Unified Communications - The First Killer Application for the Private Cloud

By TMCnet Special Guest
Scott Gode, Vice President of Product Management and Marketing for Azaleos Corp.
  |  December 01, 2010

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Unified Communications Magazine

In the late ‘80s, dedicated point-to-point circuits were the data communications method of choice for telecommunications companies. Then, in the early ‘90s, virtual private network services were brought to life to lower costs, while still providing great service quality. Network traffic was switched when and where necessary to balance and optimize network bandwidth utilization. Sound familiar? It should. It was the birth of today’s cloud.

This networking evolution had nothing to do with the Internet and everything to do with a network abstraction of resources that could be leveraged to improve efficiencies. Today it seems only fitting that an application with telecommunications DNA, namely unified communications, is emerging as the first real killer app for the private cloud.

Two Clouds Colliding over UC

In giving birth to the cloud, telephone companies produced a set of fraternal, not identical, twins – the public and private clouds. 

Public cloud services are the younger of the two, and provide many advantages including near zero management and administration, operational (vs. capital) spending, a virtual elimination of staff and application experts, predictable costs (for the most part), complexity avoidance, and the end of software upgrades. However, public cloud services are not the best choice for every application or organization.

For mission-critical IT applications, many companies today are looking more favorably at the public cloud’s more mature sibling, the private cloud, because it addresses almost all of the public cloud’s shortcomings. These include stronger security, audit ability for regulatory compliance, feature parity with on-premises systems, elimination of the public cloud quality of service challenges, significantly more robust management capabilities, easy integration with on-premises apps, no hidden costs, and the ability to choose how and when to upgrade.

Change in the UC MarketLike the cloud, the history of UC can be traced back to the creation of voice over IP in the late ‘80s. VoIP made it possible to envision the convergence, on one platform, of voicemail, e-mail, fax mail, instant messaging, and audio and videoconferencing. UC was full of great hope and promise, but for more than 20 years never really took off. Thanks to cloud computing it appears UC has finally begun to reach escape velocity. 

What has changed suddenly to transform UC into the killer app for the private cloud? The answer lies with the six C’s: 

Convergence (News - Alert)Similar to one of the original killer apps of the 1990’s (and perhaps the canonical killer app, Microsoft Outlook), a UC application like Microsoft (News - Alert) Lync provides both end users (and IT) with a shell to integrate and aggregate a wide variety of mini-apps using a Swiss army knife-type approach. When done right, UC can create that perfect Wal-Mart moment (i.e. the combination of cost efficiencies and broad availability of applications) for software that enables major gains in end user productivity. In the case of UC today, there really is no significantly new technology – it’s all about making IM, e-mail, conferencing, telephony, presence, and social media blend elegantly and seamlessly together. 

Costs:In the current economic environment, capital budgets and resource staffing continue to be constrained. Meanwhile, the cost and complexity of trialing/piloting, deploying and managing premises-based voice and UC solutions continue to mount. All of these issues leave IT searching for a way to deploy UC best while at the same time justifying their investments and evangelism in the cloud. 

Consumerization: As a byproduct of the public cloud and the vast array of web apps available to consumers, most employees now enter the workforce very familiar and comfortable with computing technology, particularly with PC-based communication and collaboration tools. This dynamic is altering fundamentally how organizations deploy and consume technology – and makes an app like UC readily adoptable and even sought after by end users.

 Context: The introduction of presence functionality on PCs, and the instant availability facilitated by the mobile phone and web applications like Twitter and Facebook (News - Alert), has created an expectation among users that they need to know what other people are doing at any given moment. 

Communities: Social networks have changed the way people communicate, and the nature of what is considered private vs. public. The Facebook worker will not only be predisposed to communicate via multiple mediums (i.e. IM, conferencing, e-mail), but also will turn to technology to work and solve problems more collaboratively. We have moved from a knowledge expert paradigm where a single employee was the primary contributor to a document or a work product, to a new model where communities, social networks and partners are all deeply involved in the final output. This aggregated expertise only can be accomplished with a strong UC framework and application.

Cloud: With the phenomenal adoption and success of the public cloud, consumer web services have changed fundamentally how we collaborate and communicate. This shift is having an impact on business. Due to the ubiquitous nature of the cloud and cloud services, there is a much higher tolerance within companies for the comingling of personal and business activities. What’s more, we are seeing growing recognition and comfort with the cloud as a platform that concurrently supports the needs of individuals and companies.

Caution Ahead

While the six Cs clearly make the case for UC as the killer app, potential obstacles remain. We need look no further than Google (News - Alert) to see how it can all backfire. In 2009, Google introduced its new Google Wave app, which was intended to change the way people communicate by turning the cloud into an integrated, real-time, multi-channel platform for information exchange and collaboration. However, Google Wave attempted to be too revolutionary and disruptive. It overwhelmed users with too many features and raised red flags among corporate IT by overlapping too many back-end services. This made IT nervous and end users confused.

For UC to achieve its full potential as the killer app for the private cloud, it must follow an evolutionary path that balances the needs and fears of end users and corporate IT. Fortunately, UC as an application already has spent the last few years in a burn-in phase well away from the cloud in on-premises data centers. It already has earned some early credibility within the enterprise and now is moving gradually into the private cloud.

When deployed in the private cloud, UC becomes the great equalizer that levels the playing field between global enterprises and small businesses. It enables smaller companies that cannot afford to deploy and manage large UC systems to benefit from the competitive advantages that are created when collaboration and communications platforms are woven together. The private cloud model also allows large enterprises to wring significant infrastructure costs from traditional data center UC implementations. 

Unlike its public cloud twin, UC in the private cloud allows for an aggressive minimization of the latency problems associated with hosted PBX (News - Alert) services. Fueled by healthy competition between Microsoft and Cisco for this market, expect an acceleration of UC’s rise to prominence as the first killer app for the private cloud.

Scott Gode is vice president of product management and marketing for Azaleos Corp. (www.azaleos.com).

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi