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Unified Communications is a mess, and Oracle's trying to clean it up

Very few enterprises can claim to use UC products from just one vendor.

Saying that multi-vendor UC is hard to deploy is as gross an understatement as saying the Yankees overpaid for Jacoby Ellsbury. In both cases it makes sense on paper and may work out OK in the short term, but over the long haul, both may not provide the original value that was sought out.

Unlike the Yankees, telecom managers now have some help with their problem, as this week Oracle announced the Oracle Enterprise Communications Broker, a product of the acquisition of Acme Packet made earlier this year. The Communications Broker is designed to act almost as a "Rosetta Stone" for the various UC vendors who claim to interoperate with one another, but only do so to a limited extent.

In its press release, Oracle cited a Frost & Sullivan data point that 69% of enterprises use multiple UC vendors. This may be true in the aggregate, but ZK Research shows that once you get into large enterprises, the number using multiple vendors is over 90%. Even organizations that try and standardize on a single vendor eventually wind up bringing in others.

For example, I remember talking to one of the IT leaders at a large U.S. bank, who said they had actually tried to standardize an all-Cisco deployment. A few months after making that decision, they acquired a bank that was using Polycom video, and then a few months after that acquired another that was using Avaya’s UC platform. They had considered trying to replace every system with Cisco, but the cost would just be too great. Additionally, B2B collaboration is on the rise, and while one might be able to control the internal environment, no company can decide to collaborate only with organizations that have the same UC vendor.

So multi-vendor UC is a reality today and it’s a pain to implement. Oracle’s new product simplifies network operations by eliminating the vendor incompatibilities at the session protocol layer. The Communications Broker also controls the routing of the sessions between the various voice, video and other UC systems. Oracle is positioning this product as the core layer of its larger enterprise communications architecture that would tie together its session border controller, session controller, session recorder, WebRTC session controller, operations manager and session delivery suite.

In addition to normalizing the unique vendor protocols, the communications broker can significantly reduce operational expenses by creating a central point to manage enterprise dial plans rather than having to manage dial plans on multiple PBXs and UC systems. When I was in IT I was responsible for dial plan management for a short period of time, and it’s a headache like no other in the communications space. It takes enormous amounts of time to get right, and if it’s not, everyone notices.

The Communications Broker also has some policy management capabilities to enable organizations to use private networks and reduce tolls costs by routing calls based on time of day, route costs, user identity, and destination.

When Oracle bought Acme Packet there were some questions about how committed Oracle would be to the enterprise segment that Acme Packet had been aggressively pursuing. The Communications Broker is a nice complement to the Enterprise Session Border controller to help enterprises pull together multiple vendors systems and also tie together virtual, cloud and premise-based systems. The new product does show that Oracle has put some thought into where the UC pain points are today, and that’s doing something to mask the complexity that holds organizations back from deploying UC more aggressively.

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