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Understanding UC In The Cloud

Unified communications isn't like other cloud apps. We outline crucial differences to help you make the best choice.

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UC In The Cloud

Buying unified communications as an online service doesn't change the goal of UC--to tie voice, video, and other communications services together to make it easier for employees to communicate with each other and with business partners. As with other online and hosted services, though, cloud-based UC aims to make deployment easier, shift up-front capital costs to operational expenses, and provide a speedy upgrade path as new applications and features emerge.

However, cloud-based UC is significantly different from SaaS applications such as customer relationship management or expense management. That's because unified communications has much more demanding networking requirements, so a company must make sure its network infrastructure can support IP-based voice and video.

Thus, even if a company takes the cloud route, it will still have to deal with considerable on-premises equipment, address quality-of-service requirements and traffic management, and support end-user gear. That could even mean a capital investment in infrastructure. Does a cloud-based UC option still make sense? Let's look at what goes into such a deployment to help you figure out if it's the best decision.

Challenges Of UC In The Cloud

A unified communications package typically encompasses IP-based voice and video, presence and instant messaging, and unified messaging, in which voice mail is saved to a person's email inbox, and employees can call or send an instant message to a co-worker by clicking on an email address. Other UC options may include Web-based conferencing and contact center applications.

It's possible to get all these services from one provider. Providers generally offer two flavors of hosted UC services. The first is a traditional managed service. This is essentially the same as an on-premises installation because all the necessary equipment will be deployed at the customer site, but the equipment is owned and maintained by the provider. The customer is charged a monthly fee based on the number of users and the applications being provided.

The second is cloud-based UC. In this option, the UC application servers and other equipment are housed in the provider's data center and connected to the customer's site over a WAN. Other gear, including phones, is deployed at the customer site. As with the managed service, customers are charged a monthly fee based on the number of users and applications. This article focuses on the cloud-based or software-as-a-service UC option.

Most companies have considerable experience with SaaS at this point, and some might fancy themselves SaaS experts. That confidence is why it's so important to understand the specific ways cloud-based UC is different.

To read the rest of the article,
Download the September 2011 InformationWeek UC Supplement

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