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Moving unified communications applications to the cloud has far-reaching implications for UC management and design. Enterprises need to ask themselves: Are all UC applications equally suited to move to a cloud service?
Web conferencing, as an example, has gained acceptance in the cloud, with offerings like WebEx, GoToMeeting and Skype for Business. These services are typically Web-based and easy to outsource. Collaboration systems like Spark and Skype for Business are also gaining acceptance in the cloud, even though they're deployed as custom applications.
Voice, too, can be moved to the cloud, and there are several business justifications for moving it to an external provider. However, with voice in the cloud, enterprises need to consider more elements, such as security, quality of service, Internet link reliability, emergency calling and the overall ability to do UC management.
Investigate cloud providers' security settings
Outsourcing a UC system's design, operation and security to a provider is appealing. But redundant Internet service provider connections are needed to provide a resilient system, since several ISPs have been known to have network problems. In fact, enterprises should periodically verify failover between two carriers and measure the results.
On the security side, you should be concerned about data at rest and data in transit. International organizations, for example, will want to determine where their data resides. Is it in-country, or in another country? What laws affect the security of their data? Is the data encrypted at rest?
All communications should be secured "on the wire," meaning the data in flight should be encrypted. Web-based apps can use Secure Sockets Layer built into the browser. Other apps, including voice, will need to use some form of encryption.
Investigate how all traffic flows are secured and if an app is needed on the client endpoints. When doing this investigation, find out what firewall settings are needed to allow communications between your corporate infrastructure and the cloud provider.
Session stats, proxy servers aid UC management
How do you know if the UC system is working correctly? You'll certainly know if you're on the end of a bad call. The IT group needs a mechanism for continuous monitoring and measurement of service-level agreements for availability and usability.
One UC management tactic is to let end users rate calls as "good" or "bad." While this self-reporting has its drawbacks, it can give you an idea of whether the system has serious problems.
For more precise measurements, the UC apps on the endpoints must report the session stats back to the call controller. Adding a proxy server into the middle of each connection can provide visibility from the middle out to each endpoint. A proxy server in the cloud adds a point of failure and potentially some additional latency and jitter. The tradeoff is it can measure and record the stats of the session with each endpoint, helping you identify problems with certain endpoints or potentially with the service providers.
Consider scalability factors and ask key questions
Don't forget that UC management includes the user database maintenance functions. The same user management functions you do today on your internal PBX will still need to be performed on the cloud UC system.
A key question to consider would be: Does the cloud UC system have an API or user interface that allows you to easily add, change, and delete users and phone numbers? You will also want the ability to enable, disable, or modify specific features, like international calling or call minute quotas, for certain groups of users.
A point-and-click graphical user interface to maintain a user database larger than 50 staff members won't work. At minimum, the cloud UC system should be able to accept and generate CSV files for information transfer. Ideally, an API between the human resources system and the UC system would be used to automatically add or remove an employee or contractor.
With change comes risk, so make sure you do a thorough investigation before making a move to the cloud. Ask yourself these important questions: What UC management functions does the provider make available? Is the system security suitable for your organization? Can your internal systems easily interface with the new system?
These questions are a good starting point for your investigation.
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