Hosted Exchange provider Intermedia launched a hosted Unified Communications (UC) offering targeted specifically at SMBs in late February, as Carl Weinschenk noted on Unified Communications Edge.
The UC service is based on technology by Unison, a software firm specializing in an all-in-one server solution that replicates the UC offerings designed for larger companies.
Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, observed that the complex integration of hardware, software, and obtaining service from multiple vendors has put unified communications "out of reach for most SMBs." However, SMBs do need the same capabilities as larger businesses, "but delivered as a service that is simple to set-up, easy to administrate and backed by 24x7 support." Intemedia's offering levels the competitive playing field and achieves this, says Osterman.
As I was not familiar with Unison, I filed the original press release and accompanying analyst briefing slides sent by Intermedia aside, and only just got down to pore through the details.
Like the stand-alone version, the hosted Unison service incorporates telephony, e-mail, instant messaging, presence, contacts and calendaring service. On its FAQ page for Unison, Intermedia wrote that "You can synchronization e-mail to almost all popular devices, such as the BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Mobile or Nokia smartphones." Do note, though, that this is not the same as support for full synchronization for other types of data such as calendaring, to-do lists (Unison does not support this) and contacts.
With the server component hosted by Intermedia, the various functionalities are accessed directly from the included Unison Desktop client, which runs on Windows or as a Linux (Ubuntu) desktop client. Intermedia has done some integration work on top of Unison, and is also offering Web-based access for anywhere e-mail access; Unison does not come with support for Web mail.
According to the Intermedia product page, the pricing for Unison Unified Messaging Plan, which does not come with telephony services, is just $10 per user per month. If you want telephony, then you're looking at Unison Unified Communications Plan, which costs $50 per user per month. Telephony service includes the creation of telephone numbers, provisioning of the service, as well as unlimited calling within the United States.
It is unclear at this point whether telephony will be supported outside the U.S., or how integration with third-party telephone providers not on Intermedia's recommended list will be done. The number of users for both plans starts at five users.
So will SMBs benefit from the availability of a hosted UC solution? Intermedia thinks so, and pointed out that SMBs are already increasingly adopting the component services that makes up UC. In this context, combining them will serve to help reduce cost and improve productivity.
Detractors might argue that Intermedia is doing nothing beyond hosting and selling the Unison solution. Since becoming a paying customer of Intermedia's hosted Exchange server late last year, I have had a front-seat view of the company's real-life performance in terms of support and problem resolution. So while I did not actually give the service a spin, I am confident that not only will SMBs benefit from the savings in capital costs, they will also see their migration requirements and support needs ably met.