Are you stuck in the fog on your way to the cloud

Are You Stuck in the Fog on Your Way to the Cloud?

Are you stuck in the fog on your way to the cloud

A practical approach to migrating (the right) users to Cloud PBX

Many organizations are stuck in the fog of complexity as they move towards the promise of communications in the cloud. Recent Microsoft announcements surrounding enterprise voice for Skype for Business in the cloud have caused significant waves – and no small amount of confusion – in the market.  Cloud PBX and PSTN calling will undoubtedly have a dramatic impact on the way organizations communicate.  Since the online offering doesn’t yet have all the features of Skype for Business server, it is important that enterprises evaluate needs carefully and plan their users’ migration to the cloud accordingly.  (For those looking to dig even deeper, please see AudioCodes’ White Paper: To Cloud or not to Cloud? A Practical Guide for Embracing the Communications Future.)

If you’ve already deployed Lync, Skype for Business, or are seriously considering doing so, you may be compelled to start migrating some users – likely those who may not need the full feature set of the server – to the cloud. The good news is the migration can be done gradually and smoothly.  The AudioCodes solution set provides a practical approach, addressing the reality of today with the cloud’s promise of tomorrow. 

What is Cloud PBX?

Cloud PBX is the set of Call Management features of Skype for Business Online, which is the new version of Lync Online and is the Microsoft hosted version of Skype for Business Server. It is part of Office 365 and is included in selected E-Suite Plans. Cloud PBX includes a subset of the PBX features available in the server edition, enabling such things as outbound and inbound calling through on-premises PSTN Connectivity (using local service providers or local telephony systems) or through a Microsoft  PSTN Calling Plan (available only in select regions).

Challenges and practical considerations in the transition to Cloud PBX

As of December 2015, the lack of feature parity between the online and on-premises offerings remains significant.  Among the main features not included online are branch survivability, response groups, location based routing, call admission control, analog devices, common area phone, and integration with on-premises PBX (can be achieved when using on-prem software such as Cloud Connector or Skype for Business server).  Given that reality, the first step in the migration process is to profile your users and understand which ones should be included in the first migration batch.

In planning a migration strategy to Cloud PBX, several practical considerations need to be taken into account:

1) Which users do you want to migrate to the cloud? How many people really need all the PBX features? How many people outside the office (on the road) can be satisfied by the cloud features?

2) Do you have an existing on-premises telephony infrastructure that you want to co-exist with or gradually migrate away from? (Call center, PBX, IPPBX, etc.)

3) Do you have devices (faxes, video rooms, analog devices) that you need to continue to use?

4) Do you need to maintain local connectivity to the PSTN (existing contracts, or availability, regulatory and Quality of Service reasons for branch offices)? 

Getting the Cloud Right: A Practical Approach

Taking into account the considerations noted above, perhaps the most important thing to do is develop a clear voice migration strategy. Such a strategy would comprise of several stages including assessing corporate requirements (firstly in the headquarters), building an infrastructure that meets those requirements, migrating relevant users to the cloud and finally, expanding that migration by assessing the needs of branch offices, building a corresponding infrastructure and migrating branch users to the cloud as required.  We here at AudioCodes leverage the following model when helping our customers build their strategy: 

Assess – Inventory Your Profiles

In this initial state, it is important that the organization understands its requirements. This is the opportunity to pause and analyze what users are doing, what their needs are and which users can stay local and which can be moved to the cloud. Once the requirements are understood, a hybrid strategy can be developed to build the appropriate infrastructure, adopted to the organization’s needs today and its plans for the future.

Build a Hybrid Platform and Migrate Information Workers First

Once the requirements have been mapped out, an infrastructure need to be built that addresses the needs identified in the assessment stage. The solution is a hybrid platform that is both versatile and flexible, one that can meet not only today’s requirements but ensure that the investment made now can be leveraged for the coming years as well.

With a flexible hybrid platform in place, it’s time to take a second look at the users that were profiled in the assessment stage and choose the first batch of users to be moved to the cloud.

Expand Rollout to the Branches

With the platform deployed and the first users moved to the cloud, the organization can begin examining the needs of its remote branches. An assessment similar to the one done in the assessment stage at HQ may be warranted for the branches as there may be different requirements to consider, including resiliency needs and custom applications such as IVR and contact centers. An assessment should be done as to whether a hybrid platform is needed to meet those requirements. 

