Important Questions to Ask When Comparing Virtual and Cloud Phone System Providers
Which is right for my business: a cloud phone system or an on-premise IP PBX? At pascom, this is one of the most common questions we get asked by new customers. For a few businesses, an on-premise business phone system may well be the way to go. A number of factors, such as internal policies, could mean that an on-premise virtual PBX is the only way to go. However, most organizations, are likely better served by a cloud phone system.
Why is this the case? Well, it is fairly simple. When you compare cloud phone systems with the expense and additional headaches associated with an on-premise phone system platform, you will quickly find that cloud phone systems deliver all the advanced functionality required by even the most demanding of businesses while reducing the burden on your organization’s IT team and significantly reducing CapEx costs. Instead, your cloud phone system provider will take care of all the hosting, server maintenance, and updates - all at a predictable and affordable cost.
So given that the advantages of adopting a cloud phone system and Unified Communications (UC) solution are plain to see, it is hardly surprising that so many businesses are moving to cloud-based communications. Moreover, given that the global cloud telecoms market is now a multi-billion dollar industry, it should not come as a surprise that new vendors are constantly entering the market, meaning there are plenty of considerations to sift through before deciding on a provider and adopting their platform.
The Perfect Phone System for your Business Telephony
100% cloud technology: no more on-site hardware required
Maximum flexibility: anywhere, anytime availability – including mobiles
Quickstart: manageable via web admin UI
Unbeatable savings: save more with SIP trunking & lower maintenance compared to your legacy ISDN phone system.
Unparalleled freedom: easily scale up with business growth
Questions to Ask When Comparing Cloud Phone System Providers
Virtual, Hosted and Cloud Phone Systems – What’s the Difference?
This is another often asked question from our new customers and it’s hardly surprising given the volume of industry jargon they have likely been exposed to during their search for a new business phone system. Then there is the fact that some vendors confuse the situation by marketing a virtual phone system as a cloud or hosted solution. So what is the difference between all the phone system types? Simply put, it is where the phone system is deployed. At pascom, both physical (hardware based) and virtual phone systems are referred to as on-premise solutions because they are typically deployed locally at the customer premises hence the name on-premise phone system.
A hosted phone system is somewhat more confusing. In essence, it is a virtual phone system but is hosted off-site in a Data Centre. Some business communication platform providers would then describe such a solution as a cloud phone system. However, a true cloud phone system includes 100% cloud technology such as multi-tenancy and Session Border Controllers and are hosted directly in the phone system vendor’s cloud platform.
Another difference between a hosted and cloud phone system is that with a hosted phone system, the option of managed services does not really apply. That means you are responsible for managing the hosting environment, applications, and any updates. On the other hand, with a cloud phone system, managed services are included either as an option or as standard, ensuring that as a customer you can get on with managing your business rest assured that your cloud phone system vendor will take of managing your business communications.
In recent times, the latest trends in industry buzzwords have also added yet more confusion to the situation by throwing the term “self-hosted” into the mix. So what is a self-hosted phone system? Well once again it refers to where the solution is deployed, but in this instance, the word “deployed” has become synonymous with “hosted”. Therefore, a self-hosted PBX refers to a hosted phone system where the hosting is done by the customer either on-site in the form of a hardware appliance or virtual phone system OR as a virtual phone system hosted in the customer’s preferred data center or cloud platform.
Confused? Don’t worry, there are loads of different buzzwords and terms out there that essentially all mean the same thing. Just remember, if in doubt think about where the solution should be deployed and who will manage it and then you will have a good idea. Failing that, give our team a call and we will gladly advise you on the most suitable phone system deployment type to meet your business needs.
First and foremost, the most important question to ask when comparing cloud phone system providers is whether a particular phone system vendor can meet your business requirements. Questions you should ask of your potential cloud phone system vendor include the following:
Do they have the infrastructure and ecosystem in place to meet your here and now business communications needs in terms of feature set and support
How robust are their hosting capabilities in terms of:
Quality of Service (QoS)
How adept is their cloud phone system at scaling to support future growth?
