Is Cloud Communications Inevitable?
Enterprise acceptance is on the rise and vendor commitment growing...
We've been hearing for a few years now that communications will be moving into the cloud eventually, though enterprises have been reluctant to move particularly fast on this. But I've recently seen a few signs that suggest the pace of the migration may pick up.
Growing enterprise acceptance: Our most recent No Jitter Research survey, results of which we'll soon publish on No Jitter, asked our audience about their adoption of cloud-hosted services. We found that companies of 1,000+ employees are well on their way to adopting cloud communications, and are even likelier than the survey base as a whole (i.e., all size enterprises) to have begun adopting cloud services. Overall, 28% of our survey respondents said they're using cloud for PBX functions, while 30% of enterprises with 1,000+ employees are doing so. The gap is even bigger when you look at unified communications (defined in the survey as IM/presence, conferencing, voice and video calling): For the overall survey base, 34% are using cloud-based UC -- while 41% of the subset with 1,000+ employees are already doing so.
This year's results also showed significant movement compared with last year's version of the same survey. We changed this particular question a bit this year; last year we didn't have a "UC" option broken out, but we did have PBX as a choice, and the percentages were significantly smaller: 20% of the overall survey base used cloud PBX in 2015 (vs. 28% this year); and 22% of the 1,000+ size enterprises used cloud PBX last year, compared to 30% this year.
Vendor push: All the vendors talk a good game about the cloud, but we're starting to see them taking action that's worth paying attention to. Cisco has clearly put all its weight behind Spark, not just as an application, but as a cloud-based collaboration service. Rowan Trollope, who heads Cisco's Collaboration business unit, recently wrote this in a blog post:
"If we saw ourselves as a leading on-premises UC system manufacturer, I'm not sure we would have ever introduced Spark at all. We'd be very wary of upsetting the applecart. Instead, we see ourselves as a collaboration business. Every day we come in thinking about how we can create the right collaboration tools, rather than thinking about just a better phone or the ultimate video conferencing system."
Proving this point, Cisco opted to integrate Spark with the Apple CallKit API that gives UC applications access to native device functions in the iPhone. Cisco chose not to release a similar integration for Jabber, the UC client that's most associated with legacy Cisco UC CPE, at the same time as the Spark announcement (though it promises a Jabber integration is coming). On No Jitter, mobility expert Michael Finneran criticized this decision as not paying enough attention to the installed base; I take his point, but I also get why Cisco would push users toward the future course it's charting.
Like Cisco, Microsoft is all about the cloud for communications these days, making the Office 365 version of Skype for Business its clear focus for this platform at the recent Ignite event, as UC consultant Kevin Kieller reported on No Jitter. Kevin wrote that Microsoft is putting "all eggs in the cloud basket" when it comes to Skype for Business, and here's the data point he included that convinced me it's serious -- he wrote that in conversations with him, company representatives "suggested that Microsoft has focused 95% of the Skype for Business engineering resources on Skype Online."
Back when voice over IP was new and a lot of people wanted to believe it'd never work, we used to ask that same question of every vendor representative we interviewed: How much of your R&D budget are you spending on TDM? The answer was always zero, or close to it. That told you what you needed to know.
So yes, the same caveats apply now as then: The vendors need to protect their installed bases (heck, there's still plenty of TDM still out there). And even Trollope's vision of the future isn't completely immune to the demands of current customers and financial realities. There's no danger of vendors slapping an "end-of-life" sticker on every communications product in your datacenter or closets.
But they've made their decisions. Now you have to make yours.