Phone Trek II: “The Wrath of Cloud” (CloudPBX, that is…)
Hi Blog Fans,
We’ve had, unfortunately, a couple of hiccups with our CloudPBX (virtual phone system) in the past week. While highly unusual (as well as tremendously annoying), it is a good and illustrative example of some of the various “pro’s” and “con’s” of “Cloud-Based” technology – and also helps explain some of the pro’s and con’s of the same.
To take a step back, back “in the old days”, traditional business phone systems tended to be on-premise – unless they were very small installations, or ones with such basic needs, that it would be on par to what would be used in a home (residential) application. In either case, any scenario where the “guts” or the “brain” of the phone system resides in a physically different location from the premise, can be considered an “off-premise”, or “Cloud-based” system. For instance, the “plain old phone service” used in homes, functions in that fashion – the “brains” of the overall phone system don’t reside in an individual house. The “dial tone”, etc. that you hear when you pick up a line all comes from a distant, off-premise (off-site) location. A small business could also obtain an enhanced, traditional system – sometimes referred to as a Centrex system – where the actual physical lines were similarly configured as they would be in a home (or residential) application, but the “guts” or the “brain” of the small business phone system was leased from (and programmed by) the local phone company. For a lot of smaller businesses, this approach (Centrex) would make a lot of sense. The phone system’s brain, in essence, resided with the phone company. It was, in general, very reliable – since the actual equipment resided with the bulk of the other “phone company equipment”, in a very highly controlled and regulated environment.
In the business world, the numbers of lines, actual physical handsets, and other technical requirements tends to get pretty large (and complicated) fairly quickly. This led to the creation of business-class Private Branch Exchanges, or PBX’s, which would reside within the business office itself. The PBX would then connect to the off-site telephone provider (or service) to provide the actual telephone service inside and out of the business. This provided various pro’s and con’s – on the plus side, the business got more control over their own telephone infrastructure within their own premises. On the minus side, they had more equipment to now maintain and administer, compared to the off-site model, where a telephone company (or other provider) was doing it for them.
With the proliferation of the Internet, Voice over IP (VoIP), and high-speed data lines (e.g. Broadband), CloudPBX’s are starting to really take off. They offer the potential for some significant cost savings compared to an on-premise traditional PBX and traditional voice lines, as well as some of the potential benefits of the older-style Centrex arrangement as well. Once again, the “brain” resides off-site – only the endpoints (the actual phone handsets) typically reside at the location. However, the reliability and quality of the CloudPBX/VoIP arrangement is still mixed. While it’s true that Internet and Broadband have significantly reduced the costs and increased the number of potential features and choices for various voice and data transmission options, the reliability and call quality is not always consistent across all carriers and arrangements.
As a case in point, we’ve suffered a failure of our CloudPBX now twice, during business hours, in less than the course of about 7-10 days. Since we are a small organization whose staff tends to be out of the office a lot and/or working from remote locations, this has not been as catastrophic as it might otherwise have been in larger or more static organizations – however, it’s still tremendously disruptive and troubling. While we would have occasional outages or failures of our on-premise PBX before we had the CloudPBX, at least in that scenario, we always had more immediate and direct insight as to what the outage or problem cause(s) were, and how to resolve them. When a CloudPBX outage occurs (or other Cloud outage – such as e-mail, web, or similar) – often times, there’s not a whole lot that can be done apart to wait for updates from the carrier. Affected customers will then frequently take to Twitter (as we did) in an effort to find out more about what’s going on.
As with any unplanned, potentially disruptive incident where large numbers of customers (or people) are affected, the key concerns are (a) the way that communications are handled during the outage itself, (b) how the “post-event” or “post-mortem” of the outage is handled (and communicated), and (c) how frequently such outages occur – e.g. is the overall track record of the system’s reliability getting better, or worse?
In our case, our faith in our current CloudPBX is a bit shaken in the past few days. We like a lot of things about it from a features perspective – as well as because it’s familiar to us, having worked with it and trained on it for over a year now – but doggone it, the reliability lately has been painful.
Let’s hope that the wizards within our Internet Provider/phone carrier fix what they need to in order to get things stable and calm again. So say we all! 😉