Cloud computing is the latest buzzword in the IT industry, with a large number of IT services and applications now being pushed into the cloud, offering hosted services to organisations via the Internet on a per user basis.
This model has been made possible by higher bandwidth availability and quality across the globe.
However, the adoption of these services, particularly in the voice communications and PBX market, has been slow in South Africa due to bandwidth constraints.
The good news is that the availability of bandwidth has improved dramatically, as has the quality, because of initiatives like the SEACOM cable and the upgrading of infrastructure. This means that cloud computing in the PBX space has become very much a reality in the country.
"One of the benefits of a hosted PBX service is that the business does not need to have servers on the premises to drive the system, which means that the management of these can be outsourced to the host company, along with maintenance and upgrades," says Fiona McLean-Banks, Polycom business development manager at Zycko South Africa.
"This also means that the company does not need to purchase the necessary infrastructure using capital, so the service can fall under operational expenses. When any infrastructure is purchased, it quickly becomes out of date, and with a hosted solution this does not happen, as it is up to the service provider to keep up with the latest technology and ensure upgrades are done in good time," she adds.
The benefits of simplified maintenance, no depreciating assets on the books and full control of the operating costs, along with the fact that there is no need to purchase expensive and quickly outdated infrastructure, has meant that the hosted PBX space has traditionally appealed to the SOHO and SMB markets.
"However, as the technology has matured and the infrastructure has become more stable, the idea of hosted or cloud PBX services has become more attractive to the larger enterprise as well as to global organisations. As the technology has matured there is greater confidence in it, and we are starting to see wider adoption of hosted PBX solutions across all sizes of enterprises," says Tim Alexander, VoIP sales manager, EMEA at Polycom.
"What we are seeing in this space are three distinct types of hosted solutions. There is the full cloud offering, where the entire PBX system is hosted, partial cloud which involves a hybrid of hosted and on-premise PBX, and the private cloud, which is what appeals most to large enterprises.
"The private cloud is a hosted solution located on premise that can deliver the services, such as PBX, through the cloud for that enterprise alone. For this reason it is more secure than pure cloud services while still offering the benefits of a hosted solution for bigger businesses," Alexander adds.
One of biggest costs of a traditional premise-based solution is the ongoing maintenance and support contracts. Added to this is the difficulty of scaling the solution quickly and cost effectively to meet the growing or
shrinking needs of the business.
A hosted solution, whether it is pure cloud, a hybrid or a private cloud system, allows for the maintenance and support contracts to be simplified and consolidated and also enables flexibility in terms of scaling the
solution up or down as and when necessary.
It also supports multiple sites easily and can allow for mobile workers to use the same system, so the business can in effect take its telephony requirements in any direction necessary.
"In Africa the cloud based concept is a particularly attractive one, as it has significant cost saving benefits as well as the ability for multiple sites and mobile or home workers to be integrated. In the past this
technology was out of reach, as the infrastructure and bandwidth costs were prohibitively high, preventing the adoption of cloud technology," McLean-Banks adds.
"Over the last year, however, bandwidth costs have decreased dramatically and organisations are now able to pull fibre into the premise to support bandwidth intensive applications such as cloud PBX services."
This has enabled service providers to offer hosted PBX solutions to customers, as well as allowed larger businesses to build their own private cloud systems to deliver hosted services within their organisations. It has also brought within reach next generation technologies based around video and presence, allowing people to share data and information quickly and easily in various formats.
"Barriers to entry are coming down, so now hosted telephony is a viable option. The conceptual designs that organisations and service providers have been examining are now attainable," Alexander concludes.
"What was once a concept is becoming reality, and we will see a lot of business being driven into this space as service providers enter the market to take hosted services to the customer base across all sectors and sized organisations in the market."