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Whatever Happened to UC? Cloud, That's What!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

by Steven Bruny, EVP, Global Operations, Ribbon

We've been helping hundreds of the world's largest Communications Service Providers (CSPs) transform their networks, as one of the first movers in the Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) movement. As our customers continue to move steadily and swiftly toward 4G/5G/LTE readiness, those same customers are leveraging their next generation networks to build new business based on Software Defined Networking (SDN)-based services for large enterprises and for channels selling to small and medium businesses, monetizing their transformations by rolling out new services.


Among these new services are entire suites of Cloud Communications offerings, most disruptively collaboration applications enabling even the most dispersed teams to work productively, and most creatively interactive messaging platforms enabling brands to connect with consumers across multiple channels (Over the Top or OTT services, more convenient mobile contact center solutions including those delivered through social networks, artificially intelligent bots answering questions in context, human agents assisted by cognitive computing for faster and better answers, and much more).

Unified Communications (UC) isn't over yet, and in fact it has paved the way for Cloud Communications which happens to unify everything. By this we mean that, in the traditional sense, UC extended traditional phone systems to mobile devices, using VoIP, security software and mobile applications to make it possible for employees to work from anywhere, as more and more people no longer needed to "be in the office."

At the same time, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) improved the quality and economics of connecting headquarters and branch offices, enabling CSPs to sell voice and other UC services to their business customers, replacing the now ancient "tie lines" with virtual private lines often mapping to the Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) which flew off the shelves over the last two decades. Enterprise networking contracts, often three years at a time, were put in place for Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), directing data from one network node to the next based on short path labels rather than long network addresses, avoiding complex lookups in a routing table, and speeding things up (including UC services).

Today, however, VPNs and MPLS networks, also not over yet but aging compared to newer networking technologies, are being impacted by Software Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WANs) which leverage the public Internet, but are tuned to perform at extremely high levels, with huge economic advantages and less vendor lock-in. These SD-WANs are running over the very networks our customers have recently transformed or are continuing to transform - as software continues to eat the world.

Why Cloud Communications are the Bigger Payoff for CSPs and Channels than Old Fashioned UC

Cloud Communications, which are cloud-native, and "unified" by default, have the opportunity to fundamentally change how work gets done inside businesses, and how those businesses deliver awesome experiences to their customers.

New Cloud Communications approaches differ substantially from traditional hosted and managed services, as all Real-Time Communications (RTC) will be delivered in the cloud in the coming years, following on the huge success of Cloud Computing.

While some observers may believe Cloud Communications is just window dressing on hosted PBX and managed services solutions that have been available from CSPs for years, they are missing the true disruption and with the "chasm" Cloud Communications has created - with NFV and SDN, we are in a whole new ballgame.

Cloud Communications offers enterprises a lot more elasticity and agility, as they can scale their networks and services up and down, adapt to M&A activities, completely redefine their contact center operations, and add new features and functionality on the fly.


The most advanced CSPs we work with are making it possible for their enterprise customers and business channel partners to "spin up" private networks as easily as spinning up virtual machines, which drove the success of Cloud Computing. Now, however, CSPs are able to provision endpoints, including "phones" but not only phones, on software-driven infrastructure the CSPs have put in place on top of their transformed all-IP networks.

Similar to the hosted PBX model, but with a lot more potential, CSPs are building the required networking and computing infrastructure within their own data centers, or in those run by partners, and sell access to this infrastructure to their customers. Cloud Communications goes way beyond old notions of UC, however, when platforms like GENBAND's Kandy make many more web and mobile web applications possible, including extending tech giant productivity apps like Microsoft Office and with new features given the new "Open Telco" world growing each day as new APIs are rolled out.

While hosted and managed solutions technically exist “in the cloud,” and extend beyond the enterprise firewall, they lack the on-demand agility that we witnessed changing business for the better as Cloud Computing took over. Hosted and managed services are fixed, contracted solutions that an enterprise customer is committed to, and are not flexible, not elastic and therefore not as attractive as Cloud Communications which can morph based on demand for endpoints, for more bandwidth, for more security layers, and so forth.

Cloud Communications services are now being delivered by challengers to CSPs, including Google, Microsoft and most recently Amazon, who have launched productivity platforms on their own massive infrastructures. Rather than rely on CSPS to deliver their software to enterprises as an old fashioned hosted or managed solution, these tech giants have started selling their RTC platforms directly to the enterprise customer via their clouds.

From Threat to Opportunity: CSPs Can Deliver Better Cloud Communications Given Deep Expertise in Quality of Experience 

This is a threat to CSPs, but it is also an opportunity, as CSPs have the DNA for quality, consistency, service levels, security, resiliency and general reliability, which is greatly important, in particular, for mission critical, real-time communications in financial services, government, healthcare and more. And this is where our CSP customers are succeeding - their investments in transforming their networks make their networks better than those of the challengers. And point in fact - many "Tier One" operators are selling tonnage to the Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other tech giants, including Salesforce, as these companies recognize and value NFV/SDN networks beyond just "Internet access."

Reintegrating applications and data (for example Interactive Voice Response, or IVR systems and corporate directories with a cloud platform can take time and require special interworking, another growth area for CSPs and their channel partners. Cloud providers have no idea at this point in time how to handle interworking or legacy software vendors as the march toward Cloud Communications continues. CSPs, with their investment in specialized devices such as SBCs and signaling gateways, provide the extremely important interworking - and only they can provide this because they made the investment in network transformation over the last few years.

Virtualization has significantly changed how enterprises and businesses now communicate and operate. Virtualization and private cloud services eliminate the capital expenditures associated with old unified communications platforms. Our Kandy platform, for example, turns capex into opex & associated with the overall resources needed in the on-demand world.

Enterprises can deploy Cloud Communications by replicating the approach of public cloud offerings. IT teams can adopt a similar per-user cost structure and bill back Cloud Communications & services to & business units in much the same way as they have been billing back the expenses associated with VMs in data centers.

IT teams can also streamline operations by rolling out self-provisioning, enabling their internal clients in different business units to allocate additional communications resources and choose features and functionality based on each end-user's role.

In summary, Cloud Communications is becoming one of the biggest payoffs following network transformation.

Not only does network transformation pay-off in reducing the costs over the long haul to operate networks, but it enables launching and management of these new software driven Cloud Communications services that are inevitably going to replace PBX and related "UC" services.

Why? Money talks - it’s cheaper from a capex and opex perspective, it scales better, and it allows enterprises to deploy new communications features to internal users faster, while also dramatically improving ways the business can engage with their customers and partners.

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