Before we start looking at the aspects of cloud telephony, let us first get a quick understanding of what cloud telephony is.
Cloud telephony is called by various names – cloud telephony, cloud telephones, cloud phones, hosted telephone system and so on. Cloud or hosted telephone system takes the concept of VoIP phones systems a step forward.
In an IP/VoIP telephone system, you install an IP-PBX such as IPEdge or Strata CIX in your office. These modern systems are very small and usually take up the same space as a data server on your system rack. The IPedge EM, for example, that can handle up to 1000 users, is just a few inches tall – far away from the monstrous EPABXs that occupied a full room. And compared to the 100s of lines that used to run from these EPABX, you will have a single Ethernet cable connecting the IPEdge to your LAN switch. It is the switch that connects to various points in your office.
In a cloud telephone system, multiples of IP PBX’s such as IPEdge are hosted in a secure data center by a service provider. When you connect to the server(s), you become a client to the hosted telephone system. You are given a unique id that is linked to a static IP address assigned to you. You can now start making and receiving calls. The hosted IP PBX acts as a switch for you, and routes your incoming and outgoing calls properly for you.
Certain software is added to the whole thing. This software will control how many features you can access. In general, you are charged per user on a monthly basis linked to the number of features you use.
Maintaining Your Server for You
When you install your own IP Server, there are some assumptions that are made. One; that you have a well laid and stable LAN. Two; that you have enough space and resources to manage the server. Three; that you have a high speed connection to the Internet. In addition to the hardware, you will need to install software to manage the server and get reports on its use. You may also need someone savvy enough to understand how the server works, update it regularly, and generally maintain it well. There will also be the initial set-up, but there you will have help from good dealers such as One Call communications who understand the system well.
When you look at a hosted server, the CAPEX required for the server and all its hardware and software upkeep is handled by the service provider such as Toshiba for VIPEdge. All you need at your end is an IP compatible phone and an Internet connection. This is one of biggest advantages of a hosted or cloud based telephone system. And, that is certainly a boon for small companies which are not ready or are reluctant to commit to an IP PBX.
Toshiba’s VIPegde is maintained on data centers that meets the SAS 70 Type II standard. They have three independent units, with each capable of carrying the load of the entire data center when needed. There is a 2000 KW standby generator and the whole thing is connected to a Tier 1 Internet backbone. Entry into and out of the data center are through extensive man-traps, dual authentication access points, and close circuit TV monitoring.
Whew! Sounds more secure that our NSA data center. These kinds of facilities can never be matched by a small company, and using a hosted phone system is certainly meaningful, particularly when you are taking baby steps on using IP Phones as your primary communication method.
Cloud Telephony: A Better Way to Call?
With such advanced set-up, and the survivability techniques offered by the service provider, you can take your step of moving away from PSTN and regular phone lines with confidence. But what happens if there is an outage in my office? What happens if my Internet connection is down? Most cloud telephony providers will be able to route the calls to your mobile phones. The concept of mobility is built-in and quite well established into IP phone systems and that is extended to cloud based IP phone systems also.
If you are exploring moving away from regular phone lines, hosted IP communication is a safe bet. Your CAPEX is literally zero, you have no operational costs, and you risks are limited to the monthly charges. Companies such as Toshiba go to great extent to ensure that their service never breaks down, and you should certainly take advantage of that.
As you get more confident with the use of IP based phones, you can look at either adding more users, getting more features, or consider installing your own IP server such as IPedge or Strata CIX. The choice is in terms of your requirements – both numbers and features.
So is Cloud Telephony all Hunky Dory?
Certainly not. There are downsides to everything including cloud based phone systems.
Voice Quality: Unlike Toshiba, not all cloud based phone service providers would take so much care. Some many use public networks for voice transmission. This can make you connectivity and voice quality unpredictable. If your business is dependent a lot of phone calls, this is something you must consider carefully.
Connectivity Dependency: Whatever said and done, you are using a public Internet to connect to the service provider. Unlike surfing, emails, and data movement, IP phone works in real time. If there is a small glitch in the Internet connection, this will reflect as disconnected calls, low voice quality, or both sides screaming, ‘hello’, ‘hello’. If the ISP is down for some reason, your phone systems will be out.
Vendor Dependency: When you use a cloud based system, remember the server is under the control of the supervisor. In other words, you are completely dependent upon him for all your communication requirements. Choose you service provider carefully, and avoid people who make ‘cheap’ offers. Imagine getting all your clients and friends to talk to you on the IP phone system, and finding one day that your service provider has walked away into the sunset.
Data Security: Long time ago, companies such as Oracle and Microsoft offered advanced financial accounting as a cloud based service. They never took off really for one simple reason – any CFO’s reluctance to be dependent on someone else to tell you how much money you are making. The cloud phone service provider must adhere to six tenets of data security:
- Confidentiality – secrecy, no one can listen in etc.
- Integrity – no changes must be made to number of users, to features that you use.
- Availability – should be available 24/7 or whenever you need it.
- Utility – must save you money, must enable easy calling and receiving of calls etc.
- Authenticity – must be genuine in terms of the service provided. All users paying a certain rate must get the same service.
- Possession – you must have full control over use of the features and calls.
If you see, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Add to that the saving in phone calls, and using a cloud based telephone systems is certainly worth a try.