Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Voice As A Cloud Service

I've never really thought of phone service as something that you can move to the cloud until reading a white paper from Polycom and Broadsoft. Companies like Onsip, Vocalocity and others are doing this today and market it as "Hosted VoIP". I don't typically think of phone service when I think cloud computing but when comparing it to the advantages of cloud computing, it's a good fit.

First, what is VOIP? Voice over IP or VOIP, is essentially telephone over IP data networks internally and via the Internet. It offers potential lower cost for deploying new phone systems in office environments. The cost savings come from easily provision new lines inside your company by just plug in in a telephone anywhere on the network (although many businesses setup a separate network for their phone system), integrating telephone service with workers desktops (like voice mail) and making it easier to integrate off-campus workers onto your phone system all without making large capital investments. Many home users use VOIP today, they just don't know it. If you use Skype, or Vonage to name just a couple, you are using VOIP already. Until recently, companies purchase VOIP system hardware and installed it to build out a typical company phone system with call transfer, hold, etc. Equipment resided within their company and include things like redundant power and spare hardware just in case of failure (just like most older phone systems). A couple examples of VOIP equipment vendors are ShoreTel and Cisco.
After looking at a white paper from Polycom, their service provides many of the advantages of cloud computing, or should I say services.
  • Very little local equipment - Rather than a bunch of equipment sitting in your equipment closet using your personnel to run, it sits in a remote site.

  • Elastic growth - Adding more lines doesn't require big capital expense, just phone sets. Reducing service translates into near instant cost savings because you don't have all that fixed cost.

  • Business continuity - They provide uninterrupted service via redundant equipment in separate data centers. If an earthquake forces you out of your facilities, no problem, a simple reconfiguration allows admins to redirect calls to other locations or your cell phone.

  • Automatic upgrades - Since it's centrally hosted and managed, someone else takes care of the upgrades.

  • Accessible from anywhere you have network service.
  • And now with the mobile explosion, run VOIP software on your smart phone to get access to features of your office PBX while on the road (extension dialing, and other call management features).
This is an interesting twist to the idea of cloud computing since we don't think of services like this being provide by computers (even though they are). Is it the right thing to do? It might be for a small company (larger ones would have bigger hurdles). You will need to compare the advantages with the risks just like any other implementation and understand all the implementation costs to properly evaluate. Depending on your network routing equipment you may need to invest in upgrades to support quality of service and POE.

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- Chris Claborne

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