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For years, it seemed that the key focus of IT and telecom decision makers was on moving communications to the cloud. Industry watchers drove the conventional wisdom that suggested that all communications would be handled as a service in some unknown data center. However, the notion of an idyllic cloud utopia starts to break down with the realities of the large investments that businesses have already made in premises-based solutions, and the common perceptions of communications being too important to relinquish control. The result is that, while demand for purely cloud-based unified communications as a service (UCaaS) solutions continues to grow, many businesses have been hesitant to commit to cloud-only options. For these businesses, cloud-based solutions lack the customization available with on-premises platforms, as well as the organizational desire to retain management and control of their communications assets.

At the same time, shipments of new on-premises unified communications (UC) systems and licenses continue to shrink each year. While some of this decline can be attributed to macroeconomic factors and the impact of UCaaS, other contributing factors include the complexity of deploying and managing a modern full-stack UC platform. More than just PBX switches, today’s advanced UC platforms support not only telephony but also audio, video, and web conferencing, text messaging and now team collaboration, managed across multiple servers. Furthermore, additional work is needed to configure firewalls or session border controllers to allow remote users to access the same capabilities as on-site users. This complexity of on-premises deployments has compelled many businesses to adopt less-than-ideal cloud offerings or hold on to legacy PBX systems.

However, there is a third option that balances the simplified deployment and manageability of cloud-based services with the enhanced security, control, and customization options available with on-premises solutions. Hybrid deployments, which feature an integrated mix of cloud and on-premises communications services, can offer a best-of-both-worlds solution for many businesses. Under a hybrid infrastructure, a business can deliver on a communications strategy that is precisely tailored to its needs and requirements.

The advantages of a hybrid solution include:

Innovate Today, Migrate Tomorrow: The key benefit of a hybrid approach is that businesses can deliver enhanced communications capabilities, such as video conferencing, mobility, and team collaboration, all from the cloud while in many cases retaining their existing on-premises platform for telephony services. For example, Unify features telephony connectors that link a customer’s PBXs, either from Unify or a third-party vendor, to their Circuit team collaboration application. Through Circuit, users are offered a compelling and common desktop and mobile user experience, new collaboration and conferencing capabilities, and access to their existing phone number and calling features, without replacing or disrupting the business’ existing PBXs and voice services. Over time, the business can decide whether to keep the exiting platforms in place, upgrade or change vendors, or perhaps migrate some or all of their users to cloud-based UCaaS, without disrupting the users or their experience.

Different Needs, One Platform: The challenge with going “all-in” on cloud or on-premises for many businesses is the need to accommodate the use cases that represent exceptions to the companies’ broader communications requirements. For example, a particular business location may need to keep telephony on the premises to maintain calling during an Internet outage or to comply with specific regulatory requirements that prevent cloud deployments. Conversely, small remote sites or branch offices might be too small to deploy on-premises gear, making them ideal candidates for UCaaS. Regardless of the reason, these scenarios create problems for businesses that limit themselves to an all-cloud or a fully on-premises environment.  A hybrid architecture aims to accommodate diversity of needs. A mix-and-match approach to meet specific technology or user requirements is inherent in a hybrid deployment.

Everything Has its Place It is important to remember that, while unified communications is typically sold as a solution bundle, the UC stack is very often a discrete set of loosely integrated communications applications. This creates a unique opportunity for hybrid communications architectures. In a hybrid approach, businesses can, for example, continue to deploy mission-critical call control on-premises, while moving less critical applications, such as voice mail services, to a centralized cloud solution. Cloud-friendly UC services, such as mobility or collaboration services can be integrated with on-premises telephony to optimize audio conferencing for the business, enable remote access to a user’s business line from a mobile device, and even allow for programmable communications through cloud-based application programming interfaces (APIs). Taken to the next logical step, a hybrid architecture can enable completely orchestrated communications for businesses. Under such a service, a business can consolidate a multi-vendor communications environment and communications services under a common cloud platform to securely expose the myriad of these resources for business application or Internet of Things (IoT) integrations. For example, the Orchestrated Communications offering from Atos brings together some or all of these elements, assuming overall management for all of an organization’s communications technologies.

Conclusion

Frost & Sullivan believes that effective business communications strategies require a holistic view that leverages a mix of integrated services, both in the cloud and on-premises, which best meet the organization’s business objectives. Businesses should consider the communications assets they already have in place, as well as new services to enhance employee productivity, enhance customer engagement and streamline business processes and workflows. For many businesses, hybrid communications creates a best of both worlds approach that will meet their specific needs.

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