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Will Cloud UC Breathe New Life Into Unified Communications?

Unified communications (UC) didn't really take off the way everyone figured it would. Will cloud UC succeed where its predecessors failed?

The answer, it would seem, depends on what enterprise IT hopes to gain from UC. Unlike traditional UC--which was centered on a site served by local equipment, with an occasional remote user included--cloud UC can enable a user to implement bits and pieces of a solution into certain segments of the enterprise.

For instance, if the sales division of an enterprise needs find-me/follow-me and contact center functionality, enterprise IT can utilize some cloud UC offerings to provide those services to only the sales department (see Figure 2). If such functionality is proven valuable, it can be extended to other departments, and other functions and apps can be added or detracted as needed.

So in this way, cloud UC offers IT a solution that doesn't require a full-blown deployment for testing, nor does it require the full up-front capex costs that were required with traditional UC rollouts.

In many cases, that will be enough to move IT decision makers from "considering" UC to "deploying" UC. Determining ROI with a traditional UC system is tricky because there are many hidden costs, including capex, opex, maintenance, upgrades and the time IT spends administering and supporting the system--all of which are difficult to quantify.

Cloud UC reduces the up-front capital investment required and provides enterprise IT with other cost benefits that make it attractive, says Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst of consulting firm COMMfusion LLC.

"Cloud UC doesn't really provide IT with any additional benefits or capabilities that traditional UC didn't," she says. "What it does is make it easier and faster to deploy and stay up to date with the system."

Specifically, enterprise IT should consider the following as possible benefits to a cloud UC offering:

• Little to no capital expenditures, as opposed to traditional UC offerings.
• Automatic upgrades via the cloud.
• Automatic new releases via the cloud.
• Flexibility when adding or deleting users.
• Simplicity of deploying a service across multiple users or locations.
• Ability to partially deploy only specific UC services as needed or wanted.
• Cost typically based on a set monthly fee that's based on the number of users.
• Maintenance, support and upgrade costs typically are included.

Cloud UC Isn't for Everyone

So what about those early implementers of premise-based UC, or IT organizations that still don't quite believe in throwing everything communications related into the cloud?

Most cloud UC offerings are proffered in one of several versions--on-premise, cloud-based or a hybrid combination of the two--for just that reason. For the most part, traditional UC systems make sense for only enterprise organizations that have large numbers of employees working in one or two main locations, and whose communications needs are unlikely to change for the foreseeable future.

Additionally, cloud UC makes more sense for certain business verticals, including government, higher education, financial services, healthcare and retail because these markets have geographic diversity and a diverse user community.

"It's still very early in terms of adoption," says Burton. "But cloud or some hybrid variation of it will likely be the roadmap for the future of UC in the enterprise."

Figure 2
Company
and Product
How Cloud UC Product Is Implemented Mobile Integration?
Aastra Clearspan Overlaid to the existing infrastructure, in which SIP trunks are put in place between Clearspan and the existing PBX. Yes, with FMC
AT&T Unified Communications Service Allows the use of an existing PBX and/or telephony service. For example, a customer can keep the PSTN connection at the local site but redirect it back to the cloud. Customers can move part of their population at their own pace to the UC Voice cloud service, while the rest stays on the legacy PBX. Using a coordinated dial plan between local PBX(es) and the UC Voice service, users can continue to utilize abbreviated dialing to make calls. Customers also can route unanswered calls to the existing voicemail/unified messaging system. iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Netbook
Avaya Unified Communications as a Service Hosted and delivered by cloud service providers, enabling customers to migrate certain user groups as some of their infrastructure reaches end of life, while retaining use of on-premise equipment for other groups. Supports devices running iOS (including iPhones and iPads) and Android.
Cisco
UC Release 9.0
Customers choose based on an on-premise, cloud or hybrid consumption model. Applications and services can be deployed based on business drivers and resources to specific teams of people and individuals, rather than by site or location. iPad, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Nokia
Genband A2 Communications Application Server UC is added as needed, ranging from TDM overlay to hybrid, to complete replacement. iPhone, iPad, Android-based smartphones and tablets
Masergy Broadcore Integrate with best-of-breed technology partners and enhance the UC stack with services supported over more devices with consistent user experience. Device and platform agnostic.
RingCentral Office No incorporation with existing legacy TDM-based PBXs. Service allows for turn up and provisioning of preconfigured SIP phones with no additional equipment. Apps available for Android, iOS and BlackBerry
ShoreTel
M5 Unified Communications Suite
The UC offering requires the use of the company's hosted phone system or Cisco handsets, which are supported. iPhone
Sprint Complete Collaboration Rip and replace is not necessary. IT can enable new functionality immediately and run in a parallel, hybrid environment. Sprint Mobile Integration enables integration of Sprint mobile phones with UC, extending PBX features and desktop phone capabilities to Sprint mobile phones.
Verizon UCCaaS Enables hybrid architectures that incorporate legacy equipment or customer proprietary applications with components from the cloud. For example, customers can utilize an existing IP-PBX platform on=premise and purchase voice messaging and/or IM and presence features from the cloud. Or a customer could use UCCaaS cloud-based call control to replace a legacy TDM-PBX but continue to use a unified messaging platform on premise. Uses Cisco Jabber client to support enterprise communication and collaboration features on smartphones and tablets. The client runs on Android and Apple OS.

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