Cloud Communications: Turn Cloud Ready to Cloud Willing

Written by: Alan Shen

A recent market study reports a robust and steady global growth rate of nearly 20% through 2025 for cloud migration services. Businesses everywhere have undoubtedly discovered and embraced the cloud. Organizations have migrated many of their workloads from on-prem servers to the cloud to enhance their digital capabilities and improve bottom lines. COVID-19 and its newly minted remote workplace culture have further accelerated cloud moves.

However, cloud-ready for many workloads doesn’t necessarily mean ‘cloud willing’ for all workloads. Despite the apparent allure of the cloud, there remain certain business-critical and highly complex legacy systems which, until quite recently, at least for larger organizations, have remained squarely on-premises. The workload with which Unify Square is most familiar, Voice, falls into this category of old-school on-prem. However, recent developments in the UC space are quickly creating a dynamic shift in that perspective. Many large enterprises are feeling compelled and willing to make the cloud shift, despite the challenges. This blog examines both the perspective change for the voice workload, the challenges in making the shift as well as a proven framework for achieving a successful cloud communications transformation.

The Landscape of Voice Communication

From a historical standpoint, the PBX project was mainly a localized facilities project, with solutions customized to site requirements that tended to be very costly and cumbersome. The decision-makers included leadership within a facilities organization without much IT involvement and lacking a broader IT strategy. For example, it was not uncommon to see different vendor services across various sites within the same organization as individual facilities projects determined either an Avaya or a Cisco or a Panasonic PBX system that made sense for that specific project.

PBX projects fall under the IT Umbrella

But as the migration to the cloud kicked off, telephony gradually evolved so that it was no longer just migration to a modern PBX /IP-based PBX or even a centralized PBX. Nowadays, PBX projects fall under the IT umbrella and are regarded from a cloud offering perspective. To that end, we see the integration of a lot of features. Things like meetings and chat are common, and the whole transition is seen from a digital workplace collaboration perspective rather than being just about Voice. Some of the contributing factors include the shift of service providers’ and vendors’ business offerings. Think of Microsoft Teams or Zoom offering a full set of UC and workstream collaboration solutions, including video conferencing, instant messaging, document management, etc.

Move away from proprietary PSTN links

Standards like telecom links are also deprecated. We see a move away from proprietary PSTN links (TDM PRIs) to standards-based telecom links (SIP trunking). This is partly due to the end-of-life announcements of PRIs by carriers. It turns out that many of these companies have moved their back-end switching already to IP many years ago. The PRIs are just the last vestige of proprietary on-prem hardware infrastructure requirements. Companies like AT&T, Verizon, and BT are no longer providing support for corporate lines and encouraging clients to move to SIP.

IP endpoints emerging in the software environment

As technology transforms the landscape, IP endpoints have emerged in the software environment as well. For example, today’s softphones enable end-users to easily communicate through any hardware device, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops. COVID-19 maybe a once in a lifetime event, but it’s causing a massive behavioral shift around remote work. The old dusty PBX and its hardware endpoint requirements no longer serve the increasingly remote work culture.

Enhanced functionality and reliability of cloud solutions

The other significant shift happening is that enterprises are now seriously considering cloud telephony. This is due to the increased functionality/reliability by cloud solutions providers like Teams and Zoom. Once again, COVID-19 was a proof of concept for a massive shift to remote work and is propelling this move by enterprises. Consequently, we’re seeing carriers build cloud-based methods of connecting their services directly to Teams and Zoom in the form of virtual SBCs.

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Cloud Willing to Cloud Ready

cloud voice

We are witnessing the voice communication landscape shifting and taking on a new form and becoming more cloud-ready. By that, we mean a move from planning to implementation. But it’s important to understand what is driving this shift.

Service providers have been pushing cloud voice for many years now. However, enterprises were resistant due to lack of feature completeness, SaaS licensing cost, and distrust of cloud service reliability. But the change is only taking shape now because of a few developments in other areas of cloud transformation.

The impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to adjust their operations and business models to enable remote working, communication, and learning—while maintaining security. With robust functionality, enhanced security, and scalability, cloud computing has proved to be strong enough to handle the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID –19.  In addition to establishing the power of cloud computing, the pandemic has caused a significant shift in the culture and attitude towards remote work and will create a “new normal” of the remote work model.

Information Worker services have already moved to the cloud

Technology innovation and digital disruptions have already fundamentally changed how employees access information, collaborate with colleagues, and serve customers. We are witnessing the emergence of a cloud-first world as employees increasingly rely on cloud-based business apps to do their job. Voice is one of the last information worker services yet to be migrated to the cloud to fit the new digital workplace model.

