Here’s how the cloud is reshaping UC

New cloud computing models are reinvigorating the UC market and opening up new opportunities for companies, their employees, and manufacturers of audio devices.

Cloud Computing

Not so long ago, cloud computing was a concept still largely unexplored by the corporate world. In just a few short years, new cloud computing models and market players have spurred new approaches to managing IT resources and deploying UC.

Unsurprisingly, these developments have far-reaching implications for how companies will operate in the future and what tools they’ll need.

The rise of “as a Service.”

If I asked you to imagine the IT department of a typical company, chances are you’d picture a server room full of humming computers and busy IT folk rushing to and fro between them. For many businesses, this is still very much the case.

But this is no longer the only scenario. Companies now have the option to move their IT infrastructure into the cloud. This shift from on-premise to cloud computing has given rise to new “as a Service” models, such as:

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

With IaaS, a company outsources computing capacity into the cloud and moves its present applications and data setup to cloud servers. This lets the company maintain full control of its software but run it on the supplier’s cloud hardware.

Examples: Amazon Web Services, Rackspace, GoGrid.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

PaaS supplier provides a set of tools that a company uses to create its own cloud applications in the supplier’s environment. The company is limited to the available languages and tools but can develop applications quickly and run them quite cheaply.

Examples: Google App Engine, Microsoft Azure, Force.com.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

With SaaS, a company rents off-the-shelf software, which runs in the cloud and is fully serviced by the supplier. The company’s employees can access the same software from any computer or mobile device, which greatly improves collaboration. There’s also no need for any in-house IT development.

Examples: Google Docs, Office 365, SalesForce.

Here’s a great look at how these cloud models are reshaping the business IT landscape:

From traditional UC to UCaaS

What does all of this have to do with unified communications? Well, it just so happens that UC is going through the same transformation as we speak.

Back in the day, companies had their own telephony infrastructure that was managed by an on-site department. Nowadays, it’s the IT department that manages communications via UC deployments. But even this model is being challenged.

UC deployments used to be major projects that involved lots of stakeholders, IT resources, and hardware changes. They required extensive planning and could span many months. Companies had to set up costly VoIP and UC infrastructure to make things work. For smaller firms, such UC rollouts weren’t really an option at all.

Enter UCaaS, or Unified Communications as a Service.

UCaaS is basically a subset of SaaS that focuses on UC-related applications like messaging, video conferencing, online meetings, and the like. It has picked up steam since 2014 and will only become more popular in the future.

The benefits of UCaaS

Using the UCaaS model makes UC more accessible to companies and offers many benefits:

  • UCaaS is cost effective: There are no upfront expenditures. Companies don’t need to invest in VoIP/UC infrastructure or hire additional IT staff. Instead, they pay for the service on a regular basis, based on how many people are actually using it.
  • UCaaS is scalable and flexible: Companies can quickly test a solution with a limited number of people or locations, then roll it out easily by simply moving to a higher plan. Similarly, companies can scale down if fewer employees need to use UC.
  • UCaaS is reliable: Since there’s built-in data redundancy on the supplier’s side, companies don’t risk losing their data and setup.
  • UCaaS is more integrated: All employees using the same UCaaS have access to the same data and tools through the same interface. When there are updates or upgrades, these are rolled out for all users in the same way. More than that, UCaaS software is usually compatible with other cloud tools, so users face fewer compatibility issues.

The impact of UCaaS on business

The cloud has opened up new opportunities for businesses to manage their IT and UC setup. Established, larger companies have the option to shift some or all of their setup to services like UCaaS. There are even “managed IT services” providers who help firms transition from legacy systems to UCaaS by assisting with data migration.

But perhaps the biggest impact UCaaS has is lowering the barriers to entry for companies just starting out with UC. SMBs with limited internal resources can now rent UC tools at will. As such, UC is no longer the domain of large corporations planning big rollouts. A two-man firm can have a working, off-the-shelf UC solution up and running in a matter of hours, if not minutes.

At the same time, every person using UCaaS still needs communications devices like headsets and speakerphones. Perhaps even more so with UCaaS, because headsets now need to work with multiple devices—from smartphones to laptops to tablets—instead of just being optimized for a specific UC platform.

In upcoming posts, I’ll touch upon what the emergence of UCaaS means for end users, IT managers, and companies making communications devices.