Migrating Gradually with AudioCodes CloudBond 365

To facilitate the migration to Cloud PBX, AudioCodes takes a gradual approach based on the steps noted above and proposes a unique solution that enables the transition of some users to the cloud, but also allows other users to enjoy the full feature-set of Skype for Business server.

AudioCodes CloudBond 365TM, the next generation of the One Box 365TM, is a modular, adaptable solution for the data center, customer premises or the branch. A versatile all-in-one Skype for Business appliance designed for hybrid environments, it combines the best of the Skype for Business server, the cloud-PBX and the service provider’s voice services.  It is available as a hardware appliance (Standard, Pro and Enterprise Box Editions) or as a Virtual Appliance.

The CloudBond 365TM provides a fully integrated solution.  When necessary, it has the required Skype for Business servers built in, including the front end, mediation, monitoring, edge and reverse proxy servers.  The appliance also contains an embedded Windows server 2012 R2 and an embedded SQL Server Standard 2012, as well additional virtual machines for trusted 3rd party applications. The CloudBond 365TM Box Editions have built in gateway and session border controller (SBC) capability as well as a host of specialized tools including Office 365 and Active Directory connectors, a deployment wizard, and IP Phone management software.

CloudBond 365TM connects and syncs with Office 365 and the local Active Directory, allowing for voice enablement and an easy setup of voice policies.  Skype for Business users can be registered on CloudBond 365’s Skype for Business server Front End or in Microsoft’s Cloud PBX and can be moved at any time in both directions, providing tremendous flexibility. For users that were migrated to the Cloud PBX, the appliance provides the required mediation, edge and PSTN/SIP trunking connectivity.

The Ideal Bridge

CloudBond 365TM is the ideal bridge for a gradual, smooth migration to full cloud-based connectivity, allowing companies to migrate at their own pace, moving from an on-premises PBX infrastructure to a true hybrid structure. While the Microsoft cloud offering is still evolving into a viable PBX replacement, AudioCodes’ solution exists today, creating the critical bond between today’s UC and the cloud of tomorrow.  For enterprises that want to leverage the flexibility, dynamicity and economical model of cloud services, but still need the power and control of the more traditional on-premises model, the wait is over. You can have tomorrow’s UC today!

For more information, see our Application Note: Getting the Cloud Right – A Practical Guide

Skype for Business-To Cloud or Not to Cloud

Skype for Business: To Cloud or Not to Cloud?

Assessing the state-of-the-market following Microsoft’s announcements on enterprise voice in the cloud for Skype for Business

Skype for Business-To Cloud or Not to Cloud

Recent Microsoft announcements surrounding enterprise voice for Skype for Business in the cloud caused significant waves in the market. Cloud PBX and PSTN calling will have a dramatic impact on the ecosystem. Yet, real parity between the on-premises Skype for Business Server and the online offering will still take a few years and many companies have concerns about making an immediate full transition to the cloud. These include:

  • Availability and regulatory issues requiring local PSTN connectivity
  • The current Online enterprise voice feature set is limited
  • Quality of Service over the open Internet can be problematic
  • Customers may not be in a rush to forgo existing contracts and working network devices
  • Customers may prefer a gradual migration of users to the cloud

Microsoft understood this and implemented a strategy to offer a solution for this market reality. At the July 2015 WPC event, Microsoft provided more details regarding deployment options. By offering a hybrid solution, where cloud-based PBX services are complemented by an enterprise’s on-premises based PSTN connectivity, Microsoft took their customers’ concerns into account. Their approach includes four deployment options, the middle two being hybrid versions:

  • Skype for Business Server On-premises: Users are registered to the local Skype for Business server; call management and PSTN connectivity are based on-premises. The Exchange Server is on- premises and there is no Office 365 connection.
  • Skype for Business Hybrid: Some users are registered to the Skype for Business Server (this could be in an appliance or in a private cloud) and some users are registered to Skype for Business Online. User identity is synchronized with Office 365 and voice mail is in Exchange Online.
  • Cloud PBX with on-premises PSTN: Users are registered to Skype for Business Online where the call management is handled by the Cloud PBX, but PSTN connectivity (also known as “bring your own carrier”) is handled on-premises through a local gateway or appliance.
  • Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling: Users are registered to Skype for Business Online and are on a Microsoft provided PSTN calling service, all managed by the Microsoft cloud.

