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The Voice Cloud has arrived

February 20th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

The solutions available for bringing a phone call to your desk have matured greatly over the past 10 years. The past three years however have brought an entirely new solution to the market for businesses, with the maturing of hosted VoIP infrastructures and what consider to be “cloud based VoIP”. The availability of these products has almost moved too fast, as many organizations are not ready to understand the implications, but the opportune time to jump on is now.

3com NBX PhoneWhen we approached a new phone system back in 1998, we really didn’t have any resistance when I suggested a VoIP system. At that time the cost to maintain or even expand our Intuity Audix based platform was ridiculous. I think it cost upwards of $10K to add a line card to the system to expand 10 internal phone lines. The cost of the new system was almost insignificant in comparison. Choosing a platform was a huge technology commitment at the time, only having a handful of platforms to choose from, knowing it would have to last for another 10 years.

Shortly after 3com bought NBX, we bought into their solution, largely driven by the ease of use of the platform. We saved the company hundreds of thousands in implementation alone, putting systems in our offices around North America ourselves. Fast forward 10 years and we are running off of a relatively zero cost VoIP platform to maintain.

Those 10 years moved fast however, and it is time again to get back to the drawing board to define a new generation of voice requirements. We have grown over 46% in personnel over the past 5 years and we have more visibility of our actions, as globalization brings us closer together. Our once robust system is now outdated and undersized, leaving us incapable of delivering the same advantages we have in the Americas to the rest of our corporation worldwide. We were ready to expand our system into new offices in 2006, knowing the system would not scale to support the direction it was taking us.

In 2007 the discussions began of “what to do next?” to bring us all up to a unified communications platform? In 2007, the direction was easy. The industry had matured greatly, bringing some huge vendors to market for us to build a more robust VoIP platform. We would of course go with a larger vendor, capable of supporting more phones, and had more of a worldwide presence to support all of our offices. At the time, the only thing we heard about hosted voice services was our friends who were struggling with home voice solutions like Vonage. Hosted VoIP services for business were un-polished and deemed unreliable.

Turn that 2007 VoIP discussion into a 2008 project and the industry had started to change. I remember writing up the proposal in 2008, noting that “cloud” based services for VoIP will surpass our internal decision process. I knew it would become a more attractive option before we ever get a phone on a desk. Here we are in 2009 and nobody could have predicted how fast that cloud came. We have a budget in place, we have management on board, and everybody is ready to pull a trigger on laying down a new VoIP infrastructure. Internally, this would be the worst possible time to mention that there is a better solution. Knowing myself however, I would regret not moving putting up a flag now in two years.

That cloud, which we knew of in 2007, spotted on the horizon in 2008, is right on top of us in 2009. Fueled by the economic drop outs in 2008, the Hosted based VoIP platform has taken legs and is the most approachable, low risk option for any size company considering replacing their phone system. Remove all of the deployment overheads, lead times, and interoperability problems you have with deploying your own platform in an organization and you are left with the hosted VoIP solutions today.

Providers will take all of your phone numbers, trunk them together and deliver your voice to your desk within days, not months. Take an office that has an old PBX still in place, and they will put some SIP gateways in place so you can maintain your phones if you want. Most important is that you aren’t buying into a solution, knowing it might change leaving you stuck with outdated hardware. You are renting or paying into a solution that will evolve with the advancements, and reduce your investment dollars.

If you find yourself at the same crossroads of entering into VoIP by developing a self managed platform, move cautiously. You cannot predict is how management will react to a shift in direction. It feels somewhat like running out in front of a train, expecting it to hop tracks, without losing speed. While the concept is solid, and the initial investment to approach the solutions is significantly less, that train has a lot of momentum and a lot of cars attached to it, which all need to move at the same time. Be prepared for the logistical train wreck that this could create and the damage it could mean to a project and your reputation.

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