Martin Finlayson, Head of Visual Communications, avsnet

Hosted or Cloud? Making the wrong decision between these two deployment models can be both a costly and a bruising experience, so if you want to avoid some major headaches, read on…

My objective in this article is to ensure that you understand how cloud and hosted solutions differ so you can understand exactly what type of service you are purchasing when the time comes.

Cloud means different things to different people depending on the service being provided. However, for the purposes of this article we are going to focus on those services that provide real-time communications, which include Unified Communication (UC) and Virtual Meeting Room (VMR) architectures.

Now at this point, I need to state that I am not advocating cloud over hosted or visa-versa, they are different solutions to different problems. However, they are often mistakenly taken to be the same thing and making the wrong decision, as I said, can cause some major headaches and be costly to your business.

Nowadays Marketing would have you believe that everything is in the cloud, but this over-simplification of the definition has done nothing to help customers understand what it is they are buying and why.

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So, let me explain the difference between these two definitions…

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Simply put, a hosted service is a capability that is deployed in one or more data centres. It is usually a high-availability version of an on-premise solution and can be either multi-tenanted or single tenant depending on what service you are paying for.

The connection to access these services can be either over the public internet or preferably via a direct network-to-network interconnect (NNI) as an extension of your own WAN.

Critically, it is a ring-fenced environment that your users connect to, that exists in one place on the internet usually via a single ISP. Think of it as lifting the capability from your own data -centre, moving it to someone else’s and then consuming it as a service.

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A true cloud service is significantly different…

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Firstly, it isn’t an evolution of any existing on-premise platform. A cloud service is written from the ground up to be a distributed service. Its strength is that it does not simply exist in any one place, but by its very definition is hosted across many data -centres, across many different ISPs, all interconnected with direct NNI’s to form a resilient mesh architecture. Think Skynet but without the psychopathic AI!

It is also elastic in nature and smart enough to be able to scale to meet user demand and any changes in the network environment (outages etc.). In real-time, it can automatically “spin-up” additional resources as necessary, this allows it to grow and shrink to match the current user demand.

Another difference is the user connection. Cloud architectures provide multiple points of presence (PoP) spread across the internet, this allows users to connect to whichever PoP is most local to them. This keeps to a minimum, the amount of uncontrolled network (public internet) that must be traversed by the real-time communications streams.

The nature of a true cloud service is to offer the same level of connectivity, resilience, scalability and quality regardless of where the user logs on from. A hosted service by contrast would require the user either to be on their corporate LAN/WAN or to be restricted to one or two access points in a specific location on the internet.

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These two architectures are very different and suit different customer profiles accordingly.

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While a cloud service may suit an organisation with a lot of users out on the internet, a hosted service via NNI will be a much better fit where a lot of users are in a single location.

Likewise, while cloud provides a better solution to the scalability problem, a ring-fenced hosted solution will always be able to offer higher security.

To expand on the scalability point (no pun intended), one of the main benefits to a cloud service is that it is, for all intents and purposes, an infinitely scalable architecture. This combined with an annual or even monthly licensing plan makes for a very flexible solution. For example, if you are a retailer who experiences seasonal variations, the flexibility of a cloud deployment can be very beneficial in adjusting to peaks and troughs in demand.

One downside of cloud is that it tends to be a “one size fits all” situation when it comes to customisation in the form of branding or integration with other business processes that you may need. In this case, a hosted service may be better as in most cases the platform can be wrapped around your business much more readily.

Hopefully it is now clear what the key differences are and you feel empowered to question a potential service provider on what solution type they offer and you know exactly what type of service you are purchasing.

The real ‘gotcha’ with these types of services is, as I said, how they deal with real-time media streams, so this is what we’ll look at next time.

If in the meantime, if you want to reach out to me to discuss your needs or answer any questions or concerns you might have, then please do so via my contact details below.


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Why Trust Martin Finlayson, Head of Visual Communications at avsnet?

With a career spanning over 25 years, Martin has worked in electronics R&D, pre-sales engineering, post-sales support, product management and marketing, training and consultancy.

The common factor across these roles? Digital video and its applications. Specialising in video conferencing, streaming and webcasting, IPTV and digital signage, Martin understands the business drivers that make solutions so compelling for organisations.

With the rise of Unified Collaboration and Cloud, Martin has helped customers through the minefield of solutions that continue to appear in this space. By focusing on the overall strategy and user workflows, Martin helps organisations deliver on their requirements.

Speak to Martin

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