Choosing what’s right for your business
There’s no doubt that the concept of cloud is becoming more popular with businesses of all sizes, but there is still a huge amount of confusion about the different variants of cloud and their suitability for individual organisations. The minefield of choice becomes even more bewildering when it comes to business communications which demand a high quality of service and often the need to integrate with other back-office applications.
What is Private, Public or Hybrid cloud
So what exactly are the choices when it comes to cloud-based UC and how do you know whether it’s right for your organisation? The most publicised option that is grabbing the headlines right now is ‘public’ cloud where one company shares basic VoIP-based telephony services with other companies, sometimes for as little as £5 per user, per month.
Typically these services are purely voice-based, so the essence of ‘unified’ communications is somewhat lost because voice is not connected with the rest of your IT network.
In contrast there is ‘private’ cloud where you house all your data, servers and software in a private data centre, usually providing a higher quality of service, more security and the flexibility to customise your IT. Another option is the ‘hybrid’ cloud where a company chooses to retain some of their communications services on-premises and some in a ‘private’ or ‘public’ cloud.
The importance of bandwidth
On the one hand it’s great to have choice, but it can sometimes throw up more questions than answers, so how do you decide on the best fit?
Whilst public cloud UC is hugely popular with start-ups in urban areas where bandwidth is high, where organisations have sites or remote workers in more rural locations there is less choice and they may need to stick with a purely on-premises, hybrid or private cloud solution.
The issue with voice is that because it is real-time it requires a high guaranteed quality of service to work at an acceptable level and if you want to add video, collaboration and desk sharing then public cloud might struggle to support it.
So whilst budget-conscious or fledgling businesses may be happy to go with a cloud service that might be up for 95-98% of the time they also have to set expectations for themselves and also for their customers.
You can draw a parallel here with the likes of mobile phone communications or the popular public cloud service, Skype. Occasionally you might experience interference on the line or in some circumstances you might not be able to get through at all, but this may still be acceptable to you.
Private cloud-based UC gives you greater built-in resilience because you have a dedicated resource that you own and control in a modern, secure and air-conditioned data centre. What’s more compared with an on-premises installation, you can centralise all your IT at one site, so you can fully integrate your enterprise-wide communications with other back-office systems like accounts or CRM.
For those organisations that still wish to retain their own network on-site or don’t wish to have all their applications in the cloud, a hybrid approach can offer the best of both worlds.
Reaching a decision on what type or combination of cloud-based UC to select will always be largely dependent on the organisation and their unique needs. Ask yourself what it is you are trying to achieve? How important is communication to your operation and is it part of your route to market?
If you are highly customer-facing then quality of service should be a top priority as well as personalising multi-channel contact through close integration with other customer-centric applications such as logistics or order management systems. In this case then private or hybrid cloud would certainly be the best path.
Conversely a public VoIP offering may be attractive for new businesses who want the confidence of knowing their exact monthly costs without an upfront capital investment. However, you should always weigh up the costs over time as it might be more cost-effective to consider private cloud from the outset using financing, so over time you will ultimately own the technology.
Compared with private or hybrid cloud, using a public service can be like paying by credit card, the interest will accrue overtime. Not only can you be hit with additional charges, as business needs change it is often expensive and time-consuming to switch suppliers, because the technology isn’t portable.
Another potential development of public cloud to be aware of though is where the provider offers ‘multi-instance’ (MI) over ‘multi-tenant’. Essentially this has several advantages because each customer is using their own copy of the software and is not sharing resources with other companies.
Not only does this make it easier to ‘move’ and ‘customise’ your communications technology, it is also much easier to retrieve data in the event of a catastrophe, negating some of the security fears of using a public cloud offering. Indeed, Swyx’s new public cloud service SwyxON available in 2018 will be based on this technology enabling end-customers to benefit from an affordable service that can also be personalised to their needs.
An ever changing journey
The important thing to remember is that your needs may change at different stages of development. However, whatever your size or aspirations, it’s critical to find a solution and vendor that is platform-independent and will grow with you. Regardless of whether you are using on-premises, private, public or a mixture, your communications solution should offer you the chance to try a combined number of possibilities at every step of your journey.