I saw a reference online the other day to “hosted vs. on-premises UC.” Something about that bothered me, and I think it’s this: It positions this as an either/or, all-or-nothing scenario that doesn’t really reflect reality. Sort of like “Good vs. Evil,” which is fine in the abstract, but which gets sticky once you apply it to real life situations. There’s just a lot of gray in between the black and white of those two absolute choices. In fact, I kind of wonder if the whole way service providers, equipment vendors, VARs, etc. have been positioning this question is incorrect in the first place.
Unified Communications is always going to have hosted aspects, but it will always have on-premises elements as well … and for that matter, “centralized” elements too. Not everything has to transpire in the cloud … but unlike voice and data communications as we have known them for decades, no longer does the “magic” need to be located at every office premise either.
You can implement collaborative work, for instance, or some level of presence, in a “closed” environment – say, on a corporate campus or a very tightly controlled private network. It might feel like UC, but it’s only scratching the surface. Because as soon as you try to extend presence or collaboration to “off-premises” mobile devices, it bursts your 100 percent all-on-premises bubble. Unless maybe you own your own nationwide wireless network. Doubtful, although I know somebody who does.
On the other hand, you may implement mobile integration, so every employee can benefit from UC wherever they may be. You can look at that as an (almost) all-hosted solution. But there will always be a need for some kind of equipment, even if only a router or a gateway to enable the mobile integration, on premises.
So if it’s not all-or-nothing, what is it? Well, we see it as the network itself now offering the primary UC experience for the user … and the enterprise as a whole … with some elements on premises to interface with the WAN. It’s now possible to achieve UC while deploying very limited architecture on the premises side, enabling an enterprise to leverage the WAN assets and the cloud without dealing with PBX trunks, for instance. In fact, in the collaboration example above, you could also implement an entirely “hosted” collaboration model … with nothing at the premise.
The one thing I am sure of is that this type of an approach requires a robust and dependable WAN. Note I said WAN…not Internet. Something more than the usual T1 that most companies try to get by with...and definitely something better than the proverbial “best effort” of the Internet. It’s all but impossible to do real UC without a network … wired and wireless … that enables users to leverage UC and its range of applications to pump up productivity. So I’ll say it again … the network matters, and it matters now more than ever.