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To Cloud or Not to Cloud – The Unified Communications and Collaboration Dilemma

Cloud based Unified Communications and collaboration solutions have become enormously popular over the years and have immensely disrupted the traditional On-premise deployment models. Enterprise companies with disparate legacy voice and collaboration systems are at the cross-roads of a transformation wave. Is your organization asking - To move to cloud or continue investing on existing infrastructure?

While it does matter which ‘vendor supplied’ solution your organization might be using currently, organizations must first define the key drivers to move to cloud or stay On-prem. The goal of any company is to enhance the productivity and improved experience for their employees and thus drive superior business outcomes, while maintaining low operational expense. The evolution of Communications systems has reached to it’s next level, where Voice and Video no longer are the de facto. With introduction of teaming application and integration with productivity applications, companies are now offered with more robust collaborative tools that not only significantly raises the employee experience, but also productivity. Since most of the companies are working across diverse work environment, with ample number of devices, they are looking for an effective tool that can help their employees to work more efficiently and collaboratively under a unified work environment, also giving user-friendly experience.

The several components of communication and collaborative tools that can raise employee productivity are-Email, Voicemail, Calendars, Scheduling tools, Real-time communications, Instant Messaging(IM), Video, conferencing over the web, Desktop sharing and storage for files. 

Multiple vendors driving this technology

Just like multiple communication tools there are multiple vendors as well. Some of the most popular vendors driving such technologies are Cisco, Microsoft and Google to name a few. Their products can help your business to communicate securely and effectively within your organizations and also externally with your clients. 

Cisco offers collaborative products like Jabber that includes telephony features like video and audio calling, instant messaging & presence, file sharing, Unity Connection involving a reliable and secure solution for accessing Voice messages anytime and from anywhere, Webex Meetings for a superior meeting experience over Video end-points registered to webex cloud or on-premise, Mobile phones or Laptop WEB RTC connection or Jabber/ Webex teams application dial-in.

The popularity of Office 365, a cloud based Microsoft platform is undeniable and soaring amongst small and medium businesses. It is used for several purposes whether collaborating real time on Word, Excel or PPT and chat or share screen at the same time with your colleague. Microsoft Teams calling also enables calling functionality from the same application while sharing screen. Since the files are stored in cloud, only sharing the link does your job, there is no need to attach the entire file.

Google has accelerated it’s inroad into the collaboration space, specially with small businesses and startups with it’s products like Google Hangouts, Google productivity, Email solution, file sharing and storage.

But the question arises, irrespective of the Vendor, what to choose. Cloud based solution or re-invest on on-premise unified communications ?

The basic difference between them lies in the places where they are deployed, however factors like Upfront Vs On-going cost, Current State, resourcing cost and the industry vertical also plays a crucial role.

Where does the service reside:

A cloud-based solution is serviced from vendor’s server and are accessible remotely. For example, soft clients registering to vendor’s cloud or vendor partner’s private cloud.  They are flexible, enabling businesses to mitigate its responsibility and transfer the duty of handling the on-premise hardware and software to another specialist service provider, most of the time the vendor itself,  which is hassle free and cost effective as well. Whereas, on-premise software is installed on company’s servers and either managed by themselves or some managed service provider. Before the introduction of cloud- based solution, on-premise solutions were most preferred and served the business needs. It has always proved to be very reliable, secured solution and can be controlled by the enterprises themselves.

Some vendors also offer hybrid deployment where the cloud application is integrated locally with On-premise applications.

Capex Vs Opex spend:

If you choose Cloud solution then you can always purchase subscription on a monthly basis or billed annually, which generally incudes receiving support and regular updates. The upfront cost or CAPEX is significantly lower and bulk of the upfront cost is generally the professional services cost to set up the solution. There is generally no integration cost between Unified communications and teaming applications, because they come integrated in the back-end. Some fees per subscriber may apply for new functionality uplift.

Whereas, on-premise solution can be purchased by paying one-time perpetual license fee or even through pay-as-you go model. It usually depends on the size of your organization. On-premise solution will have high upfront cost which apart from professional services also includes cost for devices, software and licenses. The operational expenses consists primarily that of resources and carriages, while there will be periodic spike in opex cost for lifecycle refresh of hardware and software. Cost for integration of Teaming applications will be additional.

So, if you are looking to continue with your on-premise unified communication deployment, your long term operational expenses will stabilize and your capex spend will reduce (required for new technology incubation), if you consider investing in Cloud based solution, your initial Capex investment will be nominal, however the long term Opex spend will be higher compared to on-prem deployments. The financial goal and model to operate is an important consideration to make.

Current State:

What deployment model you have and with what vendor is very important. If you are heavily invested on any particular vendor, then identifying the core strength of that vendor is important. Augmenting to advanced collaboration features or teaming may not need focus on any particular vendor, because such features or functionalities can work across vendor platform. If your organization has disparate legacy PBX deployment across the globe or within a country, then a proper assessment is required to investigate if a single vendor solution will work or multiple vendors are required. A complex multi country deployment may mean, moving to cloud may pose a challenge, not impossible but the transition may take months.

So based on the above factors and what industry your organization is associated with, will decide which direction your organization should move to. Below is a summary of advantages and disadvantages of Cloud Vs On-prem solution.

Advantages and disadvantages of Cloud technology

Security is the primary concern of all the organization. A lot of enterprise and government entities want their data to be stored locally in the country of operation.  Companies like Cisco and Microsoft now provides end to end security for calls and file sharing. This still isn’t good for many banks, financial institution and critical government departments. Cloud solution will also limit your ability to customize your requirement. You may have to often pay a premium to certify 3rdparty vendor products and integrate to your solution. You lose control over most aspect of Design, incident management and operations. On the up-side, the entire End of Support lifecycle is managed by the service provider, there is significant reduction in work force and access high end devices and new technology on a subscription based model.

Advantages and disadvantages of on-premise unified communication

In case your company holds any sensible data related to the business operation, be it -financial document, employee details, trade secrets or any other details which needs to be stored secretly then you must consider reinvesting on on-premise UC. It might be little expensive considering the resources required to manage such operation, but the data is within your control. If you are looking for customized solution specific to your organization, then it will be wiser to select this. Federal govt, Banks, large enterprise that holds crucial customer data, may get challenged by internal security teams for any attempt to move to cloud.

What’s next?

If you are looking for a secured solution without creating a big hole in your organisation’s pocket and has no specific or complex requirement then moving to Cloud platform will be ideal for your organization. Ofcourse the organisation’s leadership’s mindset should be cloud ready as well. Organizational restructuring, challenge from security teams to allow Cloud traffic and lack of unified strategy from various portfolio owners are some of the factors that will determine whether your organization is ready to move to cloud yet.

Whereas, if you want to control your requirements, avail customized solution and if security is your prime concern then once again you must consider deploying on-premise Unified communication. Financial institutions and large healthcare providers, Federal government and state governments may want to continue with On-premise deployment, whereas retail, product companies etc may want to move to cloud. 

It is important to conduct a survey and understand the need of the employees and identify different profiles of users. Understanding the true need of the employees will go a long way to designing a solution that is most relevant. Whether you want to follow a single vendor or multi vendor solution, cost effective technology exists already to interoperate them.

Datamavic is an independent auditing and consulting firm in networking & Unified Communications and may work with you to deliver your Unified collaboration strategy.

Please reach out to or contact the author at +61 414443600

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