In a recent post we looked at the priorities companies need to keep in mind when migrating to a cloud-based unified communications as-a-service (UCaaS) solution. In keeping with the UCaaS theme, this time we’re going to look at some of they key questions to consider when vetting potential UCaaS providers.
To ensure the services you get from a UCaaS provider will be highly reliable, available and useful, you need to delve into how the provider is actually delivering its services. To determine what sorts of questions a potential customer may want to ask, I talked with Ryan Tadeo, Director of Sales Engineering with hosted UC provider ANPI. He says the issues boil down to three major categories: the provider’s network, the level of security it offers and how it integrates is applications with your existing environment.
Availability and Redundancy: Key Requirements for a UCaaS Provider’s Network
A number of factors contribute to the level of availability and redundancy a UCaaS provider can deliver, Tadeo says, beginning with the number of network access points it supports. If your provider has just a single access point and it goes down, you’re out of luck. Most providers do have at least two, usually to different hosting facilities. That’s better but each is typically associated with a single IP address. That means if the primary facility goes down, all of your on-site UC equipment, including handsets, have to reboot before they can connect to the backup facility, Tadeo says.
A better approach is to not only have multiple hosting facilities, but have multiple ways to get at each of them. He likens it to using a navigation application in your car. If the app shows there’s a traffic jam on your primary route, it may send you to your destination via an alternate route. ANPI takes a similar tack, using multiple circuits to each of its hosting facilities and then using Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) tables to find alternate routes for traffic to take should the primary route fail.
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What’s more, it’s best if the UCaaS provider employs circuits from a number of different carriers, so there’s no single point of failure. “If a provider has one data center on the east coast and another on the west coast, that’s great. But if they’re both with the same carrier and that carrier has a routing issue, then you’ve got problems,” Tadeo says.
The third key pillar to look for in terms of availability is server redundancy. Equipment has a tendency to fail, so it’s important that any given service be capable of running on backup equipment. Look for a provider that implements redundancy at multiple levels, with two pairs of high-availability servers at each of its two data centers. Both pairs at one data center would have to fail before an application would fail over to the backup data center, meaning it’s only likely to happen in the case of a catastrophic event.
Proper UCaaS Security Requires a Dual-SBC Strategy
In terms of providing security, it’s been well-documented on this site that a session border controller is crucial to ensuring security for any UC environment. With full awareness of the session initial protocol (SIP) stack, SBCs can identify malformed packets and prevent denial of service attacks, attempted hacks into an IP-PBX and more.
Your provider will almost certainly be employing an SBC, hopefully with another on standby as a backup. But ideally it should employ a dual-SBC strategy, with one SBC facing the end customer and another facing the carrier.
With that setup, imagine the customer-facing SBC goes down. The customer can be automatically routed to the carrier-facing SBC, with no service interruption (assuming the carrier configures everything correctly with respect to its Domain Naming System records). The configuration also provides an extra layer of security, Tadeo says. A breach in the carrier-facing SBC does not necessarily expose customers because they are registered to a different SBC.
Assessing Application Integration Capabilities of a UCaaS Provider
Finally, for a UCaaS solution to be truly useful, it must integrate gracefully with your everyday business applications.
“When a call hits your network, can the phone integrate with your customer relationship management application? Can you do a screen pop with Salesforce.com?” he asks. “That type of capability is important to streamlining business processes and improving productivity.”
The key to ensuring a provider does allow such integration is whether it offers well-defined, open application programming interfaces (APIs), he says. If it does, then you should be able to connect the UC solution to the applications that are most important to your employees and your company business processes, Tadeo says.
That’s our list of key issues to look at when assessing a UCaaS provider. We’d be interested in whether you’ve got other criteria. Let us know using the comments below.