March 28, 2012

Standards, Best Practices Coming for UC Cloud Interoperability

No matter how warmly users embrace a new technology, they always have a wish list of improvements they'd like to see. In the case of cloud-based unified communications (UC), interoperability and cloud standards top that list.

Interoperability between multiple UC clouds will become critical, for example, when states want to share information with cities and counties; enterprises try to improve business-to-business communications; and multiple IT departments within conglomerates attempt to work together. Toward that end, two Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) working groups are developing standards that will resolve cloud portability and interoperability issues:


Cloud standards will likely be a matter of some dispute because other standards bodies might feel entitled to jurisdiction over some of the cloud elements. Depending on whether the cloud environment is viewed from the subscriber's or provider's viewpoint, it might be considered within the scope of different organizations. The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), which in December 2009 published "Security Guidance for Cloud Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing V2.1," for example, might want to exclusively oversee security aspects of the cloud.


Let's hope the situation doesn't slow things down too much. If the standards process takes too long, we might never see them implemented or the providers might adopt only the most minimal set of those standards needed to differentiate themselves in the market.

Other Improvements You Should Expect


  • Beyond the standards debates are many other UC cloud issues of potential concern to users. Some of the issues listed below deal with the prospect that a hybrid solution - part public cloud, part premise-based system - will, at least