Organizations with deeply rooted on-premises communications infrastructure are now considering cloud-based products as the COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to alter the way they work. In particular, organizations found their on-premises systems lacked long-term support for remote and home-based employees.
"People that had thought about cloud or weren't there yet have really had their minds changed about the importance of being there and what it can do for business," said Melissa Swartz, founder of Swartz Consulting.
Organizations with a cloud-based unified communications (UC) infrastructure had a significant advantage over organizations with on-premises systems. Cloud-based UC enabled companies to be more nimble and easily connect with employees working from home, she said.
"Having that flexibility in all the different pieces that come with a UCaaS [UC-as-a-service] solution is hitting the sweet spot for a lot of companies," Omdia analyst Diane Myers said.
Cloud adoption is indeed growing quickly as 64% of companies are more likely to use cloud services to support work from home, Nemertes Research analyst Robin Gareiss said.
"They're seeing the benefit of the agility, the ability to roll things out much quicker and network connectivity advantages," she said.
Swartz, Myers and Gareiss were a few of the industry leaders who spoke about the accelerated adoption of cloud-based UC at Enterprise Connect.
Preparing for the future with cloud-based UC
Migrating to the cloud provides organizations with the flexibility to address remote work needs during the pandemic and prepare for future disasters.
"The next crisis may have nothing to do with [COVID-19]; a platform to give flexibility to meet the next crisis is important," Swartz said.
Organizations are also recognizing the benefits of cloud services as some employees begin returning to the office, Myers said. As organizations evaluate cloud services, the most important capabilities that influenced buying decisions were security, financial stability of the provider, quality of service and scalability, according to an Omdia report on the leading cloud-based UC vendors.
"The fundamentals remain critical even when moving to new modes of communication," Myers said.
Organizations trimming their budgets to weather the pandemic are taking the wrong approach, ZK Research analyst Zeus Kerravala said. Communications is an important component of business, and IT leaders need to be investing more in their budgets and long-term strategy. By making the right investments, organizations can "step on the gas and move faster than their competitors" after the pandemic, he said.
Zeus KerravalaAnalyst, ZK Research
Choosing a cloud deployment model
Organizations that have decided to migrate to cloud-based UC must weigh their architecture options.
"The answer to communications post-pandemic is cloud, but which cloud?" Kerravala said.
Large companies will opt for private cloud services that enable them to control company data and security. Public cloud services aren't available in certain regions. And multinational organizations that want consistency with their services will have to deploy private cloud or hybrid infrastructure, Kerravala said.
Smaller companies, on the other hand, generally don't face these same restrictions and will go all-in on SaaS and public cloud services, he said.
Nearly half of organizations use a private cloud, while 24% have a UCaaS architecture. Just over one-third of organizations are still on premises, according to the Omdia report.
The choice for organizations is to go all-in on the cloud in a public or private environment or to adopt a hybrid model and keep certain components on premises. Swartz outlined the pros and cons of each cloud architecture.
The benefits of moving communications fully to the cloud include the following:
- The cloud provider handles server management, patching and upgrades.
- The cloud provider provides security and compliance.
- Most providers have multiple data centers built into their architecture.
- Disaster recovery (DR) is inherently part of the architecture.
- New capabilities, like AI, are cloud-first.
But the cloud has a downside. Some disadvantages of an all-cloud deployment include the following:
- Organizations must give up control over data residency, security and product management.
- Subscription pricing can cost more in the long term.
- Support for legacy apps and workflows is limited.
- Support for analog hardware and devices is limited.
- Support for fax may also be limited.
Organizations that take a hybrid cloud approach can experience the following benefits:
- Organizations have more control over data residency, security and product management.
- Organizations can choose best-of-breed applications.
- Organizations can keep assets after they have fully depreciated.
- Legacy apps and workflows have increased support.
- Hybrid architecture is highly reliable.
- Analog hardware and devices have more support.
But, like an all-cloud model, a hybrid architecture has its disadvantages, including the following:
- Organizations must manage integrations.
- Organizations are responsible for bandwidth and service reliability.
- Organizations are responsible for keeping the UC environment up to date.
- New capabilities are cloud-first, which can slow innovation.
- Organizations are responsible for DR.