Guest Room

For Unified Communications, a Future Unclouded

By TMCnet Special Guest
Scott Cain
  |  November 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.

The IT industry is prone to get enthusiastic about emerging technologies. In many cases, this enthusiasm drives support for technologies that go on to make a real difference to business performance or, in some cases, people’s lives.

On the other hand, this enthusiasm sometimes hurts a technology’s chances of being taken seriously. We are all too familiar with Gartner’s (News - Alert) Hype Cycle. Unified communications and collaboration technologies have over the years suffered from being overhyped.

This year, some are claiming unified communications will come of age. So why should this year be any different from previous false starts? The answer lies with another emerging technology that has suffered from its own share of hype: the cloud.


De-risking post-recession ICT investment

The potential benefits of UCC have been talked about for years, often breathlessly. But as the world emerges from recession, companies are optimistic that they will now benefit from concerted UCC investment. Why?

One reason is that the recession has given corporate purchasers of managed networked IT services the chance to rethink their own strategies.

The conclusion many are coming to is that overhauling entire sections of their IT infrastructure may no longer be financially – or politically – viable. It is much better to be able to demonstrate return on investment for low- or no-capex projects such as network optimization, the adoption of cloud services and partial infrastructure upgrades, where needed.

This is where the idea of UCC technology and the cloud come together at a timely moment.

Hybrid models for unified communications investment

The cloud is beginning to pose CIOs not with simplistic questions like “Should I use the cloud or not,” but more nuanced ones, like “Which services should I place in the cloud, which should I keep on-premises, and how should I combine these?”

In the area of cloud services, hybrid models are emerging. Federators are combining multiple cloud offerings, providing more tailored services, more integrated security, and better service level agreements than are possible by shopping around the individual providers. These federators are also able to combine private clouds and existing on-premises services with those located in the public cloud.

This approach means that CIOs do not have to worry about being locked into one set of technology solutions, but rather can see immediate technology investments as a stage in a progressive migration path that focuses on strategic business needs. It means, in effect, CIOs can break down big decisions into smaller, less risky ones. And as UCC moves into the cloud, these benefits are beginning to apply to UCC technology investment too.


Unified communications as a service

Customers fall into different camps, based on their networked IT heritage and networked communications requirements. For example, some use traditional PBX (News - Alert)-based architectures, while others use more modern IP infrastructures. Some aim to integrate voice services, while others are seeking to converge multiple communications channels so they become a single platform.

Making the right investment decision depends on heritage and requirements, and also on the culture within individual organizations, such as how far users are given the freedom to choose their own methods of communication within the enterprise. But, CIOs also need to be aware of the changes that are happening to UCC technologies.

Just as networked IT resources are becoming available as federated and hybrid cloud services – whether software-, platform-, or infrastructure-as-a-service – so UCC is becoming available in the same way. CIOs no longer need to choose between applications or PBX architecture. Solutions based on a mixture of customer-owned and hosted services are being developed by UCC federators. Hence new services can now be embedded into existing infrastructure.

The impact on CIOs will be to reduce the requirement for capital expenditure, and reduce technology obsolescence risk. CIOs will be able to build tailored on-premises and cloud-based services to suit their near-term needs, safe in the knowledge that they have the flexibility to reflect their future needs.

It does not come without any risks at all; an investment roadmap and clear target architecture remain essential. These should be pragmatic and realistic, but they don’t have to be based on single product families or single clouds. A mixed environment is not only possible; it is likely to be a lower-risk solution, particularly for the medium term.

Building these target architectures and roadmaps is where understanding the software-as-a-service and communication-as-a-service markets, and the technical challenges brought about by the integration of these cloud services with on-premises technology, is essential.

The challenge for CIOs looking at UCC afresh is to investigate how cloud delivery is changing the playing field, how the new models fit more closely with the new enterprise economics, and ultimately, how they can start down a path that gives them future flexibility.

Scott Cain is head of design, development and consultancy services for BT (News - Alert) in the U.S. and Canada.

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi