More enterprises are considering a cloud-based approach to unified communications, but their definition of cloud is a little hazy.
Cloud-based unified communications (UC) historically has been an attractive option for small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs). SMBs appreciate the pay-as-you-go pricing model and the benefits of offloading UC management from small or nonexistent IT teams. These businesses do not face the same security or regulatory requirements of some enterprises, so multi-tenant cloud-based UC is a viable option.
While cloud UC adoption numbers are still higher for SMBs, larger deployments are going to start happening more often, said Nemertes Research Group analyst Irwin Lazar. The majority of enterprises are interested in dedicated or single-instance offerings, such as Cisco's Hosted Collaboration Solution, or a hybrid cloud approach in which cloud UC is deployed only within their branch offices.
Enterprises evaluating and moving UC into the cloud have a different set of requirements than SMBs. They require more customization and control over upgrades than their smaller counterparts. This can be achieved through single-instance cloud-based UC that is hosted by a third party, typically a partner or service provider an enterprise may already be using, like BT or Verizon. Another option is a private cloud approach, a strategy in which enterprises keep their UC on virtual servers within their own data center, Lazar said.
Global imaging company Fujifilm participated in a cloud UC case study panel at Enterprise Connect moderated by Blair Pleasant, president of consulting firm COMMfusion LLC. The enterprise, which has 60 locations in North America, discussed its hybrid cloud approach, a strategy that involves both hosted and dedicated UC.
In an effort to unite the company's disparate businesses in 2009, Fujifilm's internal communications systems had to be revamped, said the company's IT director, Allan Feeney. The legacy phone systems were replaced with Google Apps for collaboration and Cisco's VoIP services, tied together by Esna Technologies' UC federation service. Fujifilm has nearly 5,000 users on its communication system today, Feeney said.
"The [cloud UC trend] is going across all sizes, geographies and all types of verticals. I don't have a conversation with customers that doesn't involve cloud," COMMfusion's Pleasant said.
Moving enterprises into the cloud
Enterprises considering moving UC into the cloud, either to a dedicated environment or to a multi-tenant cloud infrastructure, should evaluate their UC needs. Some components -- telephony, for example -- may have to stay on-premises for some companies while other tools, like Web conferencing, can be moved to the cloud.
Research from Frost & Sullivan indicated that 43% of large companies were using the cloud for voice and unified messaging, compared to just 12% of smaller businesses. This may be explained by the fact that global enterprises need to connect a growing number of remote workers and branch offices, Frost & Sullivan analyst Elka Popova said.
For enterprises interested in the cloud, Lazar suggests starting with commodity IT applications, such as instant messaging, email and calendaring tools. In 2014, 55% of SMBs compared to 17% of enterprises were using cloud-based email and calendaring tools. An additional 17% of enterprises were considering moving their email/calendar platform to the cloud in 2015, according to Nemertes Research.
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