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Unified Communications Magazine November 2007
Volume 1 / Number 3
Unified Communications Magazine
Martin Suter

UC is Everywhere, But Where Does It Belong?

By Martin Suter, Now UC It


Unified communications is now rapidly ascending the hype curve towards the peak of inflated expectations. Depending on which incumbent vendor you listen to, UC belongs either as a component of corporate IP network infrastructure; as a service offered by a service provider network; or as a supersized PBX switch on steroids.

Arguments being made to defend existing silos serve to obfuscate an irrefutable fact: the essence of unified communications is about the move of business telephony away from discrete and proprietary Telco or LAN hardware systems towards software that is fully integrated with today's line of business applications. If unified communications is truly to be about improving business processes and building integrated realtime communications applications, then the natural home for UC is where all business-critical technology already resides: the IT data center

IT data centers exist to run core business applications and to store operational business data. Common applications include CRM, SFA and ERP systems, project management systems and other line of business applications. Common sub-components of such applications include database and file servers, email and calendaring servers, terminal servers, EDI servers or e-commerce servers. Servers in the data center are also used for running business-critical Internet and intranet services: DNS servers, firewalls, VPN gateways and intrusion detection systems. Web servers have long been used to provide the user interface for line of business applications, while SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) promises the same for data in the future.

Windows� has emerged as the dominant platform in the IT data center; 80% of enterprise servers use Microsoft� Windows Server System�. Companies prefer to use Windows because it has the lion's share of commercial applications in the area of personal collaboration/productivity applications. Third party vendors prefer to develop applications for Windows because it has the largest installed base of business users. Administrators prefer Windows because it offers a common administrative platform, Active Directory�, for management of both apps and users, including apps and users of apps from third party vendors that fully embrace the Windows ecosystem.

As the de facto directory service in most organizations, Active Directory allows administrators to set granular security policies that manage users, applications and data. Active Directory's feature most visible to end users is single sign-on (SSO). SSO simply means that a user only has to authenticate once (at the desktop) to gain appropriate access to the rest of a business' tools, applications, file systems, etc., rather than entering a username and password at the desktop and then each and every other data center application,

Likewise, Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) is considered the standard for data access to business applications. Part of ODBC's success is that it is data source independent. ODBC also scales well. ODBC integration allows businesses to build line of business applications that meet the needs of a single user within an organization, or for the needs of the organization at large.

In combination, Active Directory and ODBC provide businesses with the opportunity to build secure apps that meet their business needs without much consideration of the underlying technology or the data source. An ODBC data source could be a corporate SQL database, a decade-old CRM app with a long corporate memory, or even an Excel spreadsheet. The app and data could have one user, dozens or hundreds with different levels of access; the permissions are all managed in Active Directory. As a result, integration with Active Directory and ODBC are table stakes for just about any data center software app. The expectations placed on UC should be no different; it is, after all, simply the most recent arrival.

Given that, why place UC anywhere other than in the data center? The business apps that could take advantage of UC already reside in the IT framework, as do the messaging servers, the user and group policies, data back-up, archival and retrieval systems, and the access rules for incoming data. The definition of UC will evolve as communications technology evolves and once the ways in which businesses can integrate UC with business processes are made apparent.

Obviously, UC doesn�t belong on discrete, low-level networking devices which cannot be fully aligned with business applications, business processes, IT security, and user policies. UC doen�t belong as a service bought from service providers that force their customers to accept their severe deployment and integration limitations, eliminating the range of options and choices that have spelled success for IT departments for decades. UC most certainly doesn�t belong on a revisited PBX from incumbent telecom vendors so reluctant to give up their expensive silos that they are attempting to build their own separate ecosystems.

It is natural for incumbent vendors to protect their existing silos, but let's not be hooked by their line of thinking. Businesses deserve better.


Martin Suter is President of Objectworld Communications Corp. (www.objectworld.com)www.objectworld.com.

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