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Selecting the right on-premises voice over IP, or VoIP, platform for your organization is a decision that requires careful consideration. Because voice is now combined with other communication methods, including video, instant messaging and group chat, it will be the primary way employees interact with internal and external contacts.
Here, we compare five top, enterprise-grade, on-premises VoIP platforms available today from Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE) International, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel Networks Corp. and NEC Corp. of America. To help distinguish between the features and capabilities of each VoIP platform, four different business use cases show how some vendor products may be better than others in certain situations.
Scenario 1: A traditional corporate office with basic functionality
In a traditional large corporate office, employees are generally in the office Monday through Friday and sit at their assigned desk in an office or a cubicle. The company may also have one or more large branch offices spread across the country or world. These branch locations are typically connected to the corporate office via private WAN connections.
For a company that can identify with this scenario, the first question to ask is, what VoIP platform is it currently using? If it's from one of the five companies examined here, the organization really can't go wrong with a same-vendor upgrade, as it can likely reuse the same desk phones and video conferencing endpoints it already has deployed. This can provide a significant cost savings when considering a VoIP upgrade.
Where an organization's users are located can also impact VoIP vendor choice. Both ALE and NEC are popular choices for customers residing in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, whereas Avaya, Cisco and Mitel are popular with customers based in North America.
Choosing a vendor based on geographic location may not seem important, but it can significantly impact long-term operations. IT professionals generally learn technical skills that are relevant to where they're living. Thus, there are likely plenty of IT professionals in Europe who know how to deploy and manage ALE's OmniPCX platform, but far fewer who have experience managing Mitel's MiVoice platform.
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 cloud-based VoIP and that combine unified communications functionality into a single communications system. Our research included data from TechTarget surveys and reports from other well-respected research firms, including Gartner.
Scenario 2: A corporate office with a focus on collaboration tools and app integration
Here, the workforce seeks much more than just standard desk phones, voicemail and conference phones for group meetings. These are cutting-edge workers who actively use video conferencing, group chat, presence technology and full integration with a host of other business applications. If custom applications are used in-house, then the unified communications (UC) VoIP platform must have a robust API with which developers can integrate their homegrown apps.
Cisco's Unified Communications Manager platform sets the bar in terms of UC add-ons and integrations. Because of Cisco's massive presence in the world of IT infrastructure, the company can leverage close partnerships with other enterprise hardware and software vendors to provide unique capabilities that other companies can't offer.
For example, Cisco partnered with Apple a few years ago to create Apple's Fast Lane capability for its iOS phone operating system. Native to Apple's mobile operating system, Fast Lane sets preferred quality of service tags for Cisco's VoIP and messaging apps, like Jabber and Webex. This integration ensures optimal quality when wireless signals are suboptimal.
Mitel's MiVoice is another popular platform for organizations that want a full collaboration suite of tools. The company's Open Integration Gateway open source platform allows any software company and businesses with homegrown apps to integrate with the communications platform.
Scenario 3: Businesses with contact center needs
Many businesses require a contact center for sales and customer service needs. Avaya, Cisco and NEC all offer great add-on products for their on-premises VoIP platforms.
For very large contact centers, Avaya is currently adding new technological advancements, such as artificial intelligence, to its existing contact center platform.
Cisco, on the other hand, takes a two-pronged approach. The company's Unified Contact Center Enterprise platform is geared toward large call centers with 200 or more simultaneous agents. For smaller call centers, Cisco offers its Unified Contact Center Express platform for up to 200 agents.
NEC provides additional flexibility by offering three different contact center products. The NEC Univerge Business ConneCT suite offers basic contact center functionality for small contact centers. The Univerge TeamQ contact center platform supports up to 250 agents and the UCE Contact Center offers advanced call center functions for deployments of up to 2,000 agents.
Scenario 4: A midsize organization that wants to simplify VoIP management
Lastly, let's examine a growing midsize organization. Most of the company's end users are distributed, yet they still come into a corporate or remote office during business hours. As is the case with many midsize companies, IT leadership is focused on streamlining IT processes in order to shrink the IT department's head count. Thus, the company has likely adopted a cloud-first strategy.
That said, moving to a full SaaS VoIP platform doesn't seem like the optimal plan, as the company can't take advantage of the mobile workforce benefits of those platforms. Additionally, the organization is large enough -- and will continue to grow -- to where the Opex licensing models of a SaaS platform could become quite expensive.
This is the ideal scenario in which one or more hybrid cloud VoIP platforms can be deployed. These on-premises platforms are managed in the cloud. From a features perspective, hybrid cloud platforms offer fewer capabilities than their traditional on-premises counterparts. However, a hybrid system provides midsize companies with a gateway toward a fully blown, on-premises system without requiring additional IT staff to deploy and maintain it.
While this may be considered a niche market, both Cisco and ALE have recently launched hybrid cloud VoIP platforms to provide organizations with another alternative to on-premises and SaaS VoIP architectures.
Cisco's Business Edition 4000 (BE4K) is built around the company's legacy Communications Manager Express platform. It's an all-in-one product that integrates calling, voicemail and voice gateway features into a single appliance. But unlike previous Communications Manager Express implementations that were command-line based and rather clunky to configure and maintain, the BE4K platform is fully managed from the cloud and offers an easy-to-navigate GUI.
ALE's hybrid platform, OXO Connect, is similar to Cisco's BE4K, but it has a few exceptions. With OXO Connect, companies can only connect to Session Initiation Protocol trunks for external public switched telephone network calling; there are no T1 or E1 cards built-in. But the ALE platform doesn't offer all of the features in BE4K, such as call recording and unified instant messaging.
Organizations that don't fit into either the on-premises or SaaS models may want to check out a hybrid cloud VoIP platform. Going hybrid also future-proofs the investment if the organization wants to move to an on-premises platform in the future. Desk phones, video conferencing devices and voice gateway appliances can be reused when upgrading.