Given that reality, a wise deployment of Skype for Business will mix on-premises functionality for corporate and call center users, allowing integration with legacy systems with initial deployment of cloud services. This will lay the foundation for a smooth transition to the full cloud solution down the line. The best way to protect the enterprise’s current investments, ensure a full enterprise voice feature set, guarantee that all company branches around the world are serviced and comply with regulations, is with a hybrid solution which offers the best of both worlds and allows the benefits of Unified Communications today with a secure and smooth migration to voice in the cloud when fully available.

Want to learn more about these 4 options and which one best fits your needs download this white paper – A practical guide for embracing the communications future.

One Box for Lync Innovative Solution

Making The Most of Your Office 365 E4 Plan

Lync voice and Unified Communications are becoming increasingly popular. In this environment, it is natural that innovative solutions for specific requirements within the ever expanding Lync ecosystem are being introduced to the marketplace all the time.

Enterprise Voice for Lync can be accessed through Microsoft’s “Plus” Client Access License (CAL) offering, which in turn can be achieved by either deploying on-Premises Lync devices, or through the cloud-based Office 365 suite (Word, Excel, Outlook, Publisher, and OneNote, Exchange, SharePoint, Yammer and OneDrive). Microsoft’s Office 365 E3 plan, which costs $20 per user per month, provides UC functionality such as presence, IM, mobile clients, peer-to peer video and voice, voice and video conferencing, screen sharing and editing. The E3 plan, however, doesn’t include enterprise voice – the ability to place and receive calls on the PSTN/cellular network and the ability to use the features that allow organizations to essentially replace a PBX with Lync. To benefit from those features, the end-user would need to add an additional $2 a month to upgrade to Microsoft’s E4 plan and benefit from the “Plus” CAL (bringing the monthly cost to $22). However, the customer would need to install on-premises servers and gateways/SBCs to make it happen, requiring skills and resources many small to medium businesses (SMB) may not have.

An innovative solution to bridge the gap for Office 365 users who want to benefit from Enterprise telephony without the steep infrastructure costs is a lucrative opportunity for partners serving SMBs.

One Box for Lync Innovative Solution

A quick glance at recent research shows just how large the potential of such an opportunity might be. According to Gartner, for example, Microsoft Lync as a voice solution grew 106% in 2013. In research conducted by T3I, 80% of SMBs surveyed showed interest in deploying Microsoft Lync, and of those, 40% had interest in enterprise voice. And on the Office 365 side, one estimate had the service at 29.76 million paid subscribers, an increase of 1.32 million new subscribers per month.

Into this gap enters AudioCodes’ One Box 365. Recent conversations we have had with both industry analysts and many of our own customers have validated the strong interest we have seen in the solution since its introduction back in the summer.  A hybrid on-premises/cloud solution, One Box provides a one-stop shop for all the critical hardware, software and services required for a successful Lync voice implementation. Combining multiple Lync server roles, gateway and SBC functionality into a single appliance, it comes complete with Lync certified IP phones, an Active Directory Domain Controller, voice quality monitoring capabilities and a dedicated user interface for easy migration provisioning and configuring for Lync users. The end result is an offering which allows customers an intuitive, cost effective and quick way to bring Lync enterprise voice alongside their Office 365 deployments.

Further Information

Several articles have been published in the past few weeks about the solution.

  • An in-depth analysis by Marty Parker of UniComm Consulting and Brent Kelly of KelCor, Inc. using essentially the same methodology they used for theirLync Conference 2014 TCO analysis, determined that the five-year total cost of ownership for One Box 365 would be approximately 60% lower for an organization with 50 to 200 users than a comparable on-premises implementation of Microsoft Lync. To watch a recorded webinar with Marty Parker and Brent Kelly click here:
  • Brent Kelly expands on the above TCO analysis using One Box in several different types of Lync deployments in his article in No Jitter.
  • Articles by Kevin Keiller and Marty Parker in UC Strategies show how the Lync ecosystem allows for the introduction of innovative solutions answering needs rising from the field.
  • John Weber, a Lync Server MVP (2010-2014), takes an in-depth look at One Box in his blog, TsooRad.
Lync Conference 2014 Ran Inbar

Lync Conference 2014 – Smashing into a New Era

[Post is better viewed on the blog Website]

Lync Conference 2014 Ran InbarThe second annual Lync Conference is now behind us, this year held in the Aria Convention Center in Las Vegas and again a sell-out.  Themed “Coming Together”, the event was attended by some 1,800 end-customers, partners and Microsoft staffers.  Mecca for the Lync faithful, the Lync Conference is the place to be for Lync education, networking and a peek at coming attractions.

