OTT and Cloud Communications, the ALE Way
A hybrid approach provides a promising twist on familiar over-the-top and cloud stories.
As Greg Collins, technology analyst and strategist with Exact Ventures pointed out earlier this week in a No Jitter post, the over-the-top wave is surging, with one OTT service provider after another rolling out communications and collaboration apps with enterprise teams in mind. We've got hot independents like Atlassian's HipChat and Slack's eponymous app, and, increasingly, competitive offerings from companies more traditionally associated with enterprise communications -- Cisco's Spark, Glip by RingCentral, and Unify's Circuit, for example.
To Collins' point, this month alone we've seen the debut of at least three new OTT options -- services that enable communications and collaboration via IP rather than the public switched telephone network (PSTN). We've got Mitel's MiTeam, which No Jitter covered in the early March post, "Mitel's Lineup to Include MiTeam;" and, as announced from the keynote stage at Enterprise Connect, Zang Spaces from newly created Avaya spinoff Zang (see "The Yin and Yang of Avaya and Zang" and "Avaya Steps Up its Platform Game"). That leaves us with Alcatel-Lucent Rainbow, another OTT communications and collaboration app that made its debut at Enterprise Connect.
Into the Cloud
So let me share a bit about Rainbow, representative as it is of the OTT trend but also part of a much bigger story about where Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE) is heading. As to that latter point, the quick explainer is "into the cloud," of course. But ALE is adding a twist with its approach to cloud communications, as I learned in talking with Matthieu Destot, newly appointed EVP and GM for ALE's Communications Business Division.
Digital transformation, and the new user experiences enterprises aim to achieve through it, has inspired ALE to rethink its operating model, Destot said. While once a "cloud enabler," he said, ALE now intends to be a three-layer cloud services provider that enables connectivity from premises-based telephony systems to the cloud.
Rainbow, as an OTT app for instant messaging and presence, voice and video communications, and screen and file sharing, fits in at Layer 1, Destot said. This, in part, is about investment protection -- enterprises can use Rainbow regardless of what communications gear they have on premises. "Think of it like using WhatsApp. It won't matter what PBX you're on. You will get the same experience."
To stand out in the crowded OTT market, ALE will offer Rainbow as a freemium service beginning in June, Destot said. Between consumer and enterprise apps, "we think the value of anything going over the top between two smartphone users is going down to zero. So we will offer ours free of charge, in the freemium model."
Enterprise versions, offering advanced capabilities such as app integration, directory synchronization, and click-to-call functionality, will be available beginning in the third quarter. ALE will charge a per-user monthly fee for the enterprise-grade Rainbow app, and enterprises will get the benefit of reduced telephone bills as traffic flows between Rainbow users over the top or on net, Destot said.
At Layer 2, ALE is providing connectivity from any vendor's communications gear on premises to the cloud via a plug-and-play architecture it calls Cloud Connect (see graphic below), due later this year. Operationally, Cloud Connect will provide new opportunities for business partners offering ALE-based managed services via a permanent XMPP link between authenticated and authorized entities, Destot said. The partners will be able to tap into real-time data from the ALE OpenTouch and OmniPCX platforms and use the insight in enriched management and security services.
At Layer 3, ALE will connect the Rainbow platform into the PSTN and allow traditional service providers to carry "enriched UC" calls across their networks. "We'll be controlling the flows, but giving the traffic and revenue opportunity back to the carriers, Destot said.
Via a subscription-based model due next year, ALE looks to support what it calls "verticalized" applications, such as it already does in its hospitality strong suit. It will support vertical API integration for healthcare and other industries.
While the roadmap deliverables are yet to come, ALE's hybrid approach is a promising twist on the familiar OTT and cloud stories. And, this approach certainly does play to the trend that Collins pointed out in the earlier mentioned article. That is, "[m]essaging and social media applications are becoming the focal point for the communications experience, not the dialer app."