Four Things to Consider Before Moving UC into the Cloud
By Kevin Riley, Senior Vice President, Engineering and Chief Technology Officer, Sonus
These days, CIOs aren’t talking about the Cloud in the future tense. Instead, they talk about what they’re doing in the Cloud today: virtualizing data centers, deploying new applications and extending network capacity. Increasingly, enterprises are adding a new topic into the conversation: moving Unified Communications (UC) into the Cloud.
UC in a Cloud environment makes sense for several reasons. It is more cost-efficient from a capex (capital expenditure) and opex (operational expenditure) perspective, it delivers a better scaling model, and it allows enterprises to deploy new communications features to users across more locations faster than ever before. As communications equipment nears end of life, a Cloud solution can look especially attractive to an enterprise.
In a recent report, Frost & Sullivan has predicted that enterprises in Asia Pacific will be shifting from on-premises solutions to UC as a Service (UCaaS) at an accelerated rate. This is primarily driven by the flexibility that UCaaS or cloud-based UC solutions provide enterprises. This trend is also in parallel with a recent report by IDC, forecasting that the UCaaS market in Asia Pacific excluding Japan is set to reach US$659 million in 2018, at a five-year CAGR of 89 per cent.
This increasing adoption of UCaaS among Asia Pacific enterprises highlights the need for organizations to realize that moving UC from on-premise to a Cloud-hosted platform is not as simple as turning off one switch and turning on another. There are four potential points of impact where the move to a Cloud-hosted platform can cause disruption in enterprise communications: the security level, network level, application level and user experience level.
While the Cloud enjoys a better reputation these days among security hawks, the fact remains that public Cloud solutions present an additional security risk to businesses. The Cloud’s multi-tenant model means that data, voice and video from multiple clients are passing back and forth over the same channels at a given moment; something that enterprises do not need to worry about with a corporate virtual private network (VPN). To mitigate this potential problem, there should be additional protection between the Cloud and the enterprise network as well as around the UC application itself. A Session Border Controller (SBC) can provide that protection effectively, especially one that is cost-efficient and simple to manage across multiple sites.
Moving UC applications into the Cloud will change the dynamic of network traffic. Yes, the company will free up bandwidth in its wide area network (WAN) as applications like email and videoconferencing move out of the on-premise data center. However, as more enterprise applications move into the Cloud, it becomes harder to manage and control performance as it relates to service level agreements (SLAs). Enterprises need to have granular, real-time control over applications in the Cloud in order to address issues such as load balancing, encryption, and routing and policy enforcement that can impact performance. In addition, enterprises need to make sure that their Cloud-based applications can support multiple network modalities, as Cloud communications are often characterized by a mobile workforce with different paths of network access.
Re-integrating applications and data such as interactive voice response (IVR) systems and corporate directories (e.g., Microsoft Active Directory) with a Cloud platform can take time and require special interworking—a consideration that also comes into play as employees access Cloud applications through a variety of mobile devices. Do not expect Cloud providers to handle interworking or legacy software vendors to support the latest Cloud technologies. Instead, look for specialized devices such as SBCs and signaling gateways to provide the necessary interworking.
Even small changes in the user experience can have a disruptive effect on user adoption of Cloud UC and result in lower-than-expected productivity gains. For this reason, it is important that enterprises re-train users on the nuances of the new system early in the process and clearly communicate new features to the user community. Device and application support is also central to the user experience. If the move to a Cloud-based platform includes new soft clients or policies around the types of devices and apps supported, this also needs to be included in the re-training process.
While the benefits of a Cloud-based UC solution can yield dividends both in reduced costs and increased productivity, enterprises need to make sure the migration from the on-premise data center to the Cloud is as seamless as possible. A phased migration approach can be beneficial in many cases as a way to gauge and address user issues early in the process, as well as provide a fallback in case issues with critical legacy applications arise down the road. An enterprise may wish to begin by migrating communications for select offices to the Cloud, or by migrating specific communications applications (e.g., Voice over IP, audio conferencing, etc.) into the Cloud. In both cases, if an organization aligns its Cloud migration plan where the return on investment is highest and where productivity can be improved the most, they will find that unifying communications in the Cloud can work for their business.