The Race For UC In The Cloud - Is Avaya Too Late?

23 Jul 2014

If you regularly follow our UCStrategies portal, you'd be right to think that it's all about the cloud these days. Other important trends are also getting our attention, namely WebRTC, mobility, social media and video - but these have more to do with how UC is actually used and experienced. Stepping back to look at the architecture needed to support all this is where the cloud discussion takes over.

Most tech trends are vendor-driven where demand must first be created from the sellers rather than the buyers. There are many reasons for this, but vendors tend to have a lot of levers to get IT to adopt their latest offerings. Nobody was asking for VoIP initially, and who knew that session border controllers were going to be so important? Some will argue otherwise, but the SBC vendors have carried the day on that front.

This brings us to UC, which is finally becoming demand-driven, but it's taken a long time. Since UC isn't a point solution that addresses a specific problem, the value proposition has always been a challenge for vendors. Since UC can be an all-encompassing communications/productivity solution, the buying decision is strategic - certainly more so than for an IP PBX replacement. Being strategic means a longer, more complicated buying process, which is another reason why adoption has lagged expectations.

Being strategic also means looking at UC's overall impact on the network. With UC touching all ends of the communications spectrum, this is very much about what is best for IT and decisions about network infrastructure. The broader the discussion becomes about what UC could do for your business, the bigger the questions become about your network and the deployment model for UC.

How the cloud is changing the UC game

As you know, the cloud has been gaining traction for everything under the sun lately, and IT seems to be going all-in. The cloud has become the de facto model for business applications, and now communications applications. Furthermore, the cloud is emerging as the home for the network itself, practically eliminating the need for physical infrastructure. This is where SDN and NFV become part of the conversation.

Overall, this seems almost too good to be true, and if IT sees a viable option to shift spending from Capex to Opex, they'll take it in a heartbeat. Moving all this into the cloud solves a lot of problems and gives IT some breathing room to catch up on the trends cited earlier. Savvy IT managers now see that their long-term value will be about leveraging these trends to make the business more competitive rather than trying to build the most efficient network.

There's a lot more to the story here, but the main idea is that the UC demand pendulum is now shifting from sellers to buyers. Not only does the cloud suit IT's budget, but it takes complexity off their hands, and its seems that giving up the network control they've long built their empires around is a fair price to pay.

While network infrastructure will take some time to become cloud-based, IT seems willing and able now to make this their home for UC. Most UC deployments remain premise-based, but intent is clearly for the cloud, and in my view this is a tipping point where demand is finally buyer-driven. This is great news for UC vendors, but it also presents a new challenge in meeting buyer demand.

Can UC vendors adapt in time?

UC vendors have spent a lot of time and money building this market, but when they started, it was primarily a premise-based play. During this long cycle of creating awareness and interest, the cloud has come along quickly, and for some, out of the blue. In essence, buyer demand for UC was so-so when it was premise-based, but now businesses really want it if it's in the cloud.

This shift has caught vendors somewhat off guard, and, it's been interesting to watch them go into overdrive now to get their UC solutions cloud-ready. The most recent example is Avaya with their Collaborative Cloud, which has been "fast tracked" to meet demand. Nobody wants to be late to the party, and Avaya is simply going with the flow along with the other UC vendors in both the office and contact center environments.

To a large degree, these moves are being made because enterprises want the cloud now, and each vendor's installed base must be protected at all costs. Collectively, however, these UC vendors must also respond to a rising competitive threat from non-conventional players who are natively based in the cloud and/or the Web. As network infrastructure continues to find its way into the cloud, the winners will be those who have the most robust, scalable, secure and cost-effective cloud platforms - rather than those with the most clever UC applications.

As such, the race to the cloud for UC is very much on - and for everyone's sake, let's hope it doesn't rain. While premise-based solutions suddenly seem archaic, the cloud is still not proven as the ultimate successor. UC vendors are betting heavily that it will, and Avaya has little choice but to "fast track" this shift in order to retain their customers, even if the financial returns are uncertain. Along the way, however, channels face existential challenges to stay in the game, and carriers may well emerge the big winners by leveraging their customer relationships and vendor partnerships into a rock-solid UC offering.

What's the forecast?

You may not have expected the cloud to be this disruptive, but it's happening before our eyes. This is far from being an orderly market evolution, and the cloud may rain on the UC vendors and channels despite their best intentions. It's too soon to know whether Google, Amazon or even the likes of SAP or Apple/IBM will be the true rainmakers for UC, but anything is possible.

To make the right bets for your business, you need to know the pulse of this market, and UCStrategies has all the bases covered. We can't forecast the weather, but you won't find a more comprehensive set of industry perspectives anywhere else, and I hope you take full advantage of what's on tap, as we all need to learn from each other. We're happy to share our knowledge here, and hope you'll do the same so we can figure out together what the future holds for UC.


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