Accessing Unified Communications Services

By Nigel Sinclair Thomson, CEO of 1toGo 

In the previous 2 parts of this series introducing unified communications, we attempted to define what unified communications is and provided some benefits of unified communications to businesses and employees.

This article discusses how businesses can access unified communications services.

Accessing Unified Communications Services

For most businesses, particularly SMEs, the management of information and communication technology (ICT) in general and unified communications in particular is not a core business function.

Unified communications solutions should thus be easy to deploy and manage where technical skills are unavailable.

Various options are available to organisations wishing to access unified communications solutions and thus enjoy its benefits. Some of these are more suited to organisations having an internal ICT function while others don’t require such skills in-house.

These options include:

  • On-premise deployment
  • Access from a private Cloud (hosted internally or externally)
  • Access from a public Cloud or
  • Access via a hybrid model. This is a mix of the above options.

On-premise Deployment

Organisations that have in-house ICT skills might prefer to deploy on-premise unified communications infrastructure.

Such deployment will most likely be funded by the organisation’s capital budget.

It is important in this case that the organisation doesn’t rely on a firewall that uses a NAT gateway for Internet access. Such firewalls are often associated with DSL Internet access and are unfriendly towards Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), the protocol often used in unified communications. SIP is used for the creation, modification and tearing down of multimedia communication sessions and SIP unfriendly firewalls prevent two-way multimedia communication.

In addition to this problem, on-premise deployments could complicate the deployment of unified communications services to mobile employees who are outside the corporate firewall.

Private Cloud Deployment

The Cloud based delivery model is becoming increasingly popular as support for service-oriented architectures improves and speeds of access networks increase. This provides users with an experience similar to that they would receive if the application were hosted on their local network.

Private Cloud based unified communications solutions provide numerous advantages for businesses. These include:

  • Improved security and NAT traversal via the use of session border controllers (SBCs) at the border between access and core networks as well as at the borders between core networks and those of other service providers. This facilitates two-way multimedia communication.
  • Increased ‘mobility’ of such services. Because these services are hosted in the Cloud, these services are available to employees regardless of whether they are in the office behind the corporate firewall, on the road or on the other side of the world external to the corporate firewall.
  • As with on-premise deployments, private Cloud deployments allow organisations increased control over their ICT infrastructure while offering them the option to outsource the management of the infrastructure to a third party service provider guaranteeing performance and availability in a service level agreement (SLA).

Unified communications solutions delivered via a private Cloud might still need to be funded by capital expenditure and will not allow organisations to take advantage of economies of scale available to service providers offering unified communications services in the public Cloud.

Public Cloud Deployment

Unified communications services delivered by service providers in the Public Cloud are delivered on demand on a per-user basis, usually over the Internet.

Such services are ideal for businesses which don’t have the technical, infrastructure and financial resources required to host business grade communication and collaboration tools in-house or pay for infrastructure via their CAPEX budget.

Benefits of using a third party service provider include:

  • Scarce capital that would have been spent upfront to purchase software, licenses and infrastructure is converted to pre­dictable operating expenditure
  • Fewer costly technical staff are required given that the application and infrastructure resides in the service provider’s data center
  • Solutions can be deployed more rapidly than premise-based solutions with a corresponding decrease in time to value
  • More sophisticated data center infrastructures are available to customers which might be unaffordable to them individually.
  • The service provider is responsible for ongoing support and maintenance of infrastructure, security and software updates as well as backups.
  • Customers should obtain better service given that service providers’ revenue streams may be terminated at short notice by customers
  • Customers are freed from lock-in to vendors, long contracts and old technologies
  • Customers and service providers can scale services up or down as per the customer’s requirements
  • Customers subscribing to unified communications solutions offered by service providers such as ISPs and Web hosts via control panels like cPanel can self-provision and manage their unified communications services via the Web.

By subscribing to public Cloud deployed services, businesses can concentrate their energies and resources on their core business while still enjoying the benefits of unified communications.

Nigel Sinclair Thomson is CEO of 1toGo, a value added mobile Cloud unified communications service as well as the CEO of Zwana Unicom, the Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia Distributor for CommuniGate Systems' carrier grade unified communications solutions.

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