On-Premise vs. Cloud PBX
You need a new phone system for your business and you don’t know where to start. There are many VoIP PBX solutions on the market and the one you choose depends on what you require your phone system to do. You should consider the growing demands of your business, including whether or not you have a single or multiple locations, do you need video or conferencing capabilities? Note the number of extensions/users, what are your budget limitations, and do you have space to store equipment? If cost is a consideration (and I don’t know anyone for which it wouldn’t be), consider the ongoing costs for the solutions you are reviewing. Does the solution require licensing and is that licensing a one-time charge, monthly, or annual cost? You should also look at your in-house technology staff - do you have anyone who can knowledgeably monitor telecommunications equipment?
Ok, what’s next?
Irrespective of the solution you choose, most VoIP products involve a software-based PBX that is purchased separately, then loaded on a server (also purchased separately) or a PBX device with the solution already installed before purchase. So, the next decision is where to put it. There are basically two options; you can host it On-Premise also known as “on-site” or you can contract with a hosting company to store it in the Cloud. Be mindful that not all VoIP PBX devices with the solution pre-installed can be hosted in the Cloud, some are on-site only, so make sure you understand what yours can do before you purchase.
What do I need to know?
Before we get too carried away with all the terms and acronyms, let’s start with basics, like “VoIP”. VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol, meaning the call or “voice” is transmitted over a data network which requires an internet connection and SIP Trunks. SIP stands for Session Initiation Protocol, which is a standard communications protocol language that allows phones and other telephony devices to “talk” to each other. A session is when two parties and their respective devices or systems are actually “talking” or connected. SIP Trunking Service provides you with the same dial tone service as a traditional landline connection, given one big difference. Instead of a physical phone line connecting you, it’s a virtual phone line or Sip Trunk between you and the other party. The connection is completed using Fiber, Ethernet over copper, T1 or Cable Modem to connect your PBX to the internet, hence the use of the term, Voice over Internet Protocol.
On-Premise aka “on-site”
Hosting your VoIP On-Premise or on-site means the solution (software) is physically housed on a centralized server or a dedicated PBX device at your business location. Whatever your industry, one thing to consider when choosing the on-premise hosting option is creating a space where you can place a rack for your server, instead of stacking the equipment on a desk or the floor. A server is a centralized computer that manages access to your network. A rack is specially designed to house this computer (and other equipment) allowing gaps between units to help with air circulation (think of a stereo cabinet). Instead of guessing, it’s a good idea to know the dimensions of your server if you utilize a rack. Many racks come with adjustable brackets and mounting kits that are handy as long as there is enough depth to house the server. While many companies have a dedicated server room or telco (telecommunications) closet for their networking, security or VoIP system, it’s unnecessary if the space chosen is well ventilated. Even if you don’t have a dedicated closet or room, try to avoid placing the server in high-traffic areas or it could get knocked over, kicked or someone could spill liquid on it. No one wants to invest thousands in a new phone system for it to go down in minutes because of a spilled cup of coffee. Further, the server can be located in any corner or desk, but it must also be cooled. The in-build fan of the server is not enough to keep the air around the unit cooled, only the unit itself. If you can carve out a niche, the space should be measured properly to accommodate all the equipment. If you stick a server in a small, even dedicated closet with no cool air moving, your server won’t last as long as it should, and you’ll be on the market for another system sooner than later. You’ll probably be unhappy. You can choose a closet in the back of the building, as long as it remains cool, dry and well-ventilated to house the server in its optimal environment. Another consideration is managing your wires and labeling everything, and I mean everything. If you’ve never walked into a server room, let me be the first to say, it looks like alien technology with wires and ports everywhere and without labels, the only one who knows what goes to what, is the one who put it all together. The responsibility for maintaining the equipment could change, and it usually does. Plus, if something goes wrong and you are forced to hire someone else to fix it, they won’t know how to navigate the mess of wires, without a map. Labels are the way to go.
Let there be Cloud
You don’t have the space and you don’t want to create or maintain one, so what now? You could go with a Cloud PBX. Cloud-based means the solution, whether it’s VoIP PBX software on a server or dedicated device, is hosted in a secure server room/facility off-site. Every business owner has concerns about security when shopping for a new phone system. You may think it’s more secure for your VoIP PBX to be at your place of business and if you have the proper environment and systems in place, as explained previously, you could be right. When you are deciding whether to pay for hosting services or to self-host, one thing to consider is redundancy. Redundancy goes a long way toward protecting your business continuity. If your phones go down, your business goes down. Hosting facilities typically have server farms with redundancies built-in. Examples may include redundant internet access (at least 2 sources) and generators on the roof, should the area flood or in the event of an electricity outage. Server rooms should be meticulously controlled for temperature. If one server creates a lot of heat, imagine hundreds or thousands. Server farms or rooms will have industrial grade air conditioning units and fans to maintain the best environment for servers. Hosting companies/facilities also have dedicated staffing for maintaining the servers and racks, wiring, the server rooms, the cooling equipment, vacuums to prevent dust build-up, and fans that help to maintain optimum temperature, with additional staff for securing the physical access to the server. Many hosting companies will offer walking tours of their server farms and facilities. It’s a recommended step in the decision-making process so you can see and experience the secure access and physical environment. If you have extra security concerns and can employ a dedicated staff with networking expertise, redundant internet access, electricity back-up like generators, and a secure, server-friendly environment for your networking equipment, then perhaps you’re covered. If not, paying a hosting company to do all of that for you is a secure alternative.
What do I do now?
With the market changing in response to evolving technology, it’s no wonder that traditional phone services are going away and new providers are now offering a multitude of services to the business consumer, making it easier for you to determine which VoIP PBX solution is best for you. However, if you still don’t know what to do, hire someone who does. Many of these VoIP providers work directly with sip trunk service providers, hosting companies and PBX manufacturers to offer a more consultative approach to phone systems with cultivated products and services that often include all the featured bells and whistles you want in a phone system, like video calling and multi-party conference calls, along with sometimes unlimited sip trunking and hosting services.