This year saw an increasing number of enterprise users, many sharing their experiences in moving beyond their early pilots to full implementations.  During AudioCodes’ private “Circle of Excellence” pre-conference event, we heard from a number of Lync network administrators about their successes and challenges in implementing Lync voice and conferencing across their enterprises.  Cargill, Amgen, Bally Entertainment and a number of other large enterprises all shared their Lync migration stories in great detail.  You can read a summary of the event by Brent Kelly, Consultant at KelCor.

We also took the opportunity to demonstrate our new 430HD and 440HD IP Phones along with our Better Together over IP functionality for Microsoft Lync.  Shown here, Ran Inbar, CTO Unified Communication for AudioCodes demonstrates the Better Together functionality to Matt Landis, a widely read blogger on the topic of Lync.

On the main keynote stage, Microsoft announced some key milestones for Lync with Derek Burney demonstrating the increasingly integrated Skype/Lync experience, the newly updated Lync client for Android tablets and a pre-release look at voice-driven “zero click” Lync client features.

Microsoft Lync Conference 2014 Gurdeep PallFollowing Derek, Gurdeep Singh Pall returned to the stage, announcing the end of the era of Unified Communications and the start of Universal Communications, bringing a consistent user experience across media types and devices. Gurdeep also demonstrated a web-based Jscript application, showing a somewhat un-realistic medical consultation experience, where a patient could hold a video call with a doctor.  (While the technology is very much realistic, in my experience, actually getting a doctor on a video call is highly un-realistic – they seem to be pretty techno-phobic.)

AudioCodes had the opportunity to share our experiences on a panel discussion on the Lync Ecosystem, sharing the stage with AT&T, Jabra, Unify2 and HP.  Challenging the “one throat to choke” argument, the panel dissected the benefits of the well established relationships between the large systems integrators, partners and enterprise buyers.

And finally, in an over-the-top spectacle, Microsoft’s exhibit featured a “product launch” cage where visitors could use a large slingshot to launch legacy telecom devices into a wall, aiming for a target with a gong in the center.  The occasional direct hit would fill the hall with the crashing sound, followed by cheers from the crowd.

Even if you missed the event, you can still participate in the conversation on http://mylync.lyncconf.com – Alan can be reached  via email at alan.percy@audiocodes.com or on Twitter @AlanDPercy

I don't gamble

I Don’t Gamble

The AudioCodes-Microsoft Lync angle

[Post is better viewed on the blog Website]

I don’t gamble.  Not that I hate gambling, or that I don’t understand the “thrill” that comes with it.  I just don’t gamble.

When I was in my early 20’s I went on a family vacation in Puerto Rico, and our hotel had a casino.  I had 5 quarters in my pocket when I sat next to a slot machine.

4 quarters went away in a blink of an eye.  The fifth gave me back 6 quarters, and as I was about to kiss the last one goodbye and move on, I won $86.

I took the money and ran off to rent a jet ski. That was it. I never put a single coin in a slot machine since.

I recalled this since 2014 starts off for me with an unusual sequence of travel destinations:  I just got back from Macau China two weeks ago from our APAC sales kickoff event, and I’m heading next to Las Vegas for the Microsoft annual Lync Conference.  The two biggest gambling destinations in the world, 1 month apart, for someone who doesn’t gamble. Go figure.

I don't gamble

2014 is starting off on a very positive note for our Lync program.  We have introduced a new high capacity session border controller (SBC) which has sufficient capacity to cover the data centers and headquarters of 99.9% of the world’s enterprises.  We focused significant development efforts on functionality, security and interoperability in the last 3 years, and in 2013 we were able to quickly scale up the capacity of our SBC.  I think that the timing is pretty good because we are seeing enterprises scaling up their Lync deployments, and as they start retiring legacy PBX and ISDN/T1 trunks, they are moving to SIP Trunking.  This is exactly where we fit in with our SBC, as part of our very successful One Voice for Lync offering which includes gateways, SBC, SBA, IP Phones and applications for Lync.

