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Integrating cloud-based UC applications for the branch office

The cloud is everywhere, or so IT articles and conference agendas would lead one to believe. It's fair to say that it's an increasingly frequent topic of conversation among IT leaders as they develop their cloud-based unified communications

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(UC) and collaboration strategies. Enticed by the potential of moving to cloud-based UC applications to reduce costs, improve flexibility and enable new services, they are also wary of the lack of cloud services maturity, enterprise-support issues and security considerations, especially for branch offices.

As companies increase the number of branches (with some even classifying home offices as a branch), they are faced with the growing challenge of how best to deliver an ever-increasing array of communications services to a distributed workforce. By moving to the cloud, IT managers hope to reduce or eliminate the need for dedicated staff to support these remote locations, while increasing the speed of application deployment, which includes the integration of Voice over IP, video conferencing and mobile devices.

Growing numbers of branch office workers require the same level of collaboration capabilities as those in large offices. Nemertes Research survey results show that IT leaders are responding, with 86% of companies extending their telephony platforms to the branch, 77% deploying instant messaging, and 73% delivering video conferencing. Another 89% of companies provide web conferencing for branch workers to share applications and documents.

Cloud-based UC application strategy requires on-premises integration

For those evaluating cloud offerings, especially in larger organizations, few find that the decision to use a cloud-based service is an all-or-nothing proposition. The need to maintain some on-premises services is common for a variety of reasons, including legacy-asset protection, existing customized applications, security and information-protection concerns.

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Some companies have embraced cloud-based services from Google or Microsoft for part of their collaboration architecture. These don't offer UC features like telephony or interoperability with room-based video-conferencing systems, however. Therefore, a successful cloud strategy isn't simply a mass migration of all applications to a service provider's infrastructure. Instead, it means mating cloud services with on-premise platforms to enable features like presence integration across cloud-based and on-premise applications.

Fortunately, a number of UC vendors are meeting this need. Esnatech and NextPlane deliver gateways to enable feature like presence federation between on-premises applications and cloud-based services. Using these gateways, users could enable a Google Chat or Office 365 client to change presence status when on a call using their on-premise Avaya, Cisco, Mitel or ShoreTel telephony system. Other vendors, like Siemens Enterprise, are building gateway functionality to cloud services directly into their UC offerings.

All of these examples provide IT architects with a path that allows them to embrace the cloud where it makes sense while continuing to leverage on-premise platforms where required.

Integrating UC platforms: Make sure you have the tools you need

Successfully integrating on-premise UC platforms with cloud services requires legwork. Talk to your vendors (both cloud and on-premise) about their capabilities and future plans to support cloud and on-premise integration. Make sure your monitoring and support tools allow you to troubleshoot problems and avoid finger-pointing if something breaks. Understand that cloud and on-premise vendors upgrade their applications at different speeds, so what works today might break (hopefully temporarily) in the future.

For more information on UC applications for the branch office, check out how to deal with deployment issues for virtual UC applications.

This was first published in May 2012

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