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Will Cloud UC Breathe New Life Into Unified Communications?

When unified communications (UC) was first bandied about by vendors and service providers, the pitch was that enterprises would flock to it en masse, wooed by the promise of seamless integration of voice, video and data across platforms and devices.

But that isn't exactly what happened--UC didn't live up to the promise, failing to integrate and interconnect on many levels. A bad economy sucked the bravado from traditional first-to-market IT mavericks, who instead retreated to the shadows of their legacy-based PBX systems rather than risk any bottom-line scrutiny that might reveal fiscal irresponsibility.

Meanwhile, vendors and service providers failed to prove a hard case for ROI, instead holding fast to isolated case studies that illustrated improved communications and collaboration without answering the much-needed question: How much will UC save in telecommunications and technology costs if I implement it?

Not surprisingly, enterprise IT responded in underwhelming fashion, and UC has limped along, a communications and collaboration strategy that sounded good in principle but simply didn't justify the cost, time and faith in its required rip-and-replace strategy.

Enter the cloud.

Although few UC vendors or service providers are willing to admit it, the cloud has delivered exactly what UC has been lacking since it first hit the market: cost savings, largely in the form of capex savings. That's especially important for larger enterprises, says Jim Burton, CEO of consulting firm CT Link.

"A good example of this was Interactive Intelligence, which came up with a cloud UC offering that it thought would be a good offering for small-business customers," he says. "It actually was the big customers that gravitated to it early because they saw the cost benefit of having someone host UC, manage it for them and not have to worry about regular updates. It's ended up being such a big thing that this year, more than 40% of Interactive Intelligence's revenue will be based on the cloud for big business."

The value of cloud UC products has not gone unnoticed by other service providers and vendors, as illustrated in the merger and partnership activity that's taken place during the past few months (see Figure 1). But for enterprise IT, the question remains: Is there value in UC--regardless of whether it's in the cloud or on-premise?

Figure 1
Related M&A Activity
Aastra April 2012: Agreement with Level 3 Communications and Internet2.

April 2012: Acquired Comdasys AG.

Provides managed voice services to college campuses throughout the country.

Provides fixed mobile convergence product that enable smartphones to become full-featured PBX extensions with UC capabilities.

AT&T Jan. 2012: Added UC services built at least partially on the Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution. AT&T launched UC Central, a downloadable app that creates a dashboard to manage all communication tools, and UC Voice, to provide IP telephony.
Avaya June 2012: Acquired Radvision for $230 million.

March 2012: Partnered with Level 3 Communications.

Radvision provides products for unified visual communications over IP and 3G networks.

Strategic relationship in support of AvayaLive Connect.

Cisco June 2012: Released Cisco UC Release 9.0 on the Cisco Unified Communications platform. Added support for third-party endpoints, fixed mobile convergence; and improved video quality, security and usability; and enhanced customer collaboration.
Genband June 2012: Released the A2 Intelligent Messaging Manager.

December 2009: Acquired Nortel's Carrier VoIP and Application Solutions Business, including the A2, for $400 million.

The A2 originally was designed for SP networks. Genband added Web-based portals, cloud messaging and terminal interoperability to enable self-administration by customer administrators and end users.
Masergy July 2012: Acquired Broadcore Communications. Broadcore, which provides cloud UC services, will continue to operate as a fully owned subsidiary.
RingCentral RingCentral's service began as a cloud-based UC offering upon its founding in 2003. Cloud-enabled services are available in RingCentral Fax, RingCentral Mobile and RingCentral Office.
ShoreTel February 2012: Acquired M5 Networks for $146 million. The acquisition gives ShoreTel a cloud offering, in addition to its premise-based UC product.
Sprint July 2012: Partnered with CSC for an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering.

March 2012: Partnered with Cisco to create Sprint Complete Collaboration.

Email, managed hosting and colocation services will be hosted by CSC and accessed via Sprint's communications backbone.

The hosted, fully managed UC bundle enables IT departments to deploy a communications platform across an all-IP network.

Verizon August 2011: Acquired CloudSwitch.

April 2011: Acquired Terremark for $1.4 billion.

Makes software that enables companies to move workloads and apps between cloud and on-premise infrastructures.

Terremark is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Verizon, providing IT infrastructure services that include managed hosting, data storage and cloud computing.

Next: Searching for the Silver Lining in Cloud UC

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