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Unified communications integration: Single vs. multi-vendor environments

Enterprises must choose between a single or multi-vendor environment for their UC strategy, as unified communications integration becomes critical.

Increased UC integration is what users are demanding. Enterprises have a choice to make: stay with a single vendor to meet their UC needs, or build a multi-vendor environment that focuses on the best features and functionality. While it may be tempting to choose one vendor to mitigate interoperability and integration issues, a multi-vendor environment allows the enterprise to pick and choose technologies that best fit the needs of its users and its business.

The choice can vary based on the size or the industry of the enterprise. Some companies choose to stay with one vendor for ease of use and guaranteed interoperability across all their email, voice, video conferencing, mobile and real-time communications and collaboration platforms. Other enterprises may have business units with different needs, and require feature-specific UC platform options for their users.

UC integration: Overcoming interoperability issues

Interoperability is critical for UC, because users want their communication tools to work with each other seamlessly. While enterprises may have shied away from multi-vendor environments in the past, many are rethinking their strategy, as vendors make their UC offerings to "play nice" with the products of other vendors, noted Ira Weinstein, partner and senior analyst at Wainhouse Research. "Integration is the whole point of UC, but that's what makes it so difficult [for vendors] to expand it."

There are several vendors in the UC market that have experience providing cloud services, presence and interoperability within their platforms, according to a recent study by Osterman Research, a Black Diamond, Washington, analyst firm. "When it comes to interoperability, there is the potential for [vendors] not to work well together," said Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research. "Enterprises must be selective -- it's all in how you choose the right vendors to integrate with."

Bryan Mundy, network operations manager for the city of Westerville, Ohio, recently achieved UC integration with a collaboration application server from Esnatech, which combined the city's use of Google Apps and a SIP-enabled Mitel phone system. The Esnatech product integrated the Mitel IP telephony system with the city's Gmail and Google Talk and presence services. This integration was a primary requirement for Westerville when it was recently migrating to the Mitel phone system. "The users absolutely love the flexibility of access to voice messages straight from Gmail," Mundy said.

Westerville has saved money with its hybrid-cloud, multi-vendor environment. Other enterprises can also save on UC and telephony costs with a mixed-vendor approach, noted Osterman.

"One of the real advantages to a [multi-vendor] approach is [enterprises] don't get that vendor lock- in," he said. "[Enterprises] that take this open approach usually have a lower price for UC, in addition to being able to mix and match more granular capabilities different vendors have to offer."

More on UC integration:

UC Magic Quadrant: Dangers of a single-vendor approach

Consolidating UC vendor platforms for UC integration

UC integration: How safe is a multi-vendor approach?

UC integration may be easier for large enterprises

Large enterprises appear to be using multiple vendors in their UC strategy, noted Osterman. "From the mindset of these decision makers, it's better price, best technology," he said.

Multiple vendors are especially attractive to larger enterprises with multiple business units that have diverse needs for UC applications and features, noted Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research. "Different teams within the enterprise may need a platform for just voice, while another may use video conferencing," he said. Departments within a large enterprise are looking for the best features for their business processes. It isn't one size fits all.

"It's rare to see a single-vendor environment outside of an SMB," he added.

The emergence of hosted UC service offerings provides enterprises another way to adopt a multi-vendor environment.

"From a customer perspective, [hosted UC] seems like a single-vendor solution even though it's not," said Lazar. These hosted-UC service providers supply good front-end UC integration and customer support that can make a multi-vendor service resemble a single-vendor environment.

As vendors continue to work on their own product lines, it may become more compelling for enterprises to stay with one vendor, Weinstein said. 

"The vendors are realizing they don't have each feature locked down yet," he said. "[Vendors] are playing catch-up in the UC arena, and are now filling in the blanks with acquisitions and partnerships."

Vendors have also begun forming strategic alliances for better UC integration with other vendor platforms, while still offering a best of breed approach for the enterprise, noted Lazar. 

"I think we are going to see a mixture of 'if I can't win it all, I want to win my part,'" Weinstein said. "[Vendors] must realize that the customer drives the choice, and right now the solution is to support a multi-vendor environment."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, News Writer

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