Here’s a crazy stat for you: 76% of the 5.3 million small and medium businesses in the U.S. say they are moving their telephony to the cloud (or 86% if you believe this recent report) within the next few years. The majority of these businesses are still a year away from pulling the trigger and are currently in fact finding mode, but if you believe what people are saying, the tidal wave is cresting.
As we’ve covered here in the past, one approach that holds a lot of appeal for SMBs is going all in on Skype for Business and Microsoft’s new Cloud PBX offering. And you can understand why. There are a huge number of companies that have already deployed Lync / S4B for IM, Presence and web conferencing, and all the hassles that many of these businesses experienced from deploying the telephony layer are gone when you deploy the entire Microsoft stack along with Cloud PBX, right? According to Rich DeFabritus, Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft’s strategic partner Sonus, that is true to a certain extent and Cloud PBX can be a great option for businesses ready and able to deploy entirely on the cloud, but when it comes to companies that want or need to maintain their existing local systems (at least at some locations) or have contracts in place for PSTN calling, the story can be a bit more complex.
How Cloud Connector and Cloud PBX help Streamline Skype for Business Hybrid-Cloud Deployments
Back at Enterprise Connect in March, Microsoft made a bunch of big announcements, including new features in Office 365 Cloud PBX, Cloud PBX conferencing availability in 32 countries and Project Rigel. In many ways their biggest announcement, Cloud Connector Edition, flew under the radar because it is middleware, and middleware just isn’t that sexy. As Microsoft explains it:
All versions of Skype for Business Server allow customers worldwide to use Office 365 Cloud PBX with the carrier calling services of their choice, and the new Cloud Connector Edition allows customers to quickly connect existing phone lines and phone numbers to Office 365 by delivering these proven hybrid capabilities as optimized, pre-configured virtual machine images.
Doesn’t sound that sexy, right? Well according to DeFabritus, it depends on who you ask. “If you’re talking to a business with 5 locations that each have a separate PBX system and different carriers with whom they have a contract, they have difficulty moving to Cloud PBX all at once. This solution means that they can move to a centralized UC solution that includes telephony immediately without having to throw out the baby with the bathwater.” In other words, they can deploy Cloud Connector Edition along with Cloud PBX via their Microsoft Office 365 licensing and continue to use their existing on-premise hardware, PSTN access and PBX. “If you initiate a call through Skype, it will connect (via cloud connector) to the local on-premise PBX and route through your carrier, but will be logged and interact with your Skype for Business as if you made the call through Cloud PBX,” says DeFabritus.
This approach provides multiple benefits to businesses that need to migrate to a straight cloud communications layer at a more measured pace. For example, deploying Cloud PBX a single location at a time. Or putting all new employees on Cloud PBX from day one so that the footprint of the existing platform doesn’t grow. Or move all home-based workers to Cloud PBX in one go so they have full UC functionality no matter where they are. Microsoft claims that each version of Cloud Connector Edition will support 500 concurrent calls, so based on the 6 to 1 rule, you’d have to have more than 3,000 employees on a PBX before you’d have to get creative in how you would roll it out. “Essentially, CCE allows business headed towards Cloud PBX to migrate methodically and allows them to retire the rest of their equipment at their own pace,” says DeFabritus.
Deploying and Securing Cloud Connector Edition and Cloud PBX
Two things come to mind when thinking about what comes next: How much of a hassle is it to deploy and, do you need an SBC for security and interworking on Cloud PBX?
Cloud Connector Edition Deployment
Even though the license for CCE is free, it can be somewhat costly and time consuming to deploy. This potentially includes a server, windows server licenses, yperV licenses and firewall modifications. A recent TechNet article laid out the deployment details like this:
With Cloud Connector Edition, you deploy a set of packaged VMs that contain a minimal Skype for Business Server topology -- consisting of an Edge component, Mediation component, and a Central Management Store (CMS) role. You will also install a domain controller, which is required for the internal functioning of Cloud Connector. These services are configured for hybrid with your Office 365 tenant that includes Skype for Business Online services.
According to DeFabritus, it is not a simple process and you should expect installation to take a full day. Not too bad, but still pretty stiff. And what about security?
Session Border Controllers and Securing Microsoft Cloud PBX
Microsoft strongly recommends having an Session Border Controller with any CloudPBX deployment. According to DeFabritus, having an SBC in place makes a lot of sense for any company deploying a hybrid S4B architecture, and doubly so if they are taking advantage of Cloud Connector. “CCE quickly becomes mission critical technology and needs to be protected while working seamlessly. Telephony remains the lifeblood of many companies.”
Sonus is offering a new solution to address both of these issues that includes an optimized and pre-configured version of the CCE embedded on - and integrated with - their SBC, effectively killing two birds with one stone. Execs should like that because they not only get the security assurance and improved performance, interworking, media processing, etc., that you get from an SBC, but you also save money by only having to deploy and manage a single device.
According to DeFabritus the real winners here are the IT guys. “This approach with the optimized CCE and the tightly integrated SBC cut installation time down to about one hour.” Nice…anyone for kicking off early and grabbing a beer?