How effective and relevant is their phone system development strategy?
Answer all these questions and you will have narrowed down your list of potential cloud phone system providers to a handful, perhaps even just two or three. Before moving forward though, just remember that all of the above is great, but doesn’t mean a thing if you do not also perform an internal audit of your existing infrastructure and equipment. Quality of Service is essential, but if your internal business networks are not robust enough to take on the new demand levels that switching to a cloud phone system will generate, then it does not matter how good your phone system provider is, you are going to struggle.
It may seem obvious, but choosing an established tried and tested vendor who has a robust and innovative offering will pay dividends in the end as opposed to going for a newbie that offers everything for less as they may well fall by the wayside in a few years.
Another often asked question relates to telephony equipment. Unless your business is a start-up, it is likely that you already have some telephones et al lying around. Now, most businesses want to maximize ROI (and why shouldn’t they) and SMBs and, in particular, start-ups operate on relatively tight budgets. So check with the phone system vendor as to what telephony equipment is required and how much of your existing communications infrastructure can be re-purposed and deployed within your new cloud phone system. If some can, great, if not then investigate the cost of purchasing new compared with leasing suitable endpoints.
If you are able to retain and re-purpose at least some of your existing equipment, then that’s obviously great and your finance team will be thrilled. But – and it is a big one – your next question needs to be about how secure your old equipment will be. Doublecheck with both the cloud communications platform and original endpoint vendors as to whether your equipment is still supported. Also, look for close cooperation between the vendor and your chosen virtual or cloud phone system provider. As technology advances, out-dated tech becomes more and more vulnerable, so you will need to weigh the risk versus reward of saving on the cost of investing in new equipment.
If in doubt, go new whether it is leased or purchased. It may cost more, but at least you can be sure that the new telephones will work as advertised. On this note, together with our friends over at Snom Technology, we are currently running an excellent trade-up promotion to replace old End of Life Snom devices with brand new, top of the range Snom VoIP phones.
Cloud phone systems are offered as Software as a Service (i.e. SaaS / UCaaS) and often include the option of managed services. Therefore, it is a good idea to ask about the varying levels of support that are available. Information you want to know includes SLAs and reaction times, support access options (telephone, e-mail, ticket system…), support costs – per case, per hour, per ticket, flat-rate, included in subscription fee and so on.
Just remember that when it comes to cloud phone system support, the most important question to ask is what is covered exactly. So make sure you get this clear before making your decision. For example at pascom, we offer both our on-premise and cloud phone system customers the choice between Premium and Basic support. Premium support includes our flat rate vendor support, the initial setup (remote), and access to our numerous support channels. On the other hand, our Basic support only includes free access to the pascom support forum. Our basic option is actually designed to ensure our pascom phone system resellers are able to continue to add value to their customer phone system solutions in the form of on-site services which pascom does not offer as standard.
When comparing your selection of virtual PBX or cloud phone system providers, always do so with business continuity in mind. As a general rule, cloud-based phone system solutions are ideal for business continuity. In part, this is mainly due to the fact that they are accessible from anywhere. That said, the additional flexibility benefits are heavily reliant on the quality of your cloud communications provider’s service delivery. Therefore, ask those hard questions about hosting certifications and uptime/availability percentages (see the list above). Remember, you need to be 100% certain that you can rely on your chosen cloud phone system vendor’s service as part of your business continuity plan.
It seems so obvious, but finally make sure you are aware of all the costs including any promotional pricing, setup/upfront costs, support or phone system hosting fees as well as the contract duration. Another important question to get answered relates to any special introductory offers. Make sure that you clarify that the fee in the offer is valid for the entire term of the contract and not just some promotion that is only valid for the first month.
The crucial aspect of choosing a new cloud phone system vendor is not who is the cheapest, but who gives you the most confidence that not only will you get off to a flying start, but also that the vendor will be a reliable and supportive business partner in the future.