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"We grow by acquisition. Two years ago, we had 67 contracts across nine providers and had 25 different PBX systems running," explains Strohschein. "The decision to use a cloud-based unified communications system was an easy one to make as we moved to consolidate our telephony services."
Great Expressions did have to make some modifications to its underlying network infrastructure in order to implement cloud-based telephony service to all of its clinics. But the company is saving upwards of $40,000 per year and is enjoying a unified monitoring window into its overall UCaaS services that it could not get previously.
The Gartner UCaaS Magic Quadrant report released late in 2011 failed to identify a clear leader in North America, which might deter larger enterprises from jumping in. The companies Gartner identified as challengers are Microsoft, Verizon, Cisco, Google, AT&T and West. The visionaries included M5 Networks (since purchased by ShoreTel), Thinking Phone Networks, Cypress Communications and PanTerra Networks.
"The problem with the market at this point is that the companies we believe have the ability to scale, don't necessarily have all the pieces of the complete UCaaS picture in place yet," O'Connell says. He added that Microsoft is poised to shake up this market as Office 365 gains traction, and if the Redmond giant can convince enterprise IT that its underlying VoIP technology can deliver the uptime enterprises require.
Microsoft is quick to rebut criticisms of its linchpin UCaaS technology -- Lync 2010. Group product manager B.J. Haberkorn notes that just one year after its release (that milestone hit in December 2011), Microsoft could boast that 3 million enterprise users were relying on Lync for their telephony services.
"The basic underlying telephony is pretty well understood across the industry. We didn't need to set out to solve that problem because it was already solved. Our customers are coming to us because they are looking for the cloud-based VoIP that has natural integration with their applications," Haberkorn says.
Monitoring/management as a service
One of the fundamental fears of enterprise IT moving to the cloud has been the lack of visibility into both the applications running there and the underlying health of the cloud networks.
"There is a huge opportunity for cloud service providers to serve up some real-time analytics of what is happening in the cloud," says Chris Smith, a marketing executive at Cambridge, Mass.-based Cloud Technology Partners.
Applications running in the cloud are by definition highly distributed across available computing resources. "So what that creates is an incredible dependency upon the application communications over the network in a way that we've never seen before," adds Molly Stamos, director of products at Silicon Valley startup Boundary, which is focused on providing continuous visibility into network and application traffic flows in public cloud environments.
Stamos stresses the real-time nature of her company's monitoring -- as opposed to other products that take a sampling of application health -- because "the difference between knowing what is happening with your application after two seconds of downtime versus five minutes could prevent a lot of lost revenue," Stamos says. Obviously, collecting data at this rate means Boundary also must offer a very high-capacity data analytics engine. Stamos contends the Boundary system can currently handle 17 billion records and the engineering team is looking to increase that capacity to a half trillion records per day by the end of the year.