Cloud vs. On-Premises UC Deployments: What if Neither Fits?


By Brian Ferguson

The increasing use of cloud-based phone systems, along with the general trend toward Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), has sparked a debate

within the communications industry as to the preferred deployment method for business phone systems: Cloud or on-premises. It’s understood that each has its benefits and challenges. The industry as seemingly arrived at a consensus as to which key factors play into the decision for the best solution:

Cloud UC

On-Premises UC

Less than 30 users

Greater than 30 users

Distributed workforce/office layout

Centralized work force

Little or no IT staff

Have CapEx budget

Prefer OpEx pricing model

Capable IT staff in house

But what happens when a company that you support doesn’t clearly fit into one of those nice buckets? How do you advice that business to proceed? Consider the following example:

ABC Restaurant Company needs a new phone system. The company consists of a corporate office of 100 users, and has 20 small fast food restaurants with five phones at each location. That adds up to a total of 200 users. The restaurants are spread out over three states, but they also need to be able to communicate seamlessly with each other - and with the corporate office. What solution do you recommend?

In the past, the likely scenario is to purchase a very expensive on-premises system that supported that company’s distributed needs, but was beefy enough (so to speak) to power 100 users in one location. The advantage of this type of deployment is that it solves the company’s problems. The obvious disadvantage is that it comes at a significant cost. Many pieces of expensive hardware are required, as well as a complex licensing model. Add the layers of deployment costs and the on-going maintenance, and the unexpected cost of high-price add-on features, and that quickly adds up to a very expensive phone system.

Is there another way?

The answer is yes. The solutions now available in the communications industry are beginning to mature , and bring a new flexibility that makes the idea of a hybrid UC solution very workable. Hybrid UC allows companies to take advantage of the best that both solutions have to offer, and benefitting from the simultaneous deployment of both on-premises and Cloud solutions. Let’s look at how this might work, using the example of the ABC Restaurant Company:

ABC Company chooses a UC vendor that has hybrid capabilities between their hosted and on-premises solutions. They have to be the same product and be able to communicate with each other seamlessly, giving the end user the experience of having all locations look as one. Once that vendor is found, an on-premises system gets installed in the corporate office. This is where ABC Restaurant Company’s IT staff is based, and it is the location with the larger number of users and the greatest need for flexibility. Next, the remote offices (or in this case, restaurants) deploy the Cloud offering, giving each site full functionality and connectivity. Yet, these locations only require handsets be installed. ABC Restaurant Company can reduce their CapEx expense while at the same time reap the advantages of OpEx. Users can connect to all locations, as well as all other users across the company, as if the UC system was all on one server.

Large companies with both centralized and distributed workforces, as well as franchise model organizations, now have a simple deployment option for their complex environment. And resellers of UC systems can now offer another profitable option to their customers to ensure a smooth and successful rollout.

As a solution provider, you may be holding firm on one side of the debate and still have a preference toward one deployment option over the other. Increasingly, your customers will not care about the industry-wide debate of hosted vs. on-premises. Instead, more and more customers will insist on having the flexibility and economic advantages that a hybrid solution can offer their business. And a larger segment of customers will look for a UC vendor that understand and can accommodate the fast-growing demand for hybrid solutions.

Brian Ferguson is a product marketing manager at Digium, which provides Asterisk® software, telephony hardware and Switchvox business phone systems that deliver enterprise-class Unified Communications.