End of Life of On-prem PBX and TDM PRIs

We’ve already talked about how companies like AT&T and BT have declared “end of life” dates for PRI lines and pushing customers to upgrade to SIP. Organizations can simply no longer find or afford the hardware to keep running their old dusty PBX systems. When the current arrangements fail (and it will be when and not if), this will be the end of the on-prem PBX service.

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Risky Legacy Systems

Ongoing management of legacy systems has become very burdensome and costly compared to cloud alternatives. Also, maintenance or updates has the potential for significant business interruptions. As more organizations move to the cloud with enhanced features, security, analytics, and flexibility, competitive pressure makes the management and maintenance of legacy systems risky for business.

Shadow IT Bargaining Power

Employee bargaining power is driving the adoption of many cloud-based consumer products within several teams within an organization. Zoom and Slack have leveraged this shift in the status quo and IT control to enter the enterprise market. This change creates competitive pressure among UC and WSC platform providers leading to competitive pricing for cloud platforms.  The increase in Shadow IT and the availability of powerful cloud capability at competitive prices by most platform providers are pushing IT teams to drive enterprise-level cloud adoption.

More Work than Solution Providers Think

Even though a new class of cloud workers is shaping the digital workplace’s future, the move to cloud Voice is still at an early and unproven stage. This is especially true for large organizations. This is primarily due to the complexities of a cloud transformation. However, it’s important to note that the complications are not due to the cloud technology itself.

First, one such complexity, especially in voice cloud transformations, is the industry and government regulatory compliance. Telephony is more regulated than general IT solutions. Transitioning on-prem PBXs to the cloud introduces complexities in meeting local regulatory requirements, which vary considerably by country. Second, we cannot consider telephony in isolation. There are many other systems in different facilities connected to the legacy PBX system, such as alarm systems, paging, and assembly lines in a factory. When an organization plans to move Voice to the cloud, it must consider these connections and work out a comprehensive and standardized plan for scalability and easy implementation. That is easier said than done since some of the challenges or obstacles faced can be complicated. We already talked about adhering to local regulations for site customizations. Other examples include incorporating area codes, porting existing telephone numbers, and planning for or accommodating legacy features.

Given the challenges of moving Voice to the cloud and the interdependent nature of the cloud transformation across all information worker services, what could be the solution to accomplishing it in a flexible, scalable, and affordable way?

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The Cloud Communications Transformation Model

Given the challenges of moving Voice to the cloud and the interdependent nature of the cloud transformation across all information worker services, what could be the solution to accomplishing it in a flexible, scalable, and affordable way? 

Over the last decade, our team at Unify Square has honed the approach to move to the cloud and arrived on a workable model that we call “Cloud Communications Transformation.”. The idea of the model is to price and scope the offering in a way that delivers the broadest scope, while still keeping in line with local regulatory environments. For instance, if you’re in China, we still have to deploy a local gateway. The same thing applies to India. However, in Canada, we can do it centrally. And that whole landscape is going to change continuously as the Zoom’s and BT’s of the world continue to add different virtual SBC services. This CCT model focuses entirely on digital workspace. The model focuses purposefully on the PBX features most relevant to information workers, moving them to the cloud, and doing it in the most cost-effective, flexible, and fast way possible. 

The four fundamental Tenets of CCT success

cloud voice

CCT success is predicated upon four fundamental tenets:

A Separation of the “infrastructure dial plan enablement” from the “user enablement.”

When you sign up for a Verizon or a BT subscription, you pay an activation fee, get your phone, provision it, and that sets you up with a new SIM card. We have architected CCT in the same manner. We enable a range of numbers (either via SBC, BT SBC, or central data center SBC), set up that dial plan range, and finally, enable users on that range.

Deploy voice servers at the broadest scope

Deployment of voice servers must factor in the following four interdependent components 1. Solution capabilities, 2. Carrier capabilities, 3. Regulations, and 4. Business needs. For example, if an organization wants to deploy voice in the US, we may still need to deploy a local gateway if it’s a factory simply because of survivability reasons. 

Strong cloud provider/carrier symbiosis

Given the current technology developments with virtual SBCs that enable flexibility in keeping legacy phone numbers or enabling multi-vendor interoperability, the CCT model allows for that flexibility and agility. We anticipate a more robust cloud provider and carrier partnerships that will only make the CCT model more agile over time.  

Standardization and Scale

Scalability and replicability can be best achieved through standardization. Our team has identified a small set of canonical voice models based on current tech availability and typical user requirements. 


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