The cloud computing frenzy continued at Enterprise Connect 2012 in Orlando last week as Avaya and NEC rolled out branded business UC public cloud services and other vendors took to the stage and exhibits to display their cloud offerings.
Avaya announced the Avaya Collaborative Cloud, a scalable framework designed to provide choice and extensibility for its customers to “use, build, deliver, and enhance” cloud communication services and applications. Although during the past several years Avaya has provided customers with products for building clouds, this announcement is the first comprehensive view of how Avaya and its enterprise customers and partners will create and consume cloud services. Avaya’s first public cloud service, AvayaLive Connect collaboration services for small and medium businesses (SMBs), features integrated UC voice, voice conferencing, messaging, video, mobility, and presence for PC, Mac, iOS and Android device remote and mobile users. Subscribers should be able to self provision a virtual machine in the cloud dedicated to their organization with phone numbers and extensions within minutes rather than hours. Avaya’s second public cloud service, AvayaLive Engage, is a rebranding of Avaya web.alive which features an immersive virtual 3D environment for remote meetings, training, sales, and support.
NEC Corporation announced UNIVERGE Cloud Services Unified Communication-as-a-Service (UCaaS), a suite of voice, data and video services accessible via a Web client on PCs, smartphones and tablets. Options include IP telephony, unified messaging and voicemail, audio and video conferencing, Web collaboration, presence and IM, and contact centers. These business cloud services are available in private, hybrid or public cloud deployments backed by continuous high availability and disaster recovery, encryption and security. Up-front and monthly payments are handled by NEC Financial Services. This service will be available in the United States in Q2 2012 and in other regions later in the year. This UCaaS offering represents an expansion of NEC’s UNIVERGE Cloud Services which represent the SaaS portion of NEC’s Cloud Transformation Strategy for helping enterprises “rationalize, realize and manage” customized cloud computing strategies that align with short- and long-term business goals.
Other UC cloud services on exhibit at Enterprise Connect 2012 included Cisco Collaboration Cloud, Comcast Business VoiceEdge, IBM SmartCloud for SocialBusiness, Microsoft Office 365 and Skype, ShoreTel Hosted VOIP (rebranding of M5 acquired in March 2012), Siemens Enterprise Communications OpenScape Cloud Services, and West Corporation’s West IP Communications (rebranding of division including Smoothstone acquired in June 2011).
The current potpourri of public cloud service providers consists of several types of companies that jumped on the cloud bandwagon in phases. When web native service providers such as WebEx, Google, and Salesforce.com began offering business software as a service (SaaS), there was a mix of optimism and skepticism regard how much IT market expansion would result from reaching new customer segments. When enterprise software vendors such as Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle began offering hosted services versions of their own software, there was a clash of excitement and concern regarding how much disruption would be caused to traditional information and communications technology markets and channels. When telecom operators such as AT&T, Verizon, Deutsche Telecom, BT, Orange, and Telefonica began redefining themselves as cloud providers of network-based services, there was an understanding that the operators were anxious to go beyond providing mobile and fixed communications services to become credible cloud providers of broad service portfolios that will include business process applications, infrastructure and development platforms.
But for UC equipment and software vendors like Avaya, NEC, and Siemens, wouldn’t it make more sense to partner with cloud service providers? Why are these vendors taking on the new role of service provider to offer branded cloud services based on their own server products?
The first reason is simply because they can. Any information and communications technology (ICT) company can offer their own virtualized hosting environment to offer cloud services with self-service provisioning and usage-based monthly fees. They can choose between creating cloud services in their own data centers or through a Platform as a Service (PaaS) cloud provider such as Amazon, Google, and Rackspace.
The second reason is that they feel they need to offer branded cloud services. These vendors do not want to be left behind when cloud services cannibalize on-premises deployments to a significant degree. Not having a cloud option alongside their traditional on-premises offerings would put them at a large disadvantage in retaining and attracting customers as cloud computing moves closer to ICT world domination. These vendors could rely on cloud service provider partners to offer cloud versions of the vendors’ products. However, that would work well if there was a level playing field where every vendor went to market through cloud partners. In reality, many vendors have launched branded services that offer customers direct relationships for sales and support. In addition, bypassing third party cloud providers to deal directly with customers has the added benefit of interacting and collaborating with customers whose perspectives and loyalties are critical in competitive and evolving markets. Offering branded cloud services creates invaluable opportunities for listening to the voice of the customer.
As the business cloud services market evolves, vendors should consider that customers are likely to prefer to engage a handful of trusted service providers that will both aggregate and integrate a variety of application software, infrastructure and platform “as a service” offerings to help customers save time and money in selecting and using the best performing IT portfolio. UC vendors such as Avaya and NEC should include in their mid to long-term go-to-market plans not only branded cloud services available directly and through current resellers and dealers experienced in selling the vendors’ on-premises solutions but also business cloud aggregators such as Jamcracker with the hosting expertise and offering breadth to effectively promote the benefits of UC as part of expanding business cloud services relationships.