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Federal Agency Voice Solutions Find Clarity as PBX Transitions to Hybrid

The Federal Government path to data modernization with voice communications has been bumpy at times, as federal organizations have begun to migrate away from the legacy architectures of PBX and operational data stores, and move to more cloud-like architectures -- or some combination of the two.

by Bill Grabner, Vice President, Federal Markets at Ribbon Communications / April 7, 2021
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The Federal Government path to data modernization with voice communications has been bumpy at times, as federal organizations have begun to migrate away from the legacy architectures of PBX and operational data stores, and move to more cloud-like architectures -- or some combination of the two. At many federal agencies, the cloud used to be the path less traveled, as some agencies felt legacy systems offered more security and functionality. Others created a cost analysis and delayed implementation, realizing that their move to the cloud might not produce the ROI that was expected.

But many agencies have figured out that the best outcome is the one that allows the most flexibility for them as they work with their communications tools, and how they make their communications tools work for them. Those have been the agencies with the greatest agility. And many of them are moving to innovative hybrid cloud solutions.

In traditional or legacy voice deployments in federal government, a premises-based PBX is the integration point for all types of products and tools. And with cloud collaboration tools providing many of the functions of a PBX, investing in a premises-based PBX platform for the future might not make much economic or practical sense for a federal agency in the here and now. But, as more of these solutions move to the cloud and legacy systems are replaced, it makes sense to have cloud voice services, or voice-as-a-service, that augment and complement those legacy tools.

Enter the pandemic and the need for more flexible work environments. Voice-as-a-service -- not a new concept -- has taken on new relevance as cloud-based collaboration tools have grown rapidly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cloud-based voice-as-a-service offerings complement cloud-based collaboration tools, allowing interworking with public telephone networks and third-party applications -- with all of the benefits of cloud deployments: flexible usage options, voice managed services options, and pay as you go pricing.

The core voice service can sit in public cloud voice environments as a peer of other networks in the solution, and be used to provide cloud-based call control for office and remote workers. That call control is delivered over public internet or private networks that are tunneled through the public internet using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) capability, or over dedicated MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) circuits.

The placement of a voice service in a federally-compliant public cloud provides the ability to deliver secure voice communications services to users as allowed by security guidelines. Remote workers can access voice services from this cloud, and network routing can be configured to deliver to and from users registered to this system. Those same services can be simultaneously delivered to other destinations on the network, such as a voice gateway located on a customer premises or to Microsoft Teams in the cloud.

The core solution can integrate with collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other tools in several ways. Many collaboration solutions support Direct Routing calls into and out of collaboration environments and the public voice network.

While cloud voice technology delivers the flexibility and cost savings needed by federal agencies in a post-COVID-19 world, it is not enough. Federal agencies also need to have local survivability in their voice network to guarantee continual communications in the event of an interruption to their cloud services. The best way to accomplish this is through the deployment of a hybrid voice strategy. A hybrid cloud strategy can be engineered to meet the needs of remote and on-premises work through the use of integration technologies so users can make calls without interruption, regardless of whether their voice services are being delivered from their cloud or a premises-based voice solution. This approach enables the government to leverage public and private cloud platforms in concert with on-premises platforms to ensure uninterrupted voice communication at all times.

The cloud and premises approaches represent a different prioritization of remote work capabilities versus on-premises and local control and customization, whereas the hybrid cloud approach equally prioritizes these attributes. The pure cloud approach can have shortcomings, i.e., cloud outages, network interruptions, and natural and man-made disasters. Leveraging a cloud remote work solution for a significant portion of the user population at an agency increases the dependency upon the performance of that cloud solution. While redundant network paths can mitigate network outages, other factors can still cause cloud services to be unavailable and federal agencies have to have contingencies so they can fulfill their mission requirements.

The premises-based approach is a well-known approach for agencies – it’s typically a premises PBX. While proven and reliable for personnel who work on the grounds of the agency, these expensive PBX assets were nearly completely useless during the stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. But, in order to continue to fulfill its mission, a federal agency still has to be prepared to keep its communications system resilient in the event it is restricted to premises-only communication, and also if its personnel are not able to get on to the premises voice network. A hybrid approach solves this conundrum, and at a much lower cost than a full PBX solution and a full cloud voice solution. Closing the gaps of the cloud approach brings it closer to a hybrid approach, and closing the gaps of the premises solution brings it closer to a hybrid approach.

For a lot of agencies, a combination of cloud-based collaboration tools, cloud-based voice services and survivable local gateways will ensure a secure, flexible voice strategy that supports both work in the office, which still an imperative, and remote work. Local survivability in the event of short-term outages or security breaches might not be enough. Larger offices and bases have to be prepared to operate normally in the event of communication interruption.

What makes Ribbon different? Ribbon has had federally certified, secure solutions deployed at Federal Government locations worldwide for over 25 years. Our solutions are carrier-grade, architected and built to serve the needs of global carriers and enterprises as well as tactical mission-oriented voice needs. Ribbon’s solutions are the only true hybrid-enabled voice solutions available in the Federal market today, developed to allow cloud and premises voice environments to integrate seamlessly and securely. Most importantly, Ribbon’s licensing structure is designed to follow the user, not the location, so federal agencies don’t have to pay double the cost to have a cloud-first, premises hybrid voice architecture that best supports their mission.

Learn more about this and other mission-critical, JITC-certified, government solutions offered by Ribbon Communications. Download our latest eBook, Finding the Right Voice: Where Do Federal Agencies Stand in Adopting Greater Cloud Voice Solutions. Or just give us a call: 866-WHY-RBBN or 866-949-7226.


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