Comparing Cloud Communication Solutions for Business
You see the term "cloud" used in all sorts of businesses and technologies today. But do you really know what it means? Simply put, the "cloud" is an online space for services and data that can be accessed from anywhere. It is entirely helpful for businesses that have multiple remote locations or employees, or for businesses that do not want to have any on-site equipment.
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Why Should Businesses Keep Communications in the Cloud?
The "cloud" offers businesses big advantages because information is accessible anytime, from anywhere.
For many years, organizations have been tethered to on-premise installations of their communications systems. Applications that control telephone, messaging, email, video conferencing, and collaborative sharing systems have been running on local area networks or dedicated in-house servers. IT personnel are required to operate and maintain these systems. But when systems go down (which they invariably do), an organization is instantly handicapped. The challenges of running these applications, as well as the consternation they cause support teams, is fading as more and more businesses choose cloud communications.
Cloud communications are slowly becoming the norm. Most businesses find that choosing a cloud solution offers them better disaster recovery, more features, easy upgrades, and more. Plus, the price tag for a cloud communications solution is tough to beat!
What is Cloud Communications?
Cloud communications are the safe way to host your business phone solution.
Although widely used, the term “cloud” is a bit misleading. To some, the term conjures ideas of data vaporizing and a lack of infrastructure control. But in reality, the cloud consists of off-premise servers accessed via the internet. These IP-accessed applications are secure and highly reliable. Cloud servers are owned and maintained by companies that offer “server farms,” huge installations of servers dedicated to hosting software.
Owners of server farms have three overriding promises to keep: data security, speed, and high uptime. Cloud communications and other types of cloud computing offer ease-of-use and simplicity, but those benefits are useless if data security is lacking, applications are not accessible, application access is slow, or if programs keep going offline. Therefore, cloud purveyors spend a great deal of time ensuring data security and integrity. Most cloud server centers offer storage in a public cloud, a private one, or a hybrid of both, where the application is in a public cloud but transacted data is stored privately.
Most cloud providers will demonstrate some type of compliance with computing standards like SSAE 16, a process and data security protocol, NIST or IEEE standards, or some other globally recognized method of assuring compliance. Trusted providers are usually quite happy to offer prospective clients their accreditations and certifications.
In order to guarantee speed and accessibility, server farms provide multi-tenancy and scalability. Multi-tenancy means that there are several instances of a communications application or platform running on the cloud servers to seamlessly accommodate increases in demand. As a business grows and their cloud communications needs to expand, a server farm will dedicate more infrastructure resources to the client, scaling up as needed.
Why Communications in the Cloud?
Most businesses choose cloud communications for the affordability, flexibility, and minimal upkeep.
Traditionally, communications platforms use local, on-premise servers where the software that runs these systems is stored. PBX, VoIP, video conferencing, messaging, and document or knowledge-base collaboration applications are running on company-owned servers and maintained by company personnel or subcontractors. Often, these systems are installed as single tenants, with periodic backups, software updates, and maintenance being applied on a scheduled basis. In some cases, a whole IT team is dedicated to keeping these kinds of systems and infrastructure operating properly.
As one can imagine, there is a great deal of cost associated with maintaining on-premise systems. Redundancy is typically marginal, system instability creeps in, and personnel are continuously busy keeping things running. And if part or all of the system does crash, either due to inherent bugs or environmental intervention like power outages or weather events, then an entire organization may be unable to conduct business.
Cloud communications negates all of those concerns. By leveraging communications in the cloud, clients can rely on instances of their applications running simultaneously and with redundancy, outsourced maintenance, and twenty-four-hours-a-day monitoring. More often than not, these communications system vendors provide their products in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. SaaS providers will typically bundle software and equipment maintenance as part of their contract, ensuring that as soon as bug fixes, patches, and enhancements are available, they are downloaded to the client’s application instance.
Most SaaS and server farm suppliers are held to a very high uptime metric, meaning they promise to have the client’s application running and accessible for close to 100% of the time. This incredibly high uptime is achieved through geographic and internal redundancies. Many cloud communications service providers have multiple physical locations around the world. In the event that a catastrophe prevents access in one region, online traffic is instantly redirected somewhere else to keep the system running. This fact, on its own, is enough to prompt clients to move their important communications applications to the cloud.
What Kinds of Communication Systems Can be Cloud-Based?
A cloud-based phone solution is perfect for mobility and remote employees.
Enterprise business communications systems include telephone switchboard PBX, audio and video conference, call center, interactive voice response (IVR), fax, and data equipment and applications. Any of these systems can be entirely or partially located in the cloud. Each system will offer varying benefits depending upon the client’s needs and usage.
Some enterprise clients want all of their systems cloud-based while others prefer a hybrid solution where they receive some benefits immediately (like reduced up-front and maintenance costs) while transitioning the rest of their systems over time. Typically, when managers begin to see the cost and support benefits of moving their communications systems to the cloud they quickly choose to accelerate the transition.
Purchasers of communication systems have constructed major portions of their operations around the reliable functioning of these systems. System providers are increasingly urging their customers to install or convert to cloud-based applications. Besides the speed, security, and accessibility benefits of operating in the cloud, there is an additional system management benefit. That additional benefit is the ability to remotely manage how a system works. As an example, if a hurricane renders a company site unviable a system administrator could, through a web portal, tell their PBX system to direct all telephone calls away from that facility to a healthy facility located miles away.
The Cloud is Growing and Here to Stay
Analysts predict that large companies will have up to 50% of their deployments operating in the cloud by 2016. The majority of companies’ IT expenses will be for cloud platforms and applications by that year, too. Those are some significant number! Cloud-based systems are quickly becoming the standard for enterprises. Researchers predict that by 2017 cloud services will be worth nearly $110 billion.
Younger IT professionals and system administrators are completely comfortable with the cloud and have been using cloud-based applications in their personal lives to purchase music, stream movies, and buy goods. Moving their own company’s communications systems to the cloud is a perfectly reasonable strategy to Millennial and Generation X employees. And you, too, should make the transition. The cloud is not a scary or unattainable place. Rather, it affords businesses a reliable place to store, host, and unify their communication systems. For more and more companies, the cloud is where their communication systems belong to get scalability, security, efficiency, and cost reduction.
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