The outlook for cloud is getting clearer

The outlook for cloud delivery of unified communications platforms is getting ever brighter as bandwidth supply restrictions are lifted and high cost is addressed.

March 7, 2012

Small companies opt for pure cloud as enterprises stick with hybrid or CPE setups

By Bennie Langenhoven, Managing Executive, Tellumat Communications Solutions

The outlook for cloud delivery of unified communications platforms is getting ever brighter as bandwidth supply restrictions are lifted and high cost is addressed.

On its own, the value proposition of cloud-based computing delivery is very compelling – with unified communications (UC) as well as most other applications.

– At low upfront cost and predictable ongoing cost, cloud offers companies of all sizes a high degree of application functionality and scalability.

– Capacity can be opened like a floodgate or throttled down to a trickle, depending on what you need at any particular point in time and the contractual agreement with the supplier.

– Technology never gets old or broken as adoption, upgrades, support and maintenance are all sorted by the folks up on cloud 9.

– Also, with just-enough, centralised server and electrical power and cooling, cloud is about as environmentally sound as computing can possibly get with current hardware architectures.

Meanwhile, on earth
That’s the theory, anyway. Down here on earth, certain practical issues continue to dog the cloud phenomenon.

Cost
The South African telecoms environment has all but overcome its history of high-priced, under-supplied bandwidth. The result is that cloud solutions still do not scale terribly well.

While small and mid-sized companies are beginning to benefit from wholesale cloud delivery of UC, bigger companies are not in the same position yet. Instead, they rather opt to run hybrid UC environments that embrace the efficiencies and functional enhancements of cloud computing without running up high incoming bandwidth costs.

Such scenarios are possible, for example, when a large company opts for customer premises equipment at its head office and cloud-delivered UC at its branches, thus enjoying the best of both worlds.

Reliability, quality and security
In addition to avoiding the high cost of bandwidth with a wholly or partly on-site solution, there is peace of mind in knowing your equipment and data is on hand – from the point of view of data security, reliability and quality of service (QoS).

If you’re willing to make the investment in solid access technology with extra-line redundancy and other means of assuring QoS and business continuity, then a remote service need not be a scary prospect. However, data security often enjoys a high priority with enterprises, in which case the hybrid model makes sense yet again.

Private cloud configurations, where the infrastructure is dedicated solely to the customer, may offer a way out of this dilemma – whether hosted on- or off-site. It offers dedicated security and reliability while handing over the headache (and cost) of managing the solution to the service provider.

But on the whole, private cloud solutions are pegged at top-scale enterprise clients like banks, and not everyday computing environments.

New directions
Where cloud does represent a viable prospect is with 30 to 50-user clients as well as corporates with branch networks.

To serve these, UC technology and platform providers will increasingly adapt their business models, moving from on-site integration experts to remote delivery managed service partners and infrastructure hosts in the medium to long term.

Not only will this make sense to a market increasingly spoilt for cheap bandwidth and mature, virtualised computing applications, but service providers will find a source of annuity revenue that safeguards their business during difficult times. In addition, users will have the benefit of accessing their entire computing environment from anywhere, on multiple devices.

Meanwhile, the abovementioned trade-off is in effect.

* Tellumat is the South African distributor of ShoreTel systems, whose offerings are cloud-ready.