Next Generation Voice Platform – Cloud vs Hosted

This is the second post in a series discussing Alianza’s Cloud Voice Platform from the Alianza development team. I’m exploring how we got where we are and how it’s different from the hosted solutions of the past.

Alianza was a big champion of cloud technology well before cloud was cool (or the term was even coined). Back in 2009 when Alianza built its multi-tenant hosted VoIP platform we recognized the power of building a platform that our customers could access over the web and rebrand as their own. We knew that by focusing a team of smart telecommunications engineers on the opportunity, and with the right vision we could build something special. We believed that by building a highly available, highly scalable, and highly flexible platform we could provide high-quality voice services over the Internet to anyone. Building a platform for availability and scalability is difficult and expensive and we knew we could save our customers the headache of doing it themselves.

Because of our history, it didn’t surprise us when “cloud” went mainstream and everyone was praising the merits of remotely hosted, cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS). The cloud is now huge: Gartner said public cloud services spending would be north of $130 BILLION in 2013 and on its way beyond $200 Billion.

With the explosion of “cloud” based services the term has become loosely defined and, well, cloudy. It seems like everyone is promoting their cloud-based platform or service—even some platforms that clearly aren’t cloud. Although the conceptions of cloud are many, there seem to be four main components that most definitions agree are essential to be considered a cloud platform or service:

  1. Hosted
  2. Available on-demand
  3. Elastic
  4. Virtual

Hosted means someone else is running and managing some aspect of a technology or service and provides some level of access and control to its customers. It means what was once here (in an enterprise or service provider’s data center) is now there (somewhere else). However, hosted does not take into account the guts of the technology and what it runs on.

Frequently today what is being sold as cloud, especially in the telecommunications industry, is really just hosted. For example, hosted VoIP services aren’t elastic—meaning they aren’t built on top of an underlying cloud infrastructure that allows services to be quickly scaled up or down without racking and stacking hardware or manually configuring software. Also, these hosted services aren’t available on-demand – they must be pre-configured for individual customers, and many times new instances of the platform must be built from scratch. Its building networks over and over again for every customer. This wastes resources, capital and is inefficient given what’s possible today.

In addition, many of these hosted services aren’t truly virtualized. Today just about everyone has a little bit of virtualization in their data center but to truly harness the power and promise of virtualization the entire infrastructure, from servers and storage to even networking, should be software-based and abstracted from the underlying hardware and servers. So yes, that means Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). Only when all components are virtualized do you achieve the real benefits of virtualization. Because of these limitations, these hosted VoIP services still struggle to quickly scale up or down to meet customer demand. They also struggle with quickly provisioning new services. And most importantly they struggle with uptime and service availability.

Early on Alianza recognized the potential of these new cloud-centric technologies to radically transform the way voice services are delivered. Alianza’s platform has always been multi-tenant (meaning we support all customers on a single platform), has always been hosted over the Internet, has always been available on-demand, and has even utilized virtualization technology. But the platform wasn’t considered a true cloud platform.

But over the past few years, we’ve taken the solid foundation of the Alianza platform and improved upon it to cloud-enable all aspects of the platform. Now all servers and storage are virtualized across the entire platform on open standards-based private cloud infrastructure, making elasticity and scalability simple. These virtualization improvements have allowed us to take availability and scalability to new levels, including push-button provisioning of new capacity and redundancy. We’ve simplified our user interface and made it easier than ever to quickly scale services up or down. Our new REST-based API makes integrating with Alianza simple and fast.

Now that the distinction between hosted VoIP vs. Cloud-based VoIP is clear I’ll next present in greater detail the awesome technologies and ideas we used to create what is the world’s first truly cloud-enabled VoIP platform for service providers.

Discover more of what we think are the right guts of a next-gen VoIP solution in this white paper: Choosing the Right Cloud Voice Platform.