IP telephony has made it possible to integrate a business’s communication devices — instant messaging (IM), presence information, video conferencing, internet meeting, social media etc. — to enable its employees and other stake holders to collaborate better in real time, paving the way for unified communications.
One of the most significant advantages of unified communications (UC) is the ability to send and receive messages over different media seamlessly — say sending message over IM and accessing the same through voicemail or email. At a higher level, UC facilitates e-commerce, m-commerce, stock information and other enterprise applications.
Businesses can now leverage a cost-effective and highly scalable cloud environment to host their communications network infrastructure. For the uninitiated, cloud technology leverages the Internet to host hardware and software applications, and delivers its services ‘on-demand’.
This feature is makes it cost-effective, with significant reduction in investment on infrastructure and flexible options such as ‘pay per use’. Some of the most widely known types of cloud computing include:
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – where physical and virtual computers are offered on the cloud
- Platform as a Service (PaaS) – where computing platforms such as a programming environment are provided as a cloud service
- Software as a Service (SaaS) – where software applications and data are hosted on the cloud and accessed through a web browser
- There are other types of cloud computing such as Storage as a Service, Network as a Service etc which we shall dwell on in detail in the coming days.
Unified communications applications are deployed over a cloud platform through virtualization . Virtualization, as the term suggests, is to hold a computing system, be it server, operating system or storage device, in a virtual version of the physical and/or local system.
This way, applications like email and web conferencing, enterprise telephony, messaging etc are hosted on a virtualized private cloud platform. UC is also offered as a service (UCaaS) by many leading vendors like IBM, HP and Cisco. Under UCaaS, applications are subscribed as monthly services with a per user fee. As a result, cloud-based communication solutions are enabling companies to move from a CAPEX to OPEX model.
Businesses across industries including have begun to realize significant cost benefits through deploying cloud based UC solutions. A Frost & Sullivan research shows that basic call control and voice features moved into the cloud can deliver savings to the businesses in the range of $300 to $500 per line.
Leading service providers like HP and IBM are setting the course for a new era of hosted UC using cloud. For example, HP’s alliance with Microsoft to offer enterprise level UC solutions is a powerful offering in the market.
The solution enables ‘on net’ calls, which refers to calls that are hosted on the enterprise’s data network. Some of the key features includes cloud phone, cloud click-to-dial, and cloud converged communications (enables mobile users anywhere to collaborate with their contacts through their mobile device by text, voice, video or data).
As of December 2012, around 25 percent of companies are currently using cloud-based UC systems, with more than half of them planning to have a higher dependence on cloud in 2013. More interestingly, around 42% of non-cloud users are looking to deploy cloud-hosted phone systems in the coming days. The significance of cloud-based enterprise collaboration is only bound to increase.