When it comes to enterprise trends, unified communications (UC) has begun to hit its stride, with analysts, media and enterprises alike touting its benefits. Indeed, as Gartner recently stated, “The enterprise UC market continued to mature over the past 12 months and is now considered by Gartner to be entering the early mainstream adoption phase.” But while the opportunities are vast, enterprises, as well as service providers, need to have a comprehensive strategy in place to ensure successful UC deployment.
There are varying definitions of UC; however, it can be broadly defined as integration of real-time and non-real time communication, with supporting services ranging from voice mail to instant messaging to presence to video conferencing. What these services all have in common is the ability to elevate the way in which enterprises have traditionally collaborated, ensuring productivity and optimized communication across devices and geographies.
When an enterprise is ready to adopt UC, there are many considerations that must be taken into account: Which platform to choose; which deployment model is best and how it can best prepare the corporate network for the demands UC will bring. The service provider also plays a key role in ensuring that the enterprise is enabled with the right capabilities for a successful deployment.
There are a wide range of UC platforms available today; however, one that is seeing extensive exposure in the industry and widespread adoption among enterprises is Microsoft (MS) Lync. According to recent industry research, MS Lync is currently deployed in 90 Fortune 100 companies and boasts five million Enterprise Voice users. MS Lync provides a variety of differentiators, including a truly integrated solution and platform using one client, versus many other offerings that combine different software and services to create a UC solution. Other advantages of MS Lync include integration with existing Microsoft services, compatibility across devices and operating systems, mobile and web apps, support for multiparty HD videoconferencing, and the ability to work with third-party services such as Skype.
In addition to selecting the platform that best fits the business, enterprises must evaluate the three main deployment models, each of which offers distinct advantages and disadvantages. The most traditional deployment option is on-premises, in which the enterprise hosts the equipment on-site; this equipment may or may not be managed by a service provider. This model can be costly and inefficient to maintain, but it provides the most control for tailoring the service and also has the most extensive buy-in among enterprises. Recent research by Dimension Data indicates that between 21 percent and 36 percent of UC applications are currently premises based but managed by a third party, with an even larger percentage of enterprises interested in deploying this model in the next two years. The hybrid model, which splits UC between the cloud and on-premises deployment, provides a balance of control and cost savings. Enterprises might consider this model in order to keep certain services, such as voice, on-site, and as an intermediate step to a cloud UC. The final deployment model, cloud, provides significant Opex and Capex savings as well as an enhanced ability to focus on core competencies with the service provider hosting the UC offering from its data center.
With the myriad choices in platforms and deployment models, enterprises should not lose sight of what is perhaps their most important consideration: how they can successfully integrate UC into their network. The current enterprise network is highly fragmented; enterprises are often using MPLS for latency-sensitive applications and the Internet for other connectivity requirements. Services such as video are significantly taxing bandwidth, as are the sheer number of devices that company Wi-Fi is expected to support. Ensuring that UC can be successfully integrated requires an in-depth look at network resources and usage patterns—something that should be an ongoing process, not just done during initial network deployment. The enterprise will also require guaranteed QoS and prioritization of latency-sensitive applications such as voice, and it can leverage the capabilities of platforms such as Microsoft Lync as well as the right Session Border Controller (SBC) to achieve these goals.
The service provider is just as responsible as the enterprise is for UC success. With the majority of enterprises leaning toward a managed on-premises solution, service providers should seize this opportunity to be a strategic partner for enterprises in UC implementation and management. The key for the service provider is to take a holistic approach—one that encompasses its network and the enterprise WAN. The service provider can assist the enterprise in ensuring that its network is best architected to meet the bandwidth demands of UC and to support the increase in the trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). The service provider can also ensure that the chosen SBCs (often deployed on both the carrier and enterprise networks) are scalable and built to meet the demands of UC. There are several SBCs today that are actually certified to support platforms such as MS Lync, as well as new offerings that provide unlimited scalability by being cloud-based. Finally, service providers can take advantage of capabilities such as Software Defined Networking (SDN) to prioritize key traffic and ensure QoS.
Although integrating UC may seem like a complex process, the comprehensive benefits UC can provide make it well worth the effort. By carefully evaluating network and business goals and selecting the right service provider, enterprises can evolve how they collaborate organization-wide and ensure maximum return on their UC investment.
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