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Cloud-based unified communications adoption may have started off slow, but momentum is building as enterprises are more readily signing up with providers like Google for email, and Salesforce.com for customer relationship management and collaboration.
Just as enterprises need their on-premises phone, videoconferencing and collaboration tools to be integrated for single sign-on functionality and ease of use, they now expect the same from cloud-based applications. As Unified Communication as a Service (UCaaS) adoption grows, so will the need for UC cloud federation.
"There is desire right now to join cloud-based, mixed-vendor UC [unified communications] and collaboration applications in the cloud, and I think that will be much more important and demand will increase in the next few years," said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Mokena, Ill.-based Nemertes Research Group Inc.
Third parties facilitate UC cloud federation
Even though enterprises want federated UC and collaboration tools, vendors are hesitant to open up their technology to integrate with competitors. Third-party federation specialists are emerging to make UC cloud federation happen. Vendors believe federation can expose their propriety technology and install base to competitors, said Elka Popova, program director of UC and collaboration at San Antonio-based Frost & Sullivan Inc.
Esna Technologies, a Canadian cloud-enabled UC and collaboration provider, offers Cloudlink, a software offering that allows businesses to federate their Google apps, Jive social software and Cisco's cloud-based collaboration into a single interface. NextPlane, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based UC federation service provider, offers federation services through its UC Exchange offering for enterprises using software and cloud-based offerings from Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Google and Jive.
"NextPlane offers federation services that are unique, because they are not offered by UC vendors today," Popova said. "As a third party, they don't have vested interest in making federations between certain vendor offerings more challenging or easier."
"As companies move to the cloud, UC doesn't have to be a disjointed experience," said Lee Ho, vice president of marketing for Esna. "All UC capabilities -- like click to dial, presence and instant messaging, and even Cisco's WebEx for meetings -- are all integrated within the application [employees] are used to."
Esna's Cloudlink software sits between the two UC applications -- like Voice over IP (VoIP) offering and collaboration software, or cloud-based email -- to proxy calls and coordinate between the two applications, said Dave Ballins, director of channels, North America, at Esna Technologies.
What federation services are enterprises asking for?
While there isn't widespread demand for UC cloud federation services today, enterprises will demand such services as UCaaS adoption grows, Popova said. "It will take time for IT decision makers to understand the value of federation services, and become familiar with the available options."
More on cloud federation
Enterprise Connect: Cloud-based UC federation has to happen
Federated identity management key to cloud-based UC
UC milestones in 2012: UCaaS
Since many enterprises are kicking off their UC cloud strategy by moving to Google for email, many vendors will probably kick off federation efforts by opening their technology to Google Apps.
"I expect to see UC and collaboration vendors start to seek this kind of federation with Google Apps because Google is less of a competitor in the UC space," Popova said.
Some UC vendors -- like Siemens -- already have a native capability to federate their applications with other UC vendors, Nemertes' Lazar said. "The vendors will start to develop the capability to federate because there's always the fear that a UC vendor could buy a company like Esna, which would leave other UC vendors out in the cold."
While cloud federation with Google Apps may be a good starting point for vendors, many companies also want cloud-based UC applications to federate with Salesforce.com because the customer relationship management Software as a Service provider is currently the most popular UC cloud service provider, Lazar said.
Some cloud-based phone systems -- like 8x8's VoIP phone service -- already have the ability to federate with Salesforce.com, Lazar said. "When users look at a client’s record in Salesforce, they can click to call through the phone controls on the Salesforce interface and the call will go out through 8x8," he said.
"Federation between cloud-based UC apps and Salesforce is crucial, but the demand for other UC cloud federations will increase as the UCaaS market grows."