Three Different Scenarios for Delivering Cloud Based Communications as a Service

“Communications as a Service”  or CaaS can include any type of communications delivered as a service based on a subscription model.  That is, Voice over IP (VoIP), instant messaging (IM), email, chat, web, audio and videoconference services.  It might also include telco network operations and management in the cloud.  Yet the term CaaS now means different things to different vendors/ service providers. We describe three scenarios for CaaS in this article; each offering a different set of deliverable capabilities for: Contact Centers, Audio Conferencing and Video Conferencing.  In a Closing Comment, we describe a fourth CaaS model that we believe telcos will use for cloud based operations and management of their own networks.

But what exactly is CaaS?   I like the definition from CaaS contact center provider Interactive Intelligence Inc: “The communications system and applications are hosted and managed by a provider in an off-premise data center, with the applications being provided to customers as a (subscription) service.  Payment is made based on a per user/per month charge.”

1.  CaaS for Contact Centers:

Interactive Intelligence Inc. is an IP communications software company that specializes in delivering both premise and CaaS contact center (what used to be called “call center”) solutions that may include call routing, IVR, outbound, chat, email, social media, quality monitoring, workforce management.  The company has over 4,000 customers across 90 countries.  In addition to the contact center, Interactive Intelligence also provides Enterprise IP Telephony and Business Process Automation capabilities.  For its hosted contact center solution, the company offers three different CaaS deployment models:  Remote Control VoIP (the primary equipment and telco circuits are located at one or more facilities operated by the hosting company), Remote Control TDM (customers maintain their existing PBX and incoming calls are connected via a bridged call to the agent) and Local Control VoIP (call control model with VoIP application server in a cloud resident data center).

Local Control VoIP Model
Local Control VoIP Model

Local Control VoIP gives the customer most of the advanced benefits of having an on-premise VoIP contact center system, even though the primary application server (Customer Interaction Center, or CIC) is located off-site in a hardened data center.  While calls come into equipment on the customer premises, call control is handled by CIC which is in the hardened data center.

For customers with exceptionally strong compliance or security requirements or who rely upon high bandwidth applications, the combination of features, functionality, and flexibility seem to be enticing. Since phones, network, gateways, proxy/media servers, customer information and call recordings remain at the customer’s facility, the amount of (sensitive) data that travels beyond the firewall and across the MPLS network is more controlled.  The customer’s telco lines also remain at the customer’s location. This works well when a customer has a preferred voice carrier, has existing contracts that must be fulfilled, or possesses many existing numbers they would prefer not to port or forward. Customers also avoid the costs of forwarding or bridging calls with the Local Control VoIP model.  IP MPLS is used as the communications protocol between the call controller in the Interactive Intelligence data center and the customer premises equipment (VoIP gateway to PSTN, Proxy/Media Server, Database Server, IP router to Internet, and IP phones).

In a recent email exchange, Jason Alley, Solutions Marketing Manager at Interactive Intelligence shared that the Local Control VoIP model has had the most traction, followed by Remote Control TDM (allowing for rapid deployment with minimal change) and then Remote Control VoIP.  He said that Interactive Intelligence’s CaaS offerings for the contact center all deliver excellent security, choice and flexibility over a proven and reliable software platform.  Jason told me there were several important advantages Interactive Intelligence had over its competition:

  • Choice of three different CaaS delivery models for the contact center; each addressing specific customer requirements.  This results in flexible deployment models to fit customer needs.
  • Unique “Local Control” model that gives customers greater control over their voice and data traffic with remote survivability.
  • Broad set of applications developed by Interactive Intelligence with over a decade of experience implementing advanced contact centers.
  • Proven, stable and growing provider of CaaS contact center services.
  • Ability for the customer to migrate their CaaS based solution to the premise, or their premise solution to the cloud, without losing their investment.

Jason shares, “We are seeing tremendous growth in our CaaS business. In fact it’s the fastest growing segment of our business today. Addressing customer concerns around security, predictability, choice and flexibility is playing a big part in that.”

