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Unified platform management needed for hybrid cloud UC

Maturing hybrid cloud UC deployments strike a balance between on-premises controls and outsourced UC apps that enable universal UC platform management as enterprises work to best meet the needs of different end-user groups.

Enterprise communications, like many other business technologies and services, has been riding the cloud hype wave over the last several years. And like most hype cycles, once the media attention dies down, the real value of the technology starts to become apparent.

Vendors and service providers have pitted their products against each other for years, extolling the virtues of their deployment and business models against cloud and premises-based competitors. The new normal, however, appears to be a hybrid cloud model that leverages the advantages of each to effectively deliver a unified communications experience to enterprise customers, which heightens the need for unified UC platforms.

In many ways, most organizations are already using some form of hybrid services for unified communications. For example, businesses are using Web conferencing and collaboration as part of unified communications as a service (UCaaS) while maintaining on-premises voice platforms, but with little to no integration between the two.

The next stage of hybrid UC, however, enables a true mix and match of cloud-based and on-premises services that work together to meet the communications needs of businesses. The first cloud-UC use cases of this stage are already starting to become clear.

Supporting remote office locations can be a nightmare for IT departments. Without the advantage of local IT staff to troubleshoot problems, technicians are left with remote tools or costly truck rolls to maintain on-premises UC platforms at remote sites. At the same time, centralized UC applications can negatively impact wide area network (WAN) performance or suffer from outages if the link back to corporate headquarters is impacted. As a result, IT organizations have turned to hosted IP telephony services as a way to minimize the amount of physical hardware deployed at the branch location, as well as lower the amount of traffic generated between offices.

With a hybrid UC deployment, tight integration is created between the hosted platform that services the branch offices and the on-premises UC platform. This allows for standard call plans, interoffice extension dialing, and ideally, a system-wide administrative and management platform. A true hybrid platform would allow administrators to deploy on-premises equipment only where needed or as requirements demand, while universally managing users on a common platform.

Embracing hybrid UC architectures enables additional capabilities for organizations beyond simply leveraging on-premises and cloud-based telephony services. While the marketing departments of the big UC vendors would like all of us to think their products are one big happy platform, the reality is, UC applications today are a rather loosely assembled group of application servers. Each of these servers has its own role -- be it call control, unified messaging or conferencing -- and actually plays far better into the notion of a hybrid UC architecture than the more traditional hardware-based PBX platforms. With this separation, individual applications can essentially be deployed anywhere users and other applications can reach them. So in a hybrid UC architecture, organizations can centralize or decentralize UC applications where they make the most sense.

For example, the use of voicemail or unified messaging services has been in decline for a number of years, yet they remain enabled for most user extensions. In traditional on-premises deployments, each system would need a voicemail server nearby to hand calls off to. In a hybrid UC architecture, a central voicemail service, deployed either in an enterprise data center or outsourced to a service provider, replaces myriad individual servers scattered throughout the enterprise.

Conversely, an organization can adopt a largely hosted model for their enterprise communications services, yet retain specific applications on-premises. Government regulations, for example, may require call recording or voice messages to be retained and archived for certain vertical markets. In the past, this may have meant companies would need to keep their UC platform in house. But a hybrid architecture might offer the right mix of hosted and on-premises services to allow the company to optimize their platforms while staying compliant.

Businesses are not the only organizations considering the impact of hybrid UC infrastructures. A number of vendors in the UC space are rethinking their own products or creating new ones to take advantage of hybrid services to create a unified experience for end users.

Interactive Intelligence's PureCloud, for example, will offer users a Web-based front-end experience while allowing call control to take place -- either on-premises or from Interactive's data center. Similarly, Unify's upcoming Project Ansible is expected to launch as a hosted service, providing its fresh, integrated user experience to Web browsers and mobile apps alike. For telephony, Unify plans to connect to customer's on-premises OpenScape and third-party platforms. Both of the these platforms enable customers to keep call control local and maintain their existing links to the PSTN, yet leverage the cloud as a UC client front-end and application platform.

Ultimately, hybrid UC options offer businesses a new set of tools and deployment scenarios that were simply not available or integrated previously. With the right mix of on-premises products to maintain internal control and outsourced services offering Opex-based affordability, enterprises can develop and deploy a communications platform that fits their specific needs.

Next Steps

Start with the primer on moving UC to the cloud

Defining the terms: What is cloud UC really?

Unified communications cloud services hype vs. reality

Time to compare premises-based and hosted UC features

Put away your notebooks; time for a UCaaS quiz

This was last published in October 2014

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If you had a unified way to manage cloud-based UC apps and your on-premises systems, would your organization be more inclined to embrace hybrid cloud?
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