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A cloudy forecast

Cloud forecastThe forecast for unified communications in the cloud seems bright with clear skies ahead. Alan Shen, Vice President of Consulting Services, Unify Square, weighs in on the benefits and pitfalls of UC in the cloud.

According to Transparency Market Research, UCaaS (Unified Communications-as-a-Service) is expected to reach nearly $38 billion by 2022 with an impressive compound annual growth rate of over 23 percent.

While the benefits of UCaaS have been well-documented, it is important to note that simply putting UC in the cloud does not ensure a highly functional, highly available enterprise communications platform that end-users will readily adopt.

To truly realise the optimal UC end state – one where old PBXs are decommissioned and dial-in contracts are no longer necessary – enterprises must come to the realisation that cloud is just one small piece of the bigger UC puzzle.

IT departments would be advised to take into account multiple facets of their IT infrastructure that are at least equal to, if not more important than the cloud, in order to build a thriving UC environment.

Cloud – the 15 percent UC solution

As Zig Serafin, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft’s Skype Business Services, stated at Enterprise Connect 2016, users expect a seamless experience when it comes to day-to-day communications. They don’t view video and voice as distinct or separate entities. Rather, “they’re thinking about one infrastructure that people use for different modalities”, and “are expecting a mobility of experience across whatever devices they’re using.”

To facilitate this kind of freedom of communication requires a holistic, end-to-end UC solution. Whether or not the UC infrastructure itself resides in the cloud is only one part of a complex equation. UC environments are comprised of highly interdependent systems that rely on the availability and stability of multiple technologies. These include endpoint devices, corporate data networks, telephony gateways, TDM services, server infrastructure, the public Internet, and willing end users.

By viewing the UC ecosystem across this full spectrum, it becomes clear that the cloud is not a cure-all. Despite the aggressive efforts by UCaaS vendors (which now include Microsoft) to market and sell the Cloud PBX as the current, hip place to be, enterprises should pause and heed some clear-headed analysis before proceeding. Choosing to place UC in the cloud is likely only a 15 percent solution, at best. So what about the remaining 85 percent?

The other 85 percent

Engineering a UC infrastructure is a challenging undertaking. Not only does it require technical expertise in UC architecture, but the success of the project is contingent upon the collaboration and cooperation of other IT teams whose technologies greatly impact UC voice quality, service availability and end-user satisfaction. When the cloud enters the equation, there are additional factors to consider. These include:

Networking: Successful UC solutions depend on proper network planning. Putting UC in the cloud adds complexity to this environment. Instead of a traditional corporate network environment, IT must now extend the network to the cloud, and have the right bandwidth provisioning and settings in place to prioritise voice traffic. Enabling this capability requires a significant amount of work and commitment of IT resources to account for new traffic flows, QoS configurations and service contracts.

UC management: End-to-end call quality is comprised of many components, of which the cloud is only one part. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of IT to ensure the stability and availability of the enterprise’s entire UC network. To effectively manage service delivery, IT must have the right tools, metrics and visibility in place for total management of the UC service, including visibility into the cloud.

Existing infrastructure: It’s easy and probably advisable for a green field company to begin their UC experience in the cloud. Unfortunately, large enterprises don’t have the luxury to throw UC in the cloud, and ignore the existing hardware and infrastructure that resides across hundreds, if not thousands, of sites and office locations around the world. Decommissioning and re-provisioning hardware is no simple task. In this scenario, enterprises can benefit from a tenured UC expert to help transform sites to UC on an accelerated and strategically planned timeline.

End-user adoption: The promise of UC is predicated on end-user adoption. Users in the workplace are set in the ways they communicate, and expect to conduct business as usual no matter what platform is in place. Transitioning users from a traditional PBX system to a UC solution is easier said than done. End-user training often ends up being one of the most underestimated elements of UC deployments, whether on-premise or cloud. When it’s overlooked, user adoption suffers which can lead to unrealised cost-savings and failed deployments.

Security and regulatory compliance: Taking UC to the cloud adds levels of complexity for data security and regulatory compliance. Some countries, like Germany, have strict rules on where cloud data centres can be physically located, complicating service delivery for cloud vendors looking to take on multi-national customers. In the case of financial institutions, banks often require additional security software to sit on top of their UC environments to provide auditing and increased levels of corporate firewalling. Added to all of this is the heavily regulated telephony industry with its vast number of local laws and governances. Whereas traditional telephony vendors have years of experience working with these regulatory bodies in many local markets, cloud UC vendors are starting from scratch in most cases. This is a major hurdle for UCaaS providers with implications across tens of thousands of municipalities worldwide.

When it’s all said and done, UC and the cloud have a promising future together. UCaaS can reduce UC costs, accelerate UC provisioning, simplify UC usage and adoption, increase UC collaboration with other applications, and improve UC for the remote worker. However, it takes more than just the cloud to have a successful UC environment. But if you plan accordingly, blue skies await.

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