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Unified Communications
Featured Article
UC Mag
Richard "Zippy" Grigonis
Executive Editor,

IP Communication Group

Exploring Hosted and Managed UC Services

Considering that unified communications is supposed to improve a business' responsiveness to customers (both existing and prospective), not to mention partners and suppliers, its seems ironic that installing and taking care of UC customer-premise equipment can sometimes be such an involved affair - particularly for smaller businesses UC is supposed to help - that it consumes both time and money better spent on core competencies. That's why both purely hosted "one-stop-shopping" bundled services and hybrid managed services have recently grown in popularity.


The hottest recent news is that the UC team of Microsoft and Nortel have introduced their first fully-hosted UC and collaboration service for carriers wanting to serve up big enterprise capabilities to Small and Midsize Businesses (SMBs). (In March 2008 they had announced a more 'managed' solution, which is a hybrid of hosted and on-premises UC software and services based on converging Nortel hardware and services with premise-based Microsoft Office Communications Server [OCS] desktop applications.)


The new Microsoft-Nortel suite is based on the Nortel Communications Server 2000 (CS 2000), an IP multimedia softswitch, and the Microsoft Solutions for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration (HMC) Version 4.5, a combination of hosted versions of both Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. Smaller companies using the Microsoft Office portfolio and Communicator client can now also avail themselves of voice along with Microsoft's collaboration services, such as click-to-call, click-to-conference, emails notifying you of missed calls, mobility and presence.


To quickly bring about an end-to-end solution, Nortel's Global Services portfolio provides an all-inclusive suite of integration and end-user services. Nortel has also been working with IBM to develop "Carrier Enabled Unified Communications", which combines Nortel's CS 2000, Application Server 5200 or Adaptive Application Engine services with IBM Lotus Notes 7.0 as well as IBM Lotus Sametime 7.5.1 customer premise-based platforms.


Established Players


The chief rival to the Microsoft/Nortel alliance is Cisco, long known for its Cisco Unified Communications System. Now, medium-sized and large businesses and government agencies can avail themselves of a converged IP communications network's benefits without them having to own, manage, or maintain a Cisco Unified Communications System, all thanks to their substantial platform for providers, Cisco Hosted Unified Communications Services. Cisco's reference architecture helps service providers deliver Cisco Hosted Unified Communications Services within dedicated and multicustomer environments, including Cisco Unified Communications Manager (the former Cisco Unified CallManager) capabilities, web-based provisioning from end to end, network management and Quality of Service (QoS) tools, billing, various cost-saving trunking options, and sophisticated interfaces to transition customers from older equipment to their new IP communications environments.


Of the more than 20 products that make up Cisco Hosted UC Services, one core component is the feature server, otherwise known as the Cisco Unified Communications Manager. It's a scalable, distributable, partitionable, and resilient IP PBX solution. Another important element is the Cisco PGW 2200 Softswitch, which provides routing between older systems, UC environments, and various interconnection trunking options, including Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), H.323, Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP), H.248, and Signaling System 7 (SS7) routing. The Cisco PGW 2200 also provides a SIP back-to-back user agent (B2BUA) for connecting revenue-generating applications, service provider-grade billing records, on-net lawful-intercept compliance, least-cost routing, and time-ofday routing to minimize interconnect costs. System-wide provisioning is done with the VisionOSS Business Voice Services Manager (BVSM), a carrier-grade, business-layer focused, service provisioning and management (operations support system [OSS]) platform specifically designed for provisioning the hefty Cisco Hosted Unified Communications Services architecture.


For a Few Dollars More


Intermedia, in business since 1995 and a major player in SMB email software, now offers a remarkable deal involving the delivery of Microsoft Exchange and other products for a low monthly fee as Software as a Service (SaaS), thus bestowing upon small businesses the power of enterprise IT. From their multiple tier-4 datacenters in California and New York, Intermedia also offers a hosted Microsoft OCS Server 2007 solution that provides business subscribers with secure instant messaging and UC. It's secure, private, legally compliant, and integrates with Intermedia's hosted Exchange email.


Amazingly, Hosted OCS 2007 is available with Intermedia's hosted Exchange 2007 accounts for US$7.95 per user per month, with a one-time setup fee of $7.95 per user.


If you're already an Intermedia hosted Exchange 2007 customer, you can add hosted OCS 2007 by logging in to HostPilot and navigating to "OCS 2007". (HostPilot is a control panel for Exchange and web hosting services that's included as standard with every Intermedia account. Subscribers use it for web-based access to their site/server configuration tools on a 24x7 basis.)


