Friday, 13 May 2011

Introduction to cloud telephony: Part 1 - What is cloud telephony?

Google cloud telephony and your search is likely to return a whole raft of products, definitions and services that aren’t altogether similar – services you can buy or build, hosted applications, cloud communications, VoIP. The list is long and varied, but what does it really mean?  How can you tell a cloud service from any other telephony service?

Inspired by an Infoworld article five big questions about cloud computing the following five key points define a true cloud telephony service. These ‘checklist’ items apply to all forms of telephony-based applications, such as IVR systems, contact centre platforms and PBXs.

  • Self-service – the ability to access the telephony service you want, from anywhere you want, at any time you want, through the Internet.
  • Commodity pricing – taking advantage of on-demand resources, service providers have reduced costs and can pass these on to customers in the form of pay-as-you-go or pay-for-what-you-use pricing deals.
  • Transparent scalability – the telephony service can scale seamlessly to accommodate peak call volumes, business growth or the use of resource intensive features.
  • Shared infrastructure –  the ability to share compute resources through virtualization has fuelled the cloud revolution by reducing cost.  It also frees the customer from being tied to proprietary telephony hardware or installed software.
  • Machine addressability – placing the ability to tailor telephony applications into the hands of customers, through the provision of APIs.

I have classed the above as checklist items because what defines a cloud also highlights its advantages – easy access, flexibility, shared and reduced cost.  By checking that the products you’re considering are cloud-based you are also ensuring that you reap the numerous benefits.  If you can’t tick all five of those boxes, what does that say about that particular product or service?  Is it some form of hybrid cloud platform or an old fashioned, hosted service delivery that’s dressed up to look the part?

There is still so much hype surrounding the term ‘cloud’ that every marketer is trying to weave it into their product claim.  But in fairness, the ‘bandwagon jumping’ probably says more about cloud migration and adoption than anything else.  Service providers are also coming to terms with the impact cloud has on their organisation and product offerings, and each will be at different stages of their cloud migration strategy.

In the same way that you are likely to move certain applications or business processes into the cloud before others, so providers of ‘cloud telephony’ are engaged in similar moves.  That’s why, under the ‘cloud telephony’ banner, you will find a mix of what can be classed as true cloud telephony services and hosted telephony services (that’s either in their presentation to customers or in relation to their provision and the underlying infrastructure).  But for best price, true scalability and flexibility, you should short list cloud telephony providers that use a cloud-based IaaS or at the very least those that have a strategy for so doing.

Moving forward, an additional point for you to note is that just because a cloud telephony service is accessible from the web doesn’t mean that it plays a supporting role to other functionality.  Cloud telephony is more than just voice-enabling web applications.  That is certainly one application of the technology, which highlights how cloud can present new ways to innovate…however, cloud also presents new ways to accomplish traditional objectives – it’s just that you can do such things far more efficiently, more cost effectively and more easily than before.

Faye McClenahan

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