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“As a Service” does not always require a cloud

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Technology discussions abound regarding the benefits of virtualized, multi-tenant cloud systems that deliver everything from an online shopping experience to the video conference call used to close a major business deal. For nearly every computer-enabled function in nearly every company, a decision can be made whether to stay as they are, virtualize an on-premise implementation, or go to a cloud delivered service.

There are lots and lots of choices for technology solutions. But among these technology discussions and trade-offs, there is another important set of discussions occurring.

These are around the “service” that a cloud solution brings. One of the very attractive aspects of choosing a cloud solution is that generally it means you are choosing a “responsibility free” solution. The maintenance and management of the system is no longer your (or your IT department’s) concern.

Everything from providing a helpdesk function through managing back-ups, planning upgrades and on-going maintenance, are the responsibility of your cloud provider. And this can drive the decision to go to a cloud solution as much or more as any other aspect of the service. The very attractive reality for many cloud customers is “I just pick up the phone and use it” or “I just click on the link and it works.”

In the area of unified communications, the interest in a solution that means “I just pick up the phone or click the link” has meant a renewed interest in Managed Services.

Managed services have been an important part of the telecommunications/communications market since at least the 1990s. Some would claim that it dates back further to the 1960s, with the introduction of Centrex service. But whatever date you select, managed services have been an important and valuable option in the market. The focus on cloud solutions that are delivered with a total service package around the technology core has acted to remind many that a managed service solution can be the best choice for deploying a UC solution.

While the technology infrastructure can be quite different, what you experience as a managed service customer and a cloud service customer can be nearly identical. Some of the commonly shared characteristics are:

  • Services delivered with monthly subscriptions or monthly payments.
  • Many to all administration and maintenance tasks performed by the MSP (managed service provider). Some self-service is also common for basic tasks such as moves, adds and changes, just as it is for cloud services.
  • Periodic reporting to the end customer on usage and performance.

Some MSPs go so far to offer options where they, not the end customer, own some or all of the hardware. Solutions can be based on equipment installed on the customer premises, in a Data Center or some hybrid arrangement. With this flexibility and range of options in the market place it is difficult sometimes to make the distinction between a cloud service and a managed service. As a customer considering these various providers and their options, the important thing is to focus on the needs of your business, not the label.

Keep your eye on what suits your business, such as the capital investment required, the balance between internal IT resources required vs. externally delivered services, billing mechanisms, and other aspects of the service. And, of course, however it is delivered, the system needs to be easy to use.

But the most important consideration comes down to trust.

The flip side of the “responsibility free” solution is that the responsibility is really just transferred. It goes from you to your provider. If you go for a managed service or move your business to the cloud, you need to trust the provider you select. They should have an excellent reputation and be able to provide customer references who can speak to the quality of their service.