2. CaaS for Audio Conferencing:

Global Crossing recently launched its version of Communications as a Service (CaaS) as the first phase of the company’s network-centric, cloud-based solution set. GC states on its home page, “CaaS is designed to deliver easy-to-use, integrated, customized communications options to enterprises around the globe.”  GC’s version of CaaS is actually an on-demand business service for audio conferencing.  This CaaS offering integrates three components:

  • Global Crossing IP Virtual Private Network (VPN), with enough capacity to handle converged broadband demands for today and tomorrow.
  • Session Initiated Protocol (SIP)
  • Global Crossing Ready-Access® – Audio conferencing provided in a predictable, shared-seat billing model that, for a monthly fee, provides global access to unlimited audio conferencing minutes for each user that accesses the service.

Among the features included with the conferencing service is “Global Crossing Connect Mobile,” offering users a standard application programming interface (API) so they can join or host an audio conference from compatible mobile devices by clicking on an icon. The mobile application also syncs meetings with users’ calendars.

Global Crossing says it’s using its own internal CaaS implementation in each of its locations around the world.  This results in decreasing the its annual telecommunications spend by 30%, according to the company’s statement. “The integration of CaaS Phase 1 into our global IP and SIP network allows for the creation and delivery of other services network centric services, and that’s what is coming in our CaaS Phase 2 offer later this year: You can expect to see presence, IM, sip based video, integration with PSTN/IP telephony and find me/follow me type features that an enterprise can consume in the combination most fitting for them…globally.” wrote GC’s Anthony Christie. Chief Technology and Information Officer for Global Crossing. He also said, “Global Crossing CaaS is integral to our global cloud solution strategy.”

3.  CaaS for Video Conferencing:

Managed VoIP provider 8×8, Inc. recently announced it will be offering SMBs (8 x 8’s target market) a new set of cloud-based video conferencing services that enable them to benefit from visual collaboration. The offering will potentially provide a new recurring revenue stream for resellers, partners and VARs. This new service offering will be based on 8×8’s voice and video IP service platform and the video conferencing/ Unified Communications capabilities provided by Polycom, Inc.

The 8×8/Polycom video conferencing solution will combine 8×8’s advanced, SIP-based communications services with the Polycom® UC Intelligent Core™ in a new “8×8 Virtual Room” service offering that lets customers add HD video conferencing as another extension to their regular hosted business communications from 8×8. The Polycom UC Intelligent Core enables high quality, reliable collaboration to help SMBs improve productivity and reduce costs.

Utilizing 8×8’s unified communications technologies, the service will make scheduling, initiating and managing continuous presence visual and high definition audio collaboration across multiple endpoints as simple as clicking on a web page or dialing into a conference bridge with the added appeal of a fixed low monthly fee for unlimited use. The 8×8 service will also eliminate the need for the customer to configure firewalls, open ports or utilize public IP addresses due to its advanced, built-in NAT/firewall traversal technologies. The offering will support multi-party continuous presence video conferencing services on a hosted, ad-hoc basis in a highly available and redundant manner, eliminating the need to purchase, maintain and operate expensive video bridging system.

“As many in the industry are aware, 8×8 has significant technological expertise in video communications which we’ve continued to leverage in current offerings such as our 8×8 Virtual Meeting web conferencing service,” said Bryan Martin, chairman and CEO at 8×8. “We are very excited now to take this expertise to the next level with an accomplished and respected leader like Polycom that has already made tremendous strides developing and deploying industry-leading high-definition voice and video platforms that scale from a single user up to large room conferencing equipment.”

For more information, click here.

[Editor’s note: 8×8, Inc. has been a pioneer and a long-term proponent for making video conferencing practical and have developed many iterations of the technology, one of which is highlighted in this video interview from 2007 with 8×8’s CEO, Bryan Martin].

Closing Comment:

There is another type of CaaS that we expect to see:  the outsourcing of most telco back-end management like provisioning, mediation, OSS, and BSSs from telco owned data centers to cloud resident data centers operated and managed by a 3rd party.  With telcos continuing to outsource management of their networks to Ericsson, NSN and others, we think its only a matter of time before they opt for cloud based operations management solutions.  Unlike so many other analysts, we don’t believe telcos will be successful as cloud based IT service providers.  This is because they have little or no experience with managing their customers IT needs or in IT hosting, have failed previously in attempts to deliver computing services (especially AT&T), and have accelerated the outsourcing of their own internal network operations to third parties.

