Although next-generation SaaS-based voice-over-IP services are quickly growing in popularity, there are still plenty of reasons to choose an on-premises VoIP platform. Generally best suited for larger organizations, on-premises VoIP deployments offer a host of security, management and operating cost benefits over SaaS and hybrid VoIP architectures.
Of course, there are literally dozens of decisions to make and options to consider before selecting a VoIP product, many of which will be unique to the organization's specific business or industry. Numerous decisions will cross both technical and business boundaries. Thus, it's critical that both technical and financial stakeholders participate in the VoIP platform selection process.
Reviewing the current phone system
In the world of IT, the expression "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" should be followed when researching any technical migration to a new platform. If an organization already has a telephony system in place, it's important to carefully review the technology and processes. The goal should be to find what works with the legacy platform and to look at implementing it in the new platform. Additionally, it's important to look at the vendor of the organization's current system to see if it has migration paths to newer platforms -- and if it offers discounted pricing for existing customers.
If the organization has opted to deploy a new on-premises VoIP platform, the overall deployment architecture of a same-vendor VoIP migration will largely remain the same. Thus, the organization is more likely to be able to reuse their existing physical cabling and rack space. In many instances, the physical deployment is a simple hardware swap.
Lastly, the in-house administration and troubleshooting skills telephony admins have today are likely to better cross over to a new VoIP platform vendor with whom they've already worked. The new platform's telephony management interface, desk phones and customer support will likely be similar to the previous one. Thus, fewer skills will have to be relearned pre- and post-migration.
But if the purpose of migrating to a new VoIP platform is to completely get rid of the current system for whatever reason, don't feel like you're completely locked into the same vendor. Additionally, over the past decade or so, many enterprise VoIP vendors have either shut their doors, been acquired or began focusing on non-U.S. markets. If that's the case with the company's current telephony vendor, there are obviously fewer benefits to be gained by sticking with the same vendor.
Using extensive research into the VoIP market, TechTarget editors focused this article series on 10 industry-leading business VoIP providers that offer on-premises and/or cloud-based VoIP and combine unified communications functionality into a single communications system. Our research includes data from TechTarget surveys and reports from other well-respected research firms, including Gartner.
What sets one VoIP vendor apart from another?
As the organization begins researching VoIP vendor websites, note that some vendors may attempt to steer prospective customers toward what they consider their core competencies. For example, some vendors may list the contact center ahead of unified communications, as they're seeking to attract businesses that have a substantial part of their overall UC platform inside a call or contact center.
Other features that can set one vendor's on-premises VoIP platform apart from another include video conferencing capabilities, mobile integrations, web conferencing and security protection. Additionally, some VoIP vendors focus their platforms and features on companies of a specific size. Some vendors cater toward small and midsize enterprises by simplifying their deployment and configuration options -- providing only the most important features and tools to administrators to deploy. While this may limit what larger enterprises can do, it greatly simplifies small and midsize deployments that are seeking a platform that's easier to manage.
Ease of integration with third-party business apps
More than ever, tight integration between business applications is a key component to streamlining business processes and to getting an organization to a digitally transformed state. While most VoIP vendors have done a great job of creating collaboration features -- such as chat, video conferencing and web meetings -- that tightly integrate with the overall VoIP and UC platform, it's the integration with external, third-party apps that can truly make or break an enterprise VoIP platform.
Traditional VoIP vendors were once notorious for building proprietary, closed systems that didn't allow for interoperation with third-party apps. Yet, as Open Source architectures started to gain momentum in the enterprise, vendors found that customers began seeking out UC platforms that could communicate and provide added value to third-party business applications.
Today, these types of integrations can range from simple third-party single sign-on support to call center customer relationship management tie-ins to advanced data security monitoring that identifies and prevents the loss of intellectual property flowing through the UC platform. In some cases, these third-party integrations are already prebuilt by the vendor and ready to go.
In other instances, developers must tap into an API that allows read-write data access to the VoIP platform to build the integration bridge between two or more applications. Knowing what applications are necessary to integrate -- along with the prebuilt capabilities of each VoIP vendor platform -- will help determine how much effort and funding are required to build the necessary third-party integrations end users demand.
Assessing a VoIP vendor’s security strategy
When examining on-premises VoIP vendors, there's a distinct difference in the product portfolios they sell. For example, some VoIP vendors are known not only for VoIP, but also for data networking, security and data center technologies. Some VoIP vendors also sell cybersecurity platforms, whereas other vendors rely on third parties to help secure their architectures.
The single-vendor vs. multiple-vendor argument has been going on for decades in the IT industry. Both strategies have their pros and cons. On one hand, a single-vendor VoIP deployment, with the addition of the same vendor protecting the platform and data, can ease both deployment and support tasks from an administrative perspective.
That said, using a single-vendor strategy means the organization is locked into the security tools provided by that vendor. Those tools may not be considered among the best in the industry. Thus, that company is stuck with a suboptimal security tool for the sake of maintaining a single-vendor design.
Pricing and purchase options
One of the more frustrating aspects of choosing an on-premises VoIP platform is ensuring the organization is buying exactly what it needs at a reasonable price. Unlike SaaS and hybrid architecture models that have drastically simplified purchasing options and pricing structures, the same can't be said for many of the VoIP vendors selling on-premises platforms.
In most cases, purchasing an on-premises platform means the organization must buy from a third-party reseller. While this is usually a benefit in terms of design, implementation and ongoing local support, when it comes to pricing, it's prudent to be careful. The third-party reseller can sell a vendor's platform at whatever price they want. Thus, it's important to trust the reseller enough to know it's giving the organization a good price. Even better, the business should get multiple quotes from different resellers.
Because no two organizations are the same, their UC needs will also differ drastically. While virtually all businesses will demand typical features, such as PSTN calling and voicemail, other tools like messaging, video conferencing and contact center functions may or may not be required. Some vendors will offer a base VoIP platform and then require the buyer to add other UC features à la carte. Others will bundle multiple UC features onto a VoIP platform at an added discount. Decision-makers need to find which purchase options yield the most bang for the buck. When seeking out the best pricing for an on-premises VoIP platform, don't depend on the vendor or resellers to do this research.
As part of the buying process, it's also important to review business needs in terms of ongoing vendor support. Again, the capabilities and options will vary widely from one vendor to the next, including communication methods and operating hours to reach support technicians through phone, email or chat. It's also important to review support service-level agreement needs for hardware replacement -- and determine if the organization wants a vendor-approved technician on site to replace critical components. Choosing a vendor based on its support capabilities and models should be a high priority for organizations that consider their UC platform a mission-critical component of the overall business.