A hybrid deployment gives organizations UC flexibility

Two factors are driving the hybrid deployment of unified communications: infrastructure needs and business value. But enterprises need to navigate certain deployment turbulence.

Deploying unified communications is no walk in the cloud -- or is it? Today, most UC providers have virtualized services, and organizations must decide whether to keep on-premises systems, migrate to the cloud or deploy a mix of the two in a hybrid deployment.

An organization can deploy UC in numerous ways, from using proprietary on-premises hardware to using a private cloud, according to Frank Stinson, senior analyst at IntelliCom Analytics LLC, a consulting firm in Morristown, N.J.

"For a customer that's on a current enterprise voice platform, there's a lot of flexibility," he said.

Whichever UC model an organization chooses, it must evaluate its infrastructure and business roadmap to address any deployment turbulence.

Hybrid deployments attract larger organizations

A UC hybrid deployment is becoming an attractive option for organizations, particularly mid-to-large enterprises. Two drivers are propelling hybrid deployments, Stinson said.

[Companies are] not going to pull out PBXs until they've fully depreciated.
Frank Stinsonsenior analyst, IntelliCom Analytics LLC

The first driver is infrastructure, which is particularly relevant for organizations with multiple locations. Some locations may have an up-to-date infrastructure, while others are on a legacy infrastructure approaching end-of-life.

"The hybrid model makes sense if a company makes the strategic decision to go cloud, but they're not going to pull out PBXs until they've fully depreciated," Stinson said.

The second driver is business value. A hybrid deployment allows organizations to install a cloud overlay for newer apps that can be rolled out just for the users who need them.

For example, an organization can roll out a team collaboration app that could benefit a product development team. But that app might not help users out in the field, said Stinson, who's moderating a panel discussion on UC deployments next month at ITEXPO, a business communications conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Identifying and addressing deployment challenges

Three challenges arise when facing a UC deployment, whether it's an on-premises or hybrid deployment. These challenges require organizations to do their homework and prepare themselves for any potential turbulence.

Interoperability. Legacy UC vendors, such as Cisco and Microsoft, have established premises-based infrastructures supported in the cloud. Interoperability between on-premises and the cloud is built-in because it's the same basic software, Stinson said.

That interoperability is limited for newer, all-cloud UC vendors, which can create management challenges for organizations. To support interoperability, these providers are turning to API development platforms to integrate third-party business applications.

For organizations to address challenges with interoperability, they need to examine their infrastructures and whether they're due for an upgrade. They should also evaluate which third-party apps to integrate, Stinson said.

Next, organizations should examine how providers fit with their long-term UC plans. Can a provider, for instance, support an organization's flexibility needs, and how stable is the provider in the market?

Multi-tenant vs. multi-instance. Most organizations may not realize that cloud-based UC deployments are delivered in two ways.

Stinson said legacy services from Cisco and Mitel offer multi-instance services, where each customer has its own instance of the UC service. This gives enterprises more control over the deployment, such as having the ability to push out new features on their own schedule, and eases security concerns.

However, more vendors gravitate toward multi-tenant services because vendors can quickly push new features and upgrades to customers, Stinson said. But, when updates are pushed to users, multi-tenant services can hijack some IT control.

Shadow IT. Today, the IT group isn't necessarily in control of every deployment. Some users or departments are launching their own collaboration apps.

"If a line of business has its own budget, they're going to get UC and collaboration on their own," Stinson said. "You have these turf wars internally."

To mitigate shadow IT, organizations need to understand how different areas of the business can benefit from UC and collaboration apps. IT should engage with the lines of business that were not part of the decision-making process and educate them on the new apps' benefits, he said.

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