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Hannes van der Merwe, ItecHannes van der Merwe, Itec

The hype around hosted PBXes, or cloud-based telephony, has become pervasive. It’s not hard to understand why, since this model offers a range of benefits, from flexible new payment models through to the promise of making enterprise-grade telephony services available to smaller businesses.

Yet, there is a danger that companies which rush headlong for the cloud without looking closely at their business needs and their current infrastructure will be disappointed by its costs and performance. Yes, in the medium- to long-term, cloud computing will dominate many business applications, including telephony, but in the short term, there are still factors to consider before making the move.

To be sure, the cloud will be a big part of telephony’s future and perhaps will dominate the market. The infrastructure is improving all the time and is nearly there in some parts of the country. As such, the cloud already makes sense for some businesses.

In many cases, however, SME clients with large branch offices find the state of SA’s broadband infrastructure means cloud computing is not yet as scalable as they think. As they add more users to the same ADSL line, they find there isn’t enough bandwidth to go around, and soon they need to install new lines. Or they find the reliability and performance on SA’s infrastructure does not quite meet the needs of an enterprise-class service.

For these reasons, cloud telephony currently offers more efficiencies for decentralised businesses, with many small branches rather than centralised operations with lots of people in a single office. The appeal of switching your telephony infrastructure to a monthly operating expense, with the potential to quickly scale up and down the number of licences you pay for, is irresistible. But, don’t get fixated on the word ‘cloud’ when making your business decisions.

A good PBX backed by a service contract might come with SLAs, features and costs that compare favourably to the cloud when you do your comparisons, or it might not. You might decide it’s wise to plan for migration in a few years when the cloud is more mature and you have a 20Mbps or 40Mbps line instead of the 4Mbps you have today.

The right way to decide is by looking at each solution to see which provides you with the benefits you need today, as well as a roadmap for the future of your business.

About the author: is Mitel product manager at Itec.