This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY
The exact definition of cloud communications is still up for debate, but a general agreement is being reached on a few key points.
First, cloud communications applications use the network as their platform, instead of traditional platforms like programmable switches or SDPs. Also, cloud communications applications are heavy with Internet protocols and approaches, and are light on traditional protocols like SIP or SS7.
Finally, instead of communications being the main functional component, communications takes a back to seat and supports other functionality. A great example would be a calendar application that uses text messaging or IVRs to confirm appointments. The communications components support the main goal of the application, but aren't the application itself. If you were to take out the communications aspect of the offering, you still have an application. Contrast this with traditional communications applications like a call center. If you were to remove communications from a call center, is there anything else to the application? Maybe so, but not much.
This fundamental fact creates a unique problem for communications engineers: the level of minimal technical competence has radically increased. Since these new applications use the Internet as a platform, the number of technology choices is much larger than was traditionally available, and from suppliers that might be unfamiliar to the average engineer.
A relatively pedestrian example would be the availability of on-demand computing resources, such as from Amazon's Elastic Computing Cloud. A traditional approach to sizing a communications application would be to measure traffic patterns, then build out hardware to accommodate peak usage. The modern approach is to marry software with on-demand servers to assign dynamically resources based on traffic, substantially reducing the capital outlays required to deploy an application. As a direct example of this approach, companies like Twitter and Twilio (News - Alert) are providing their cloud communications services to millions of subscribers without the traditional requirements of large buildouts and capital expenditures.
As a more exotic example, inbound call centers that focus on collection of shipping addresses can automate most of that process by collecting caller IDs and matching them with address data now freely available through Internet interfaces provided by the U.S. Postal Service. I'm willing to bet that a very small number of communications engineers look toward the post office for communications components.
The situation is not much better for business people. By definition, cloud communications applications serve vertical markets where industry insight is critical for success. There are only a small handful of traditional applications: PBX (News - Alert), conferencing, long-distance, find-me/follow-me, prepaid calling. The number of applications that can be communications enabled is nearly without limit. To illustrate, let's pick one small segment of one vertical, like the disease management segment of health care. In this small segment, we can communications enable appointment reminders, medication reminders, post-discharge surveys, remote assessments and care transitions as patients leave facilities – and this list doesn't even include the 20 or so specific diseases like diabetes or congestive heart failure that can be addressed individually with applications. So, instead of thinking about the dynamics of the prepaid market, communications- focused business people must now understand the intricacies of thousands of vertical markets.
The Cloud Communications Summit is an opportunity for those involved in the creation of next- generation applications to meet to compare notes, debate approach and establish relationships with other practitioners. For once, we are facing a market where technology maturation is not the biggest issue: Web as platform programming is maturing rapidly. For once, we are facing a market where the business case is not the biggest issue: Cloud communications business cases have margins that put minute models to shame.
For this particular market, at this particular time, the biggest issue and rarest commodity is imagination. Once the idea is unlocked, the execution is a straightforward matter. This is why the summit exists. Through interaction and dialog, through direct example of what worked and what didn't, practitioners walk away with a larger toolbox to draw upon for their next offering.
I hope you'll join us.
Thomas McCarthy-Howe (News - Alert) is with Light and Electric.
The Cloud Communications Summit is an opportunity for those involved in the creation of next- generation applications to meet to compare notes, debate approach and establish relationships with other practitioners.
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi