to unified communications services can use private WAN links, the public internet or a combination of both. While the upfront cost is higher, it does reduce Opex tied to managing the service through a third-party provider. It also provides more flexibility in deploying a specific UC platform that best fits the organization's needs.
A UCaaS model, on the other hand, requires very little in terms of upfront cost. The customer rents both the software and the underlying cloud infrastructure from a service provider. While endpoint hardware, including desk phones and video conferencing systems, is typically purchased by the customer in a Capex transaction, long-term leasing options are often available as well. Thus, a migration from on premises to UCaaS could be a complete shift from Capex to Opex spending.
Five advantages of hosted UC and UCaaS
Organizations have little reason not to consider a hosted or SaaS-based model for unified communications if WAN or internet resiliency is strong enough to eliminate risks of an outage or performance issues on a service provider's network. Here are five key business benefits of unified communications in the cloud vs. on-premises alternatives.
- Admin responsibility shifts to service provider
Managing unified communications servers, operating systems, applications and data can consume dozens of hours per week in larger organizations. By moving these responsibilities to a trusted third-party unified communications service provider, it frees administrators up to focus on business-specific technology goals.
- Address scalability concerns
Careful planning is required to appropriately rightsize an on-premises unified communications platform. Purchase a platform that's too small and the system won't be able to handle any additional load. However, if the system is too large, the business risks wasting money that can never be recouped.
Hosted services significantly reduce the scalability risk, but UCaaS is the ultimate in scalability. The number of users and types of services required can easily scale up or down depending on the needs of the business. With hosted UC, organizations will likely incur additional costs to upgrade processing, storage and user licenses. However, the flexibility and loss of Capex is still a better option when compared to a lack of on-premises scalability and much higher upfront costs when scaling upward.
- Improved updates and security patching
Enterprise applications and services that are expected to be operational around the clock often fall behind in terms of platform updates and security patching. Internal red tape and politics often delay in-house IT's ability to perform maintenance in a reasonable timeframe.
Moving the responsibility to the service provider creates a useful buffer among the service, IT and all other business units. A business can stay up to date on the upgrade and delivery of new services, while better protecting itself from software vulnerabilities.
- Ease of geographically dispersed deployments
Most public cloud service providers have designed and built highly redundant infrastructure that spans entire countries -- or even the globe. Remote users and offices can be widely dispersed and still use hosted or SaaS UC services no matter their location. The level of accessibility is unprecedented and would require tremendous time and expense to replicate on an in-house UC platform.
- Future-proof UC services
A company using hosted or SaaS-based services from a third party has relatively little risk in future-proofing an investment. Depending on the service contract, most or all that responsibility falls to the service provider. Thus, when any new application, feature or change to the platform is released to the public, the service provider must provide compute, storage and throughput according to the contracted agreement, greatly simplifying any long-term unified communications roadmap tasks.