Since its inception, the Unified Communications as a Service market has struggled to attract large enterprise customers, a segment that hasn't been keen on outsourcing its communications because of security concerns.
In 2012, the mind-set of these companies shifted, as larger vendors and service providers started aggressively building hosted and cloud-based unified communications (UC) services specifically targeting the enterprise, said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Mokena, Ill.-based Nemertes Research Group Inc. He shared his view of the changes the UC as a Service (UCaaS) market experienced this year.
"The market has historically targeted small-to-midsize businesses, but we are starting to see larger companies kicking the tires and asking questions about UCaaS," Lazar said.
UCaaS: Enterprises persuaded by hybrid cloud options
Cisco has made headway with its Hosted Collaboration server, a virtualized architecture that's designed to support cloud-based and hybrid collaboration environments. The offering is attracting larger buyers, and is prompting other UC vendors -- like Microsoft and IBM -- to build out their own cloud-based UC offerings to target enterprises.
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Enterprises are taking baby steps with hybrid cloud technology as they explore cloud-based UC, Lazar said. "2012 saw larger companies keeping some of their UC on-premises and some in the cloud. Many companies don't want to run their Exchange servers anymore, and have started with applications like Google for email and chat."
Even though enterprises want to mix and match cloud-based and on-premises UC tools, the two must be connected in order to promote UCaaS adoption. "Enterprises are trying to figure out if there is an opportunity to tie cloud platforms -- like Google -- back to their on-premises UC tools so they can have functionality like click-to-call and presence," he said.
Some service providers -- like NextPlane -- have already begun building interconnection capabilities for enterprises. NextPlane now offers federation services between Microsoft Lync and cloud-based tools, like Skype, for video.
"Users need a seamless UC experience, whether the tools are residing in the cloud or on premises," Lazar said. "We are seeing enterprises looking for flexibility and choice. They don't want to be forced into the cloud, but move only what makes sense."
UCaaS: Service providers entering the ring
UC vendors aren't the only ones vying for attention with enterprise-grade cloud-based offerings. Service providers like Verizon entered the playing field last year with hosted UC services. In some cases, these service providers are bolstering another vendor's cloud-based UC platform with additional services. "Companies that may have moved to cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 for mail, instant messaging and video will still need something else for voice," Lazar said.
Cloud-to-cloud federation for UC applications also appeared among cloud providers in 2012, Lazar said, noting that customers using hosted voice services from ShoreTel Sky can have call control on Salesforce.com. "We started to see cloud applications federate over the past year. Once enterprises begin to see this kind of functionality available from a cloud provider, it may lean them a little harder towards the cloud for UC," he said.
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