The Curious Case of Zang Office

[Editor's note: For breaking news on Avaya's financial situation and bankruptcy filing, see "Avaya Ends Speculation, Files for Bankruptcy Protection."]

About a year ago at Enterprise Connect 2016, Avaya rolled out its Zang cloud CPaaS (communication platform as a service) solution and simultaneously announced Zang Spaces, a team collaboration tool built on the Zang Cloud (see, "Avaya Steps Up its Platform Game"). Since then, even as the parent company scrambles to fend off going into bankruptcy, it appears the folks over at Zang have been zinging along with development efforts as it now offers a UCaaS solution called Zang Office.

Zang Office is a designed to be an affordable, cloud-based phone service that is easy to set up and has features required for companies with fewer than 250 users today, scaling to 1,000 users in the near future. Customers can sign up online and choose from one of three packages: Basic, meant for shared spaces such as lobbies and conference rooms; Standard, targeted towards a typical, in-office user; and Power, designed to meet the needs of power users and remote users.

Pricing of the three packages is $15.95, $21.95 and $31.95 respectively, which seem very reasonable for the SMB segment. However, Zang is currently offering a deal where customers that commit to a year will receive a 50% discount (see pricing details here). The service includes unlimited domestic minutes, voice mail, custom music and music on hold, a virtual receptionist, and intercom for up to five users on the starter plan. Customers can sign up for monthly, annual, or multi-year subscriptions.

There are four types of clients available for Zang Office: a free app for Mac and Windows, a mobile app for iOS and Android, the Avaya E129 SIP deskphone, and Avaya B179 conference phone. Although there is only one physical handset available today, Zang told me the next release, expected in March, would support more handsets and WebRTC. The next release will also include bundling with Zang Spaces and integration with other cloud platforms such as Google Apps and Office 365.

The Zang Office solution appears to be a robust UCaaS solution with a roadmap that puts it on par with other players in the market. However, there are a few questions that linger. First is the relationship to Avaya IP Office. Both address roughly the same market segment, although IP Office scales to about 6,000 users in a dual cluster environment.

During a recent briefing, Mo Nezarati, GM of Zang, explained that Zang Office was purely born in the cloud, and was not based on any Avaya technology. This explanation contradicts both the Zang Office website -- which states, "With Avaya telephony as our backbone, you get decades of secure, always-on, easy-to-maintain calling but with a revolutionary pay-as-you-go model!"-- as well as conversations I had with an Avaya reseller and sales engineer, who claimed Zang Office was based on the IP Office platform.

Based on that information, I recently tweeted that Zang now offered "Cloud IP Office" in an effort to clarify that the target market is the same as the traditional IP Office, and not the customer segment traditionally targeted by Avaya Aura. This was apparently not well received, as I received a response from Nezarati asking if I slept through his briefing, where he indicated that Zang Office was based on the Zang tech stack, which is what I had previously expected.

Clearly, there is inconsistency in the messaging on the corporate website vs. what is being explained, which must be clarified.

A more important question, however, to be clarified is how will Zang Office be integrated with Avaya's partner channel. To date, Avaya partners have not had a pure cloud offering to sell. The below graphic illustrates Avaya's cloud strategy. It's a little incomplete, as it does not include the Avaya-branded "Powered by Google Cloud" offer, which partners can resell, but most don't.

The major difference between the Zang Office and the "Powered By Avaya" options is that IP Office in the cloud isn't a true cloud offering. To customers it's certainly close enough; they will pay a per user, per month fee. But with Cloud IP Office, the reseller needs to deploy and maintain an IP Office instance per customers since the product isn't a multi-tenant solution. If Avaya wants its resellers to offer cloud solutions built on its technology, it would make more sense to let them leverage the Zang cloud stack versus IP Office.

The big advantage of IP Office is that with release 10, it now supports hybrid deployments where the core is hosted in the partner cloud but there are still local branch gateways for registration and failover. For partners with a large Avaya install base, the cloud-based IP Office makes sense. But for those that want to use the cloud service to steal share from another on-premises vendor, a Zang-based solution might prove to be a simpler deployment model since it doesn't require multiple instances of the same workload as dictated by the Avaya-powered approach.

Another point of curiosity for me is when and if this becomes available through Avaya distribution. Right now Avaya is offering a commission on the subscription amount, which I have heard is in the 10% range. This could prove to be a nice option for resellers that want to sell cloud but not maintain a cloud instance.

The last lingering question is the limit of 1,000 users. I understand that 3,000 user limit for IP Office since that's a physical limit of the underlying platform, with larger customers being directed towards Aura. But since Zang Office is "born in the cloud," shouldn't it be able to scale to tens of thousands of users per customer? This may be an artificial limit that Zang has set to give the product a focused market opportunity, but many mid to large enterprises are now considering cloud and Zang is shutting itself out of that opportunity. I understand that enterprises could use Zang for branch offices, but most large enterprises I've talked to wouldn't deploy a solution in that way. It might get some pickup from a foreign multi-national with a small footprint in the U.S., but those are corner cases and not the norm.

With Zang Office, Avaya offers their partners options. For partners who offer both IP Office and Data Center offerings, the "Powered by" solutions provide an opportunity to differentiate based on the power of their combined portfolio. There are, however, a lot of channel partners who do not offer these related product sets, and the ability to resell a pure cloud solution managed by Zang is a tool that has been largely missing from their toolkit.

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