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To host or not host? To Cloud or not to Cloud? For business phone and communications, today's marketing sources overwhelmingly push hosted, or Cloud solutions, and the number of organizations using these rises each year. Likely you are already in some respects a Cloud technology user. If you currently use Google docs or Dropbox, or marketing portals like Mailchimp, Constant Contact, HubSpot, or Salesforce.com, these are all Cloud-based services. So what does a hosted or Cloud phone system mean for your business, and what factors weigh in on your decision to accept it or not?
The hosted or Cloud phone system is where your telecommunications provider houses the majority of the equipment separate from your location and handles your technological needs and resources. Workers' desk phones are connected back to a router that is housed on your location, but most of the digital work on the back end, including call routing and features are handled by servers located at your provider's location. This can relieve some of the upfront cost because it requires less hardware on-site at your location, making it an attractive solution for smaller companies that are looking for a low initial cost business phone solution. Larger companies which wish to use an OpEx model for communications funding also benefit from this.
Furthermore, your business get the benefits of low internal IT support requirements, because the service provider is responsible for the majority of this management. Upgrades to the system are also made automatically. Additional features, like fax services, transcribing voicemail, etc. can be more readily made available via the solution provider.
While these benefits make it hard to pass on a hosted solution, there are potential disadvantages of which organizations need to be aware. The first is your basic Internet connection, or bandwidth between your office and your telecommunication provider's location. If the bandwidth is not large enough or securely dedicated and managed, the call quality could become rather inferior.
The reliable uptime of the hosted system, the ease of obtaining user support and effecting changes depends even more heavily on the hosted service provider. With some providers, this could be a good thing. With others, perhaps not so good. Staying on the bright side, though, there are providers who excel at reliability and uptime for their phones, and are transparent in reporting on it. Some service providers also make it easy for users to get support, even putting a "Help" button right on each user's phone set.
In the end, two important factors in your decision to go hosted or not go hosted should include 1) the preference of an OpEx or CapEx model for the life of your phone system, and 2) the balance of how much you want to manage internally vs. dependence on an external provider. If you're still not sure which path you want to take, here is more information on a solution that can take you either way, Cloud or on-site, or even a hybrid balance of both!