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How to decide which cloud-based UC applications should be in the cloud

Not sure if you should move that UC application to the cloud? Answering these five questions will help you determine whether you're ready.

Adoption of cloud-based UC applications like voice, Web conferencing and video are on the rise: Almost a quarter of companies are now using or planning to use cloud-based IP telephony services, up from just 14% in 2012. Plans for cloud-based video, instant messaging, email/calendaring, and social computing are also increasing. What explains this trend? For most, it's the opportunity to reduce UC costs coupled with the ability to improve business agility. IT buyers like the Opex model of cloud offerings versus the Capex-intensive approach for on-premises deployments. Furthermore, they find that moving services to the cloud frees up IT resources to think and act more strategically. Even for those not yet ready to embrace the cloud, 57% say that a provider's cloud roadmap is of critical importance when evaluating their solution.

So, how do you decide if cloud-based UC applications make sense for your organization? Let your answers to the following five questions be your guide:

1. Am I comfortable giving up control? Those who deploy on-premises platforms own the UC application. They upgrade on their schedule. They can enhance, extend and integrate their UC applications as they see fit. Perhaps most importantly, they own the data that their UC applications generate. In many regulated or extremely security-conscious firms, leaving sensitive call data records, voicemail, email or even Web conferences on someone else's servers is simply unacceptable. Cloud providers offer several options for the security conscious: They can potentially manage your own servers within their data centers, and they have largely achieved independent security certifications such as SAS-70 that demonstrate their data protection management capabilities. Still, for a percentage of organizations, these measures -- or the potential of data ending up in countries where concerns over data privacy exist --aren't enough to convince them to relinquish the reins of on-premises applications.

2. Will I save money? With potential cost savings the primary driver for those considering cloud-based UC applications, it makes sense to take some time and do the math to determine if the potential cost savings are real. In 2011 Nemertes Research conducted a cost analysis of cloud versus on-premises IP telephony solutions. We found that for companies of 2,500 or more, the per-user-seat cost of cloud solutions was more expensive on an annual basis than the cost of a self-owned solution. While this scenario won't be true for all companies, it's worth your time to develop an accurate cost model as you evaluate cloud-based solutions. Even in cases where hosted cloud UC is more expensive than on-prem, it may still be worth adopting to free up your IT staff to work on other programs with higher value to your company, or to leverage the flexibility and ease of scaling (up or down) provided by Opex-based billing models.

3. Can the cloud go where I need it? Cloud-based UC services are widely available around the world, but few companies are capable of delivering and supporting a single global cloud service across broad geographies. If you have locations dispersed across regions such as Asia, North America and Europe, you may find a limited number of potential partners who can support all of your sites. Depending on your needs, best-of-region solutions can allow you to save money while supporting local requirements.

4. Do cloud services offer everything I need? For a long while, cloud-based UC services lacked the features and application interfaces of on-premises solutions. They didn't offer broad, integrated UC feature sets including video, mobile extensibility and a wide choice of end-points. Those days have changed, as leading UC vendors, either on their own or through their partners, have developed cloud-based platforms derived from their on-premises offerings, enabling the same feature sets for on-premises and cloud, and easing migration of existing customers to the cloud by enabling them to reuse existing end points.

5. Can I manage the cloud? This may seem like an oxymoron. The common conventional wisdom is that by going to the cloud you offload support to your cloud provider. But UC application performance is dependent on a variety of factors often outside of the cloud provider's control -- LAN bandwidth and architecture, wireless LAN capabilities, Power over Ethernet, even PC performance (for softphone applications). Successfully delivering cloud services requires a partnership with your cloud provider, and potentially access to your internal network from the provider's network operations center.

Let your answers to the above questions guide your evaluation of cloud services, and remember that cloud UC applications are rapidly evolving. If cloud doesn't make sense for you today, check back next year.

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