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It’s been interesting to watch the term “cloud” evolve from the usual “bubble” on a whiteboard representing the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to the current all-encompassing meaning of a resource-optimized deployment of any application across locations in the network. Actually, “cloud” is just a buzz-word for what is really known as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Communication-as-a-Service (CaaS).
The reasons for this huge transformation and these fast-growth markets are compelling!
All of this is usually available to the enterprise for a lower total cost of ownership, especially if all of the costs are included in the calculations to provide the same levels of reliability, software currency, and flexibility at the enterprise’s own facilities. However, a lower cost of ownership should be verified, not assumed, as some CaaS providers do not pass the economies on to their customers.
If this is such a good idea, why didn’t it happen years ago? Well, a little bit of it did in the bygone days of “timesharing” services. But the three most important factors in today’s boom of cloud services are virtual machines, Internet Protocol and network bandwidth, and security management. Let’s take a look.
Virtual Machines: Computer processors have gotten so fast and economical (remember Moore’s Law?) that it is often wasteful to dedicate an entire processor to just one task. Thus, a few top software providers (Microsoft, VMWare, et al.) provide a platform that lets multiple application servers, including their associated operating systems, share a very high capacity physical computer. This idea of running multiple computers on one machine is called “Virtual Machines” or VMs. VMs enable rapid deployment of a software or communication application and allows that application to expand capacity over multiple physical machines at multiple locations for scalability and redundancy. The CaaS providers have the option of serving many customers on one large, shared configuration to serve each customer on that customer’s own “instance” of the application. Both options work well, with the one large configuration having slightly less overhead, while the one instance per customer option can be configured more effectively to each specific customer’s needs. With VMs, the one instance per customer option uses only the amount of hardware resource that is needed and does not suffer an economic penalty. Further, with the one instance per customer model, the CaaS provider can generally offer the same levels of customization and integration with the enterprise’s business applications as if the communication system were on-premise; however, the availability of customization and integration should be verified with the CaaS provider in advance.
Internet Protocol and Network Bandwidth: When an enterprise uses a resource in the cloud, especially for a Communication-as-a-Service, there can be a lot of bandwidth consumed to transmit a conversation from one user up to the cloud and then back down to another user in the same enterprise. However, peer-to-peer Internet Protocols, such as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), actually avoid that by allowing the two users’ communication devices to talk directly to each other. Thus only the signaling needed to initiate the session needs to go up to the cloud; the media stream between the two users never leaves the enterprise’s network. When the communication is between a user in the enterprise and a caller outside of the enterprise, the bandwidth requirement is essentially the same for on-premise or cloud CaaS, since the media stream must connect the two parties in either case. Obviously, this means that cloud-based communications applications have no disadvantage for Contact Center or Mobility applications.
Security Management: Security has become one of the most critical factors for any application these days, since a breach can and usually does expose the enterprise to loss of information, loss of customer trust, theft of services or assets, and possibly even legal liabilities. CaaS providers are hyper-sensitive to the need for effective security, since any breach is likely to cause a major loss of customers and revenue. However, CaaS providers are also far better able to protect their applications for several reasons. First, they can customize their security measures to the specific applications; no extraneous network ports or protocols need to be left open just because some other application needs them. Second, they can afford top-notch talent to assure their security, since the cost of that talent can be amortized across all of their customers. Third, they have those VMs to help them; if they are using the one instance per customer approach, each customer’s data, settings and software are unique to that customer, avoiding the possibility of breaches between customer instances.
Based on all four of the compelling reasons and all three of the enabling factors, we are seeing a boom in cloud-based communications services, CaaS. And the customers are reaping the benefits. A good example of this is Philips Healthcare, a CaaS user of the Interactive Intelligence CaaS Contact Center. Philips Healthcare has a staff of engineers and healthcare professionals who service Philips imaging devices in medical facilities around the world. Philips was outgrowing the installed system in their Atlanta, Georgia, US offices. When looking for an expansion system, Philips decided to consider CaaS, and Interactive Intelligence was selected over other options. The Interactive Intelligence CaaS Contact Center now serves up to 400 support clinicians in Atlanta as well as 400 other support clinicians in Japan, Germany and the UK. Support team members can also log into the CaaS Contact Center from remote offices to continue support services when on the road. In addition to the seamless global contact center capability, Philips also finds the CaaS Contact Center is less costly than on-site ownership and delivers the necessary 24/7 support with less pressure on the IT staff.
In summary, CaaS seems to be here to stay. And thanks to shifts in technology including VMs, IT protocols and security management, enterprises can enjoy the benefits of intense support, responsive software upgrades, on-demand capacity, and remote worker flexibility. CaaS should be considered by any enterprise when communication system refresh or expansion is on the agenda.
This paper is sponsored by Interactive Intelligence.
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