0 thoughts on “Three Different Scenarios for Delivering Cloud Based Communications as a Service

  1. Thanks for the insightful article Alan. A common thread throughout these scenarios is the importance of continually increasing the bundle through the addition of new features. Especially in the small business market, but also in the residential market, voice is really just a feature of the bundle.

    It is a must-have, but many of the other features have also become must-have. As you point out, this is more about IT integration, than Plain Old Telephone Service or special circuits.

    The real differentiation for service providers is to make these features useful, simple-to-use, while making workers more efficient.

    1. Ken, Thanks for your kind words. Yes, CaaS is much more about IT integration and CONTROL of resources then it is about telecom transmission or switching. It also extends Unified Communications to include a cloud based service delivery model!

  2. Alan, Thanks for shedding light on this important topic. I want to clarify that all three of the deployment models referenced – Local Control VoIP, Remote Control VoIP and Remote Control TDM – are indeed hosted contact center solutions. “Local” indicates calls from the carrier terminate on the customer’s premise. “Remote” indicates calls from the carrier terminate at our hardened data centers. “VoIP” indicates agents and other users are equipped with IP phones or soft phones. “TDM” indicates agents and other users are equipped with existing TDM phones that work with existing legacy PBXs – no new equipment required on the customer’s premise. I hope this helps!

    1. Jason. That helps a lot and explains what appeared to be a discrepancy between this article and Interactive Intelligence’s web site description of the term “hosted” vs “remote.” Much appreciated, Alan

  3. Superb article contrasting different types of communications delivered by cloud based providers.

    What happens on a failure of the cloud based controller? What type of redundancy/backup is available and how fast is the switchover? Note that there could be a failure in either the cloud equipment or the communications facility providing Cloud access. Concern is that the entire system might be interrupted for long periods or even shut down on Cloud failure(s), even though the premises based communications equipment and links are fully operational!

    Would be interested in answers from Interactive, 8 X 8 and GC’g. Failure recovery has been one of several issues “swept under the rug” by cloud service providers, i.e. they never talk about it at conferences and give hand waving answers to related questions!

    1. Very valid questions! When a failure occurs there are (at least) three different network management domains where it occur:
      -premises network and equipment,
      -telco access network to/from cloud service provider,
      -cloud service provider network and data center.

      And a 4th management would be present if clouds were interconnected (public-public, private-public, private-private) or “federated.”

      I can see a huge finger pointing problem in isolating and quickly resolving failures or degradation in service.

      Any answers out there?

      1. There are no answers out there! The Cloud community is in denial about failure isolation, recovery, security and network performance/QoS! This is why we don’t buy in to the optimistic forecasts for cloud computing!

        According to France Telecom’s recent ITU FG Cloud contribution, the biggest threat for a Cloud Customer is “Responsibility Ambiguity,” which is a huge finger pointing problem on any Cloud failure:

        “Cloud customers consume delivered resources through service models. The customer-built IT system thus relies on the services.

        The lack of a clear definition of responsibility among customers and providers may evoke conceptual conflicts. Moreover, any contractual inconsistency of provided services could induce anomaly, or incidents. However the problem of which entity is the data controller which on is the data processor stays open at an international scale (even if the international aspect is reduced to a minimal third party outside of the specific region like EU).”

        1. Having deployed cloud-based communications systems for 10 years now, Interactive Intelligence Inc. certainly acknowledges the many issues customers face related to performance, reliability and security. The bottom line is that these aren’t simple matters and they all depend, in part, on unique customer needs. Here at Interactive Intelligence we spend a lot of time with customers up-front to better understand their various service level requirements. In fact, these numerous conversations were what led us to offer three different hosted deployment models. While this doesn’t eradicate all hosted issues, it does address some of them by giving customers more architectural options in order to better align with their unique needs. Specifically related to failure, for example, our ‘Local Control VoIP’ model enables carrier circuits to terminate at the customer site, which is connected via MPLS to our hardened data center. If the MPLS link goes down or our data center goes offline, the local site can still take and route calls in a survivability mode with the local VoIP gateway and our media server/SIP proxy. In the case where a local site network and equipment go down, or local telco service gets interrupted, many of our customers have two or more contact centers so they can route calls to the unaffected location until service can be restored.

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