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Unified communications integrated in the cloud

By James Bond, vice president of product and software development, Apptix, special to Network World
September 16, 2010 11:25 AM ET
This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Network World - Unified communications (UC) as we know it today is flawed. The initial investment is simply too high for the return, partly due to the cost of each component and the fact you need gateway servers and software to tie the disparate systems together. Even then there's no guarantee the products will play nicely with one another, meaning you have to add a line item to the budget for troubleshooting.

Enter cloud-based UC, a solution that is fully integrated before deployment and can be beneficial for companies of all sizes, not just massive enterprises with matching budgets.

But first, what exactly makes up UC? There are many options but most industry watchers agree that at the heart lies a messaging or e-mail solution. The standard UC makeup adds instant messaging (IM), presence awareness and telephony (normally in the form of VoIP) on top of the messaging component. A true UC composition, however, should also include file services, SharePoint (or another collaboration solution), voicemail integration –– like what you would find with Outlook Voice Access for Microsoft Exchange –– and potentially Web conferencing.

So UC is often comprised of seven services, but most companies typically have only two or three of these that are actually engaged and integrated. For in-house IT departments, getting more integrated can be challenging, requiring staging/operating budgets as well as a full-time staff –– and that doesn't even deliver half of what UC can be.

Cloud-based UC relieves this burden from IT, providing a package that works regardless of internal infrastructure or staffing. Through the cloud, a bundle of services can be purchased and, aside from activating a VoIP phone service, be up and active within an hour.

Obviously the benefits of UC are numerous –– the enhancements to collaboration, flexibility and efficiency have been well documented. What is not often discussed are the benefits of UC-in-the-cloud compared with an in-house operation.

Cost is an area where cloud-based UC shines. It offers incredible cost savings when compared to in-house, thanks in large part to eliminating the need for hardware, software and licenses. Alongside the reduced need for hardware and software, staffing costs can be easily managed, as cloud UC doesn't require a large team of internal experts to deal with upgrades or maintenance, all of this is handled by the service provider and is included in the monthly cost of the UC service.

Add to this the fact that cloud-based UC provides the same redundancy we have come to expect from a cloud service (think Amazon EC2 or OpSource), and it looks like in-house solutions are not even playing on the same field. And this is before you factor that UC in the cloud offers greater geo-diversity. With more companies turning to dispersed staffing systems as well as remote consultants/freelancers, the ability to make sure all employees have access to communication solutions is imperative while the inherent redundancy of the cloud increases reliability and prevents data loss during outages.

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