Our release got a lot of positive industry reviews such as the article Thinking Big with AudioCodes by Blear Pleasant on UC Strategies.

“That’s why AudioCodes is “thinking big” and introduced the Mediant 9000 Session Border Controller, which supports up to 16,000 concurrent sessions and extends the capacity of AudioCodes Mediant SBC family.  As part of AudioCodes’ One Voice for Lync product portfolio, the larger capacity SBCs enable enterprise customers to consolidate the network infrastructure for Microsoft Lync, simplifying training, deployment and support. AudioCodes and Microsoft have been working together for years, and AudioCodes realized that it was important to expand its SBC capacity in order to better support large Lync deployments. This is especially important as the momentum for Microsoft Lync continues to grow, with nearly 60% of enterprises with over 500 seats surveyed by Infotrack deploying or planning to deploy Lync.”

It was very clear to us that once we complete the networking products portfolio, the next step would be to offer a uniform management suite for it, and that we did!  We just announced our One Voice Operations Center which is a holistic suite of life-cycle management applications for large scale cloud or premise-based unified communications deployments.  With that, we are very well positioned to serve the largest of the Fortune 500 enterprises as they roll out Lync globally.

Just before the Lync conference starts, we will be hosting a closed user group event of top notch Fortune enterprise customers, for a round-table discussion about Lync global roll out best practices. Later in the week we are holding a “Vegas Style” party for our partners and customers. If you are coming to the event please make sure to stop by the Audiocodes booth #625.

All in all I expect we will have a great week in Vegas.

It makes me feel that if you plan properly, you don’t have to gamble…

Image: Collaborating with Lync and AudioCodes One Voice for Lync

Lync Rocks for Collaboration

[This is the first post in our Lync Migration series of posts]

I come from the video communications market, video is my bread and butter, my default for any business or personal communication. Sometimes I forget that not everyone sees the world of communication as I do. To many, communication is a phone call.

In my previous life working for a video company (Radvision), meetings using video were conducted using our own dog food. Lync was installed and used mainly on PCs for IM, and when we wanted to get “real”, we switched to our personal video VC-240 computer screens, a product we developed with Samsung in a partnership I led back in 2009.

Coming over to AudioCodes exposed me to a new world of Lync and integration of Lync with other enterprise telephony systems. It’s not that I didn’t experience Lync collaboration and dual ringing in the past, it is that at this company, this integration is at its best, bringing collaboration to new heights.

AudioCodes puts significant focus on products for Lync deployments through its One Voice for Lync solution offering. The solution includes products that make migration to Lync easy and at the pace the customer choses – gradual user, branch and systems migration, etc. At AudioCodes, we eat our own dog food and use Lync and AudioCodes systems regularly.

This full integration means that I can see, on my AudioCodes HW IP Phone, the Lync status of my colleagues, I can pick-up a call on the IP Phone or on the Lync application and perform different actions from both systems (phone or application). Additionally, I can connect PSTN and SIP Trunks traffic to the Lync network. Naturally I can IM, video call, collaborate and share documents on Lync as well.

Collaborating to Launch This Blog

Image: Collaborating with Lync and AudioCodes One Voice for Lync

As part of the work for launching this blog I had to speak with many people, some not located in our offices in Israel. Video calling via Lync and collaboration were key tools for keeping the work going and being

productive. As a user, it seems natural that you can now see the presence status of people directly from the email they sent you and start a collaboration session in one click. To the user, the platform the remote user is using (Lync, Enterprise PBX, Mobile, PSTN) is completely transparent.

The reality behind the scenes is not so simple on both the technical and business sides of things. Companies don’t tend to go for a forklift migration but rather a gradual one that also preserves previous investments as much as possible. As such, there needs to be a choice between hosted and on-premise deployment, or maybe a hybrid type of deployment with resiliency achieved by deploying an on-premise cloud appliance. This is just a short and non-exhaustive list of things to consider.  On this blog we will start a series of posts that cover topics related to migration to Lync. You can view it as a kind of a guide to the perplexed.

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