While you might get a text from your dentist reminding you of an appointment or you might be able to hold a table at your favorite restaurant online, in the small and medium business (SMB) market — especially the sub-200 seat space — dial-tone, voicemail and basic unified communications (UC) features are still the norm. Many of these businesses, once they grow past 5 to 10 office employees, are too big to run with only cellphones or just a handful of copper landlines and a multiline multi-handset system. Enter Cisco’s Business Edition 4000, a hybrid cloud Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) system combining the best features of cloud with the reliability of on-premises, appealing to the core needs of SMBs.

Clouds on the Horizon

In the past, SMBs would be prime customers of small-scale business phone systems and a fractional or full primary rate interface (PRI). Times have changed, and the siren song of cloud-based UCaaS rings out loudly: little equipment to buy, little to manage onsite (other than handsets), and everything delivered from the cloud over the internet, including the public switched telephone network (PSTN) services themselves. Cloud-based UCaaS providers have been on a roll, and it’s easy to see why.

When It Rains, It Pours

The smart SMBs, however, see past the dollar signs. While cloud-based anything, much less UCaaS, offers many advantages, there is also some downside potential when things get cloudy. With purely cloud-based services, your cloud provider’s service-level agreement (SLA) effectively becomes your own SLA to your customers. If that SLA doesn’t fit your business model, your business is at risk. There’s no rushing into the server room to reboot the server. There’s every likelihood it’s not just you — the service is broken for lots of other customers of the cloud provider — and you’re just a face in the crowd. Your cloud provider may, in fact, be dependent on a slew of other cloud providers, such as an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider or a third-party cloud PSTN provider, and now you’re dependent on those SLAs as well.

On top of that, there’s the reliability and quality of your own internet service — is there enough download bandwidth to go around during the Final Four basketball tournament? Is Bob in accounting downloading movies on the office internet again and causing calls to drop or quality to suffer? Does your business internet provider otherwise drive you up the wall in general?

Hybrid Cloud UCaaS Has a Silver Lining

Enter hybrid cloud UCaaS, in this case Cisco Business Edition 4000 (BE4K). With BE4K, Cisco threads the needle between the convenience of cloud and the stability and reliability of on-premises services. On the one hand, everything about BE4K, including system configuration and maintenance, is managed via a simple web-based portal hosted in the cloud. On the other, BE4K provides the actual services (dial-tone, voicemail, etc.,) from hardware on-premises that’s largely immune from internet troubles and cloud provider issues. The promise of hybrid cloud, fulfilled by Cisco.

A Cisco BE4K0 is, in fact, just a box; Cisco’s taken as the base platform the Cisco 4321 Integrated Services Router (ISR), but locked down and managed from the cloud. The BE4K packaging supports up to 200 devices, including Cisco 7800 Series and 8800 Series IP phones. The BE4K can be set up for Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking with a telephony carrier; or take advantage of a variety of network interface modules (NIM) common to the Cisco ISR 4000 Series to provide PSTN and station-side analog interfaces to bring your own PSTN services of choice (coincidentally, making it easy to introduce BE4K while mid-contract with a PSTN provider).

Source: Cisco Systems

The cloud-based management portal provides an interface for system administration. This includes the initial system configuration, as well as ongoing moves, adds, changes or deletions (MACD). End users can also use a similar portal to customize their own experience. And here, the cloud shines. Unlike a purely premises system that inevitably ships with bugs and is essentially frozen in time until updated (if ever), BE4K stays evergreen, receiving updates and getting incrementally better as Cisco releases new features and pushes software patches down from the cloud transparently.

And yet, it bears repeating, this cloud management layer is just that — management. The actual ongoing services provided by the BE4K on-premises component are entirely local. There are no cloud dependencies — taking and making calls, call quality or other common cloud stumbling blocks — for actual operation. Your SLA for UCaaS becomes your local network, not the quality of your internet connection or the cloud provider. You’ll be up and operational despite the cloud outage du jour.

Learn more about SMB unified communications solutions, including Cisco BE4K, by requesting a Collaboration Consultation.