Moving UC Into The Cloud

Before adopting a cloud-based unified communications system, organizations need to consider five things including security.

Kevin Riley

November 16, 2015

4 Min Read
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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’s cheaper from a capex and opex 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 c cloud service can look especially attractive to an enterprise.

What enterprises need to keep in sight, however, is that moving UC from on-premises to a cloud-hosted platform is not as simple as turning off one switch and turning on another. There are four areas where the move can cause disruption in enterprise communications: security, the network, applications, and user experience.

Security

While the cloud enjoys a better reputation these days among security hawks, the fact remains that public cloud services 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 any given moment --something that enterprises don’t 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) that can be easily managed across multiple sites can help here.

Network

Moving UC applications into the cloud will change the dynamic of network traffic. Yes, the company will free up bandwidth in its WAN as applications like email and videoconferencing move out of the on-premises data center, but 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.

Applications

Reintegrating 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. Don’t 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.

Users

Even small changes in the user experience can have a disruptive effect on user adoption of cloud-based UC and result in lower-than-expected productivity gains. For this reason, it is important that enterprises retrain 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 training process.

While the benefits of a cloud-based UC deployment can yield dividends both in reduced costs and increased productivity, enterprises need to make sure the migration from the on-premises 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, audioconferencing, etc.). In both cases, if organizations target their cloud migration plan toward the highest ROI and biggest productivity gains, they will find that unifying communications in the cloud can pay off.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Riley

CTO & Vice President of Engineering, Sonus

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