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Need Cloud Communications Services? Talk to Your Telco

Even in a world where technology and hyperbole often go hand in hand, it's clear that the cloud wasn't overhyped. Every business is running something in the cloud these days, and in a few years, more than half of all business applications will live permanently in the cloud. Cloud futurists got it right: The cloud is the future of IT.

It's also the future of communications. A BroadSoft survey released earlier this year found that 90% of enterprises prefer a hosted or cloud-based model for their communications. The same survey revealed that cloud-based unified communications (UC) is expected to grow 3X to 7X over the next few years. It's a number that telcos are watching closely as they build out their own cloud infrastructures to compete for this new demand. The question is: Will telcos be able to out-compete over-the-top (OTT) app developers and the "Web scale" cloud providers to deliver a cloud communications experience that's reliable, scalable, and affordable?

Just as in the early days of voice over IP (VoIP), the first generation of free communications apps such as Skype got something of a free pass where quality and reliability were concerned. Over time, however, expectations for hosted, cloud-based communications have risen and, today, customers are starting to expect the same levels of quality and reliability in the cloud as they do from a traditional telco network. These expectations comprise a "winning formula" for those cloud-based UC providers that hope to succeed in the growing cloud communications market. That winning formula consists of five key ingredients that enterprises require from hosted, cloud-based communications:

One of the main reasons that enterprises are reluctant to change from premises-based UC is a fear that their mission-critical communications will become less reliable and available in the cloud. Cloud communications providers need to demonstrate that shifting communications into the cloud is seamless in terms of the user experience and expectations. The more nines you can guarantee in your service-level agreement, the more likely that enterprises will feel comfortable moving their internal and external communications into your cloud.

Enterprises are increasingly talking about things like "always-on" encryption, consistent policy enforcement, and PCI DSS compliance in their communications. This reflects the fact that we live in an increasingly mobile and global environment where information -- especially customer data -- is a kind of currency among hackers and other malicious agents. Historically, the cloud has not been synonymous with security, but that sentiment is changing as cloud communications providers avail themselves of new technology such as session border controllers that provide Web scale protection against Denial-of-Service attacks.

The cloud has become a hotbed for new ideas and applications; in fact, many apps are launched first and exclusively in the cloud (known as "cloud-native apps"). As a result, enterprises expect cloud-based communications to include more features and with more frequency than traditional communications services. In the case of UC-as-a-Service (UCaaS), a robust set of features is vital, as enterprise workers are more likely to fill in feature "gaps" with third-party cloud apps, which gives rise to shadow IT and concerns around policy enforcement and security.

This is a burgeoning area of interest for enterprises driven in part by the emergence of big data. As enterprises bring in more data (including non-structured data) into their analytic environments, they're increasingly interested in adding call center and other communications data into the mix. Cloud-based communications systems therefore need to support the collection of call data to feed that information into an enterprise's business intelligence system.

The cloud transformation is part of a broader network evolution happening in carrier networks today. Video services, 4G/LTE and now 5G are converging with cloud services to create a new kind of telco network model. The new network will be easily scalable and flexible, leading to faster service creation and more granular levels of customization. This transformation is being driven by three main network initiatives:

Whether telcos can dominate the cloud services space, or simply share space with a new generation of Web scale networks and an army of app developers, enterprises stand to gain from the increased competition and heightened innovation. Telcos certainly have an inside advantage in the cloud communications space, especially among enterprise customers that are looking to migrate their existing communications into the cloud with minimal disruption. It will be interesting to see how new technology shapes the cloud experience in the coming years, but one thing is certain: Competition to deliver that experience will be fierce and that's good for enterprises.