#dearCDW How do I Choose a Unified Communications Solution?


This is a great question. Choosing a Unified Communications (UC) solution can be a daunting task for even the most seasoned IT professional.  You must consider multiple deployment modalities including on premise, hybrid and cloud.  To further complicate it, there are over a dozen companies included in the Gartner© Magic Quadrant for UCaaS, a multitude of on premise solutions and a plethora of industry acronyms and terms to understand like Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS).

What are the deployment modalities for Unified Communications solutions?

On premise – Infrastructure including routers, gateways and call control systems are deployed on premise and connected to a telecommunications provider using TDM (e.g. a PRI) or a SIP trunk.

Hybrid – Hybrid solutions come in a variety of configurations, we will focus on Hybrid solutions that include infrastructure that is deployed on premise with management of users and devices carried out in the cloud.

Cloud Cloud solutions also come in a variety of configurations, including deployment of UC application on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) or UCaaS.  We will focus on UCaaS solutions delivered over the public Internet as they provide turn-key voice, video and contact center services.

While most IT professionals are only concerned with the technical aspects of the solution, the organization that the IT professional represents may be more concerned with whether a solution is a Capital Expense (CAPEX) or an Operational Expense (OPEX).  While there are many accounting nuances to CAPEX and OPEX costs, essentially CAPEX costs are assets that an organization purchases (e.g. servers) and OPEX costs are day-to-day expenses (e.g. a software subscription). For the IT professional, CAPEX deployments are typically on premise or hybrid solutions which require the IT team to manage the software updates, moves, additions and changes while OPEX deployments are typically cloud solutions managed by the UCaaS provider who updates the system and provides a help desk to assist with moves, additions and changes.

At CDW Canada our first step in determining what solution is best for your organization includes onsite or remote sessions that help us to understand both your business and IT requirements.  One of the first questions we like to ask our customers is why they are looking for a new solution. What we don’t want to do is replace a UC solution without first understanding why you as a customer want to upgrade.

Why would a company choose on premise, hybrid or cloud? Below I detail some of the pros and cons to each solution.

Cloud (UCaaS)

While many UCaaS providers started by offering “dial-tone only” – meaning you could place and receive calls – today these solutions have feature parity with most on premise and hybrid solutions.

What are the advantages of UCaaS?

  • Scale: Organizations can easily scale up the number users with a simple phone call to your CDW Account Manager.
  • Resourcing: Many customers, especially small to medium sized businesses that don’t have a large IT staff are considering UCaaS solutions.  For many organizations, the cost of employing an IT professional with voice experience is quite expensive.  With these solutions, support is often included in the per-user subscription cost.
  • Hardware costs: With UCaaS, there are no routers or servers required to be deployed on premise.  The only hardware costs are the physical phones (if required).

What do you need to be aware of?

  • The Internet: While there are many advantages to UCaaS offerings, it’s important to remember that the reliability of the UCaaS solution is only as good as your Internet and WAN connections.   At CDW Canada we look at the solution holistically and will suggest technologies such as Software Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) to enable more reliable WAN connections for cloud based applications.

On Premise

Traditionally one of the most popular deployment modalities, on-premise solutions leverage reliable TDM and SIP trunk services to provide a reliable and cost effective solution for voice and unified communication needs.

What are the advantages of On Premise?

Features: While both hybrid and cloud solutions offer many features, the on premise voice market is the most mature of the three deployment modalities.  Due to the maturity of on premise solutions, there are a multitude of native and third party products and services that integrate with these systems.  For example, call recording, contact center applications and API integrations with third party systems (e.g. CRM) are readily accessible with on premise offerings.

  • Data sovereignty: While many cloud hosting companies are deploying data centres in Canada not all UCaaS providers have built out nodes within these facilities.  If data sovereignty is important to your organization, the safest approach is to deploy on premise.
  • Cost: While many cloud providers offer contracts for their services.  Once the contract has expired, you need to consider what the cost of your phone service is going to be. Purchasing on premise solutions protects you from potential cost increases in the future.
  • Longevity: Many customers look at their legacy phone system and are unhappy that they don’t have the latest features.  However, if you consider the age of these systems, and the cost originally paid, you see that these investments provide tremendous value.

What do you need to be aware of?

  • Maintenance and support: One important item to consider when implementing an on premise solution is the maintenance and support.  If your phone system only requires basic features (e.g. dial-tone and voicemail) this is of less concern, however if are using a feature rich solution with remote users you will want to have a plan to apply updates and patches to the system to address security vulnerabilities and provide your users with feature updates and bug fixes.


While many people consider hybrid as a type of vehicle that utilizes gasoline or electricity, in the IT realm hybrid solutions combine on premise systems with cloud services.  These solutions are typically deployed as a router on premise to provide connectivity to a telecommunications provider with the management of users hosted in the cloud.  In my article ‘Does your phone system remind you of two cans on a string’ I describe one of the hybrid solutions available today, the Cisco Business Edition 4000 platform.

 What are the advantages of a hybrid solution?

  • Reliability: A TDM (e.g. PRI) connection is one of the most reliable ways to provide dial-tone.  With hybrid solutions, you can integrate these circuits into your phone system allowing for a reliable connection to the telecommunications provider.  Typically, these circuits are backed up on the telecommunications provider side with generators, adding a UPS locally to the router can greatly improve up time in the event of a power outage or another adverse event.
  • Cloud management: Users and devices are managed from a cloud interface; this enables administrators who may not have experience in IT or phone systems to quickly and easy make changes to the system.
  • Integration with UC Applications: Hybrid solutions also enable organizations to leverage cloud collaboration services, for example telephony functionality can be extended to Skype for Business with the use of hybrid appliances that integrate TDM (e.g. PRI) or SIP trunks with Office 365 – Skype for Business.

What do you need to be aware of?

  • Unified Communications Client: Some of the hybrid solutions available provide excellent dial-tone, voicemail and other features.  However, the solution may not include an application for instant messaging, voice or video conferencing and may rely on an existing UC application (e.g. Skype for Business). Prior to deciding on what solution is right for your organization, contact your CDW Canada account manager to assist you with determining the right solution.

Mathew Slack

CDW Canada

Mathew is an Inside Solutions Architect at CDW Canada focusing on Unified Communications and Collaboration covering multiple key vendors in the space. Mathew is a firm believer in requirements driven design and relies on a multitude of technology providers to architect solutions.
With over 15 years of experience, Mathew has provided consulting services to some of the largest public and private sector organizations in Canada.