By John Watkins, Capital Business Systems, Inc.
Voice over IP (VoIP) solutions have taken over the SMB market in recent years — and for good reason. In general, VoIP systems are cheaper and more feature packed than the basic phone systems provided by your local telco. This give SMBs the opportunity to leverage these benefits in a way they haven’t been able to before by streamlining inbound calls to the proper people or departments, using Voicemail to email to ensure messages are returned, and utilizing a custom Auto Attendant to give their SMB an enterprise-company feel.
Our company started offering VoIP initially as an add-on service to our current clients but quickly discovered there was more to it than simply setting up the client’s account and plugging in the phones. We found there are three routes an MSP can go when offering VoIP solutions to their clients — internally hosted, service hosted, and a hybrid of the two.
Service-hosted solutions are setup and managed fully by the VoIP provider, usually a third party to the client and the MSP and are often provided by internet service providers (Frontier, Spectrum, etc.). All changes and issues must go through the provider as they don’t allow the client or MSP access to the admin interface of their VoIP system. This really is only a good fit for very small clients that don’t need many changes done to their extensions or menus, as it can take up to a few days for the requested changes to be implemented.
Internally hosted solutions are setup and managed by the MSP themselves, typically in a colocation facility using a version of FreePBX or something similar. While this option can give you the best margins, it’s also carries the most risk. Although the basic setup of the PBX isn’t too complex, you also need to configure and support the underlining server hardware and network equipment in addition to keeping the entire solution updated and secure. This is not something to jump into on a whim, and to properly support a self-hosted VoIP solution you should plan on hiring at least one engineer to specifically focus on VoIP.
The hybrid route was the sweet spot for our MSP. It allowed us to bring in a third-party partner to handle the server hosting, PBX configuration, and security, provided 99.9 percent uptime, and supports us with any L2/L3 issues that may arise. We still retain access to the PBX system which allows us to make changes for our clients in an hour or less and the ability to escalate issues to their in-house PBX engineers when needed. That means I don’t have to keep an internal resource on the books just to configure and manage the phone systems, but still have the ability to resolve any problems that come up within our SLA.
As with any new service you decide to add to your stack, take time to research the pros and cons of each offering, and be honest with yourself about how much time, effort, and money you want to put into your VoIP solution. Can your MSP handle the volume and still meet your SLAs when one client has a vital server explode while another client has their UTM carried offsite by a tech from their ISP — all while trying to rebuild your PBX server because of a miss-typed command? If not, take a look at a VoIP solution that’s hosted by the provider and then decide if you want to manage it yourselves or not.
About The Author
John Watkins is a seasoned expert in SMB technologies, having spent over a decade helping businesses grow by leveraging new technology and IT processes. While his focus has been primarily in IT Management, he is also well-versed in Unified Communications/VoIP, Cloud Technologies and Cyber Security. Currently, John works for Capital Business Systems, providing vCIO services to clients across the Midwestern United States. For more information visit www.NebraskaITServices.com.