Shifting Definitions Complicate UC Deployments

Carl Weinschenk

The growing popularity of unified communications is, of course, a good thing for the vendors and others in the sector. Inevitably, however, success generates confusion. In this case, the issue is over the shifting definition of terms used to define hosted and cloud-based services.


This is more than a semantic debate: A basic understanding of the differences between the ways in which services are provisioned is important for companies -- both enterprises and small- and medium-sized businesses trying to cut through the marketing hype and technical jargon to map their best path forward.


Cloud computing-based UC is hot:


  • On April 15, Cisco and CSC announced what they call a unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) platform aimed at Fortune 1000 companies. The platform is based on Cisco's Collaboration Portfolio and offers converged voice, mobility and data services to desktops and enables telephony, voicemail, conferencing and unified messaging on a utility-based per-user pricing model, according to the company.


  • On April 20, eight companies-Alteva, Broadcore, Callis Communications, Consolidated Technologies, IPFone, SimpleSignal, Stage 2 Networks and Telesphere-announced the Cloud Communications Alliance. The consortium's stated goal is to create a nationwide IP-based network and offer customers access to a menu of applications and services in an on-demand-style environment.


  • On May 5, SimpleSignal and Cloud Commerce announced a partnership to provide VoIP and unified communications from its cloud. The companies say customers can opt to have their IP PBX on site or run remotely.


These and similar announcements -- such as a deal between Netformx and and the introduction of the Laszlo Webtop Cloud -- continue the theme of making UC functions available in the cloud. An important task for IT departments and telecommunications planners getting pitched with such plans is to understand the difference between hosted and cloud computing.


"Ninety percent of the time it's OK [to use terms interchangeably, but] at some point you have to put a stake in the ground and define your terms."

Jay Arnold,
J Arnold & Associates

It isn't easy, though. As with many hot areas, especially those in which technology meets marketing, there is a big fuzzy area. "There is a lot of confusion right now," said Dave Gilbert, the chief operating officer and founder of SimpleSignal. "The category is trying to define itself."


The two terms are used with a lack of precision and often overlap. Dean Parker, president and CEO of Callis Communications, a VoIP provider in Mobile, Ala., and one of the members of the fledgling Cloud Communications Alliance, said that indeed there is a difference-and a big one.


"Hosted is a closed point-to-point network in which a phone communicates with a PBX in a data center," Parker said. "When we refer to cloud PBX, you can have a point-to-point network like the hosted PBX, but you also can have a sandbox and tools such as APIs, SOAP and SDKs, to build applications in the cloud. Having those tools plug into the cloud lets people build apps that are relevant for their business."

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