Is the Cloud Right for Unified Communications?
IBM Global Services debuts a new offering aimed at helping enterprises answer that question.
We're hearing a lot of talk about the role that cloud computing will have in running enterprise communications, but there hasn't been a lot of real-world experience to draw on. That's one reason that IBM Global Services is launching a strategy and assessment consulting service specifically aimed at helping enteprises determine if the cloud is the place they should be headed with Unified Communications.
I had a chance to speak with Jeri Korkki, IBM Global Service Category Leader for ICS Cloud Services, who's spearheading the new effort. He told me there's a natural progression in which enterprises start looking to the cloud for test and development work, for which they don't want to keep adding servers on site, and they typically look to the cloud for storage. Once these pieces of low-hanging fruit are plucked, desktops and Unified Communications are the logical next places to look.
The consulting offer that IBM GS is putting out there begins with data collection at the customer--interviews and assessments to determine what exactly the customer is starting with, from a UC perspective. Then IBM will work with them on developing a solution strategy that encompasses migration and future goals, and then they start determining what can be served in the cloud.
"It always starts with: Is this an opportunity to get savings," Jeri said. "Then it moves to: What do I lose?" Typically, the perceived or real loss of enterprise control over the function being outsourced, and concerns about security, dominate this portion of the discussion.
One thing that became clear is that there's almost no typical path through this process, because every enterprise is at a different place in its UC migration, and in what it needs. One enterprise may keep telephony, i.e., call control, in-house, but outsource Web conferencing to the cloud; others that are at a different point in the telephony migration may be more easily able to take advantage of moving call control into the cloud.
Also, the industry that you're in may dictate your approach to cloud communications. Financial companies, which have tended to be skeptical of the cloud, will likely have more concerns about moving communications functions outside their firewall, Jeri said. And considerations like bandwidth consumption play a role in using the cloud, especially when you're talking about delay-sensitive communications applications.
I asked Jeri about how the carriers/telcos are coming along as cloud providers, and he said many of their hosted offerings are really just an IP-PBX or whatever the app is, running identically as it would in the customer's datacenter, but instead living in the carrier's network--not necessarily garnering the economies of scale that hopefully will evolve as more virtualized communications software starts getting deployed. Also, he noted that the carriers have less experience in the applications area than in lower-level capabilities like call control.
Jeri acknowledged that email has proven to be a logical choice for many enterprises to outsource to the cloud, because it's a pretty straightforward server application, without a lot of value-add in doing it yourself. The big challenge here, again, is making the enterprise comfortable with security provisions in the cloud, Jeri said.
He said that, while IBM's own Lotus Live cloud offering is certainly a strong candidate, "We're not the sales arm of Lotus Live," and that IBM consultants stress the need to come up with the best answer for the individual customer, without a bias toward Lotus solutions.