Alianza also has a hosted, fully-integrated IP-based platform for delivering UC apps via SaaS for cable operators, ISPs, MSPs, CSPs, WiMAX providers, satellite bandwidth providers and so forth, enabling the ability to create custom products for specific market niches (e.g., residential and SMB). Value-added applications include VoIP, hosted Virtual PBX, IVR, voicemail-to-email, integrated messaging, conferencing, and many more. Alianza's proprietary PowerPlatform enables Broadband Service Providers to launch private-labeled solutions in less than 30 days, with no capital expenditures.


The PowerPlatform encompasses Alianza's entire IP telephony system offering. It's a robust, multi-functional, highly scalable solution that's divided into various components, such as a Logic Layer, an Application Programming Interface (API), an Account Management Portal (AMP), and a Tools and Administrative Center (ATAC). The PowerPlatform is fully compatible with telcos with which service providers have relationships. Call processing on the PowerPlatform is SIP-based and service providers can provision directly to SIP-enabled carriers through ATAC. Service providers may also use the PowerPlatform in conjunction with PSTN-based carriers by provisioning them through their own gateways.


Just a year ago, in mid-2007, Verizon introduced its Integrated Communication Package for users of its Hosted IP Centrex business, a UC service designed to connect office phones to Lotus Sametime instant messaging, email and voicemail. It has a graphic interface run in a browser or as a Microsoft Outook plug-in that you use to specify how you'd like to be contacted - but the ICP is intelligent enough to take existing conditions into account. For example, if you designate the phone as they way to be reached but you aren't near a phone or computer, then the Integrated Communications Package can instead direct incoming phone calls to other communication devices.


In a similar vein, Intellicomm's Innoport integrates fax, voicemail and hosted PBX capabilities into a single service, while at the same time enabling customers to easily manage and access their communications functionality. Users can obtain a virtual telephone number with universal accessibility - the personal toll-free and local phone numbers can serve as both a voice and fax number or may be designated for use as just one or the other. For a number set for both voice and fax, Innoport automatically distinguishes between a voice call and fax signal, so callers do not have to press any additional keys. Use can use your number purely for messaging or enable call routing for forwarding calls to reach you wherever you are situated. You can also establish a virtual PBX system to transfer callers to different extensions.


Interestingly because Intellicomm's Innoport delivers messages in common file formats and fax transmission is via the web or email, there's no software to install.


Encompassing UC with Enventis


An "ideal" favorite feature set for UC services appears to be IP PBX functionality plus unified messaging combining email, voicemail and fax in a single inbox, Outlook-like calendaring, contact and tasks lists, and come contact center abilities thrown in for good measure. Exactly such a portfolio can be delivered by Encompass Unified Communications (www. MyEncompass.com) from Enventis, a single, centrally managed and hosted VoIP communications service.


Remarkably, as its name implies, Encompass is a singlevendor service that includes local and long distance voice; business IP telephony via hosted IP PBX; unified messaging (single inbox for voicemail, email and fax); call center features; dedicated internet access; 24x7 support and much more. VoIP is used over a private managed connection (not over the public Internet like most consumer services) to maintain a high QoS. Encompass' VoIP supports cost effective voice interoperability with PC applications, and scalability.


Call Centers on Demand


Another interesting component of UC services that has appeared is the hosted contact center. Certainly maintaining a modern, sophisticated contact center normally involves a lot of hardware and software careand- feeding, and any service that can simplify contact center operations should become wildly successful.


The long-time leader in hosted contact centers is CosmoCom, though its Consolidation 2.0 all-IP contact center strategy can be implemented as either a premise-based solution within the enterprise, or as a service from the global service providers that host it. In terms of the hosted contact center, CosmoCom's Contact Center On-Demand (CCOD, also known as a network-based contact center), has been a favorite service among top Network Service Providers (NSPs) such as BT, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, Telefónica, KT, PLDT, NTT, VSNL, and Eagle IP, since it enables them to offer a service more profitable than typical, run-of-the-mill, low-margin commodity services, many of which are sold (ironically) to contact centers.


CoscmoCom and some enthusiastic analysts claim that, given CCOD's compelling value proposition for the customer vs. traditional premise-based solutions, CCOD will claim about a third of all contact center seats over the next 10 years.


And How Do You Manage It?


Pushing physical technology to the provider doesn't obviate the need for somebody managing complex UC systems. Communicado, Inc. of Costa Mesa, California, formerly known as SyncVoice Communications, specializes in solutions for managing converged voice/ data communications networks that carry realtime person-to-person business communications. (Indeed, their Streamline Management as a Service Platform was named a TMC Product of the Year.) Busy IT teams expect their trusted local provider to manage their IP PBX, converged communications network infrastructure and UC software for them.


Communicado's VXTracker software product line service management platform are used by over 400 advanced technology adopters including Allergan, St. Joseph Health System, Tenet Healthcare and the Discovery Channel. Their offerings combine extensive technical tools with the expected collection of business analytics.


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