Tom Nolle
Tom Nolle is the president and founder of CIMI Corporation and the principal consultant/analyst. Tom started his career as a...
Read Full Bio >>

Tom Nolle | September 28, 2012 |


A Cloud's-Eye View of UC

A Cloud's-Eye View of UC We are clearly being driven toward a future where all applications will be composed from hosted functional elements, which can include UC--if UC vendors get on board.

We are clearly being driven toward a future where all applications will be composed from hosted functional elements, which can include UC--if UC vendors get on board.

Everyone knows that the big over-the-top (OTT) players like Google and Microsoft (now with Skype) aspire to offer very UC-like services that are hosted in "the cloud". Everyone probably accepts that these services could be a major threat to UC. Similarly, everyone probably recognizes that mobile services and smartphones are creating device-side momentum for a new UC model that would also likely involve the cloud. It sure seems like the cloud is the enemy of UC. Not so. It might even save it.

Arguably, the OpenStack initiative--which is aimed at promoting a broadly supported open model of the cloud--is providing thought leadership in the cloud's evolution. One of the ways it's demonstrated that leadership is in defining an application program interface (API) to control the network services that support applications in the cloud. This API, called "Quantum", is based on a virtual network model that can then be provisioned (by special software shims and components) onto virtually any network infrastructure. This latter process, by the way, may be how software defined networking (SDN) hooks to the cloud.

There's more to Quantum than SDN, though. What's really interesting about it is the way it looks at virtual networks. The current state of the art, Quantum-wise, is that a cloud application's view of any "network" consists of a virtual LAN connecting the application components and also some hosted service processes. A LAN in today's IP world needs a router to connect it to the rest of the world--what IP calls the "default gateway". Quantum defines that element in a model. The virtual LAN also needs to have IP addresses assigned, so DHCP is part of a Quantum model too, and so is DNS for address resolution. The point is that Quantum extends the notion of a "network" from being simply a connection mesh to being a complete service framework.

So why not do this for UC as well? Couldn't we define a UC process as being one of Quantum's existing network models plus some UC-specific components? Could a "virtual LAN" be visualized as a department within an enterprise that has a set of internal rules for connection, linked to other departments in the company by a "gateway"? If so, isn't a directory of users something like DNS? Surely all of the functional elements of a modern UC system could be mapped to this network-plus-hosted-component model.

Doing that would be way more than just an intellectual exercise or a step toward "cloudwashing" UC as a concept. UC as a monolithic, static vision of communication and collaboration can't survive in a dynamic world. We have BYOD issues today, and as mobile devices are enhanced to suit the demands of that highly competitive market, their basic communications services will enhance too.

How are we going to integrate these new services into a monolithic, non-cloud-modeled, UC? We aren't, and a failure to do that sort of integration not only for mobile devices but also for cloud applications, telepresence, and even cooperative editing at the application level will wall UC off from the worker activities where UC's justification must be created and sustained.

This integration process has to start by visualizing UC in component terms--in cloud terms--and then specifying the interfaces by which each of these UC components can be accessed. Even the best of the UC vendors today don't really support an open-component model for their stuff, and there's no harmony at all in how the componentizing might take place. You can't build a cooperative system for UC in the cloud if everyone has a different vision of what the pieces are.

Why aren't we already doing this? Because UC is stuck in the basement, standards-wise. We're looking at low-level protocol specifications or simple application APIs and not at inter-component connectivity or at the hosting of open sets of UC components to be orchestrated on demand by users. I don't think there's even a standards group with the mandate to do something like this. I can't find any meaningful discussions on the topic online either, and vendors aren't pushing the idea in their product material. A few users have suggested to me that they've raised the component-model UC vision to vendors and find that the vendors resist it, preferring proprietary strategies to ones that could promote a user-driven mix-and-match deployment of multiple vendors' elements.

That's the kind of thinking that kills an industry. We are clearly being driven toward a future where all applications will be composed from hosted functional elements, elements that can include UC features if UC is willing to make itself compatible with the software direction overall. If current UC products and vendors don't conform to a cloud-component model, then linking them to more modular applications will be increasingly difficult and other players will step up to fill the gap. Google and Microsoft will certainly be happy to push their cloud UC services in a cloud-component direction. Apple will too, and maybe even Amazon. And then where will UC as we know it end up? A five-dollar app on Apple's store?

UC is a network service, a cloud service, in a conceptual sense. It's an element in getting work done, and as such it has to be framed in the same language as the rest of the application tools that support workers. We can still do that, by opening a discussion on a model of cloud UC. But we've only got a little time left.


April 19, 2017

Now more than ever, enterprise contact centers have a unique opportunity to lead the way towards complete, digital transformation. Moving your contact center to the cloud is a starting point, quick

April 5, 2017

Its no secret that the cloud offers significant benefits to enterprises - including cost reduction, scalability, higher efficiency, and more flexibility. If your phone system and contact center are

March 22, 2017

As today's competitive business environments push workforces into overdrive, many enterprises are seeking ways of streamlining workflows while optimizing productivity, business agility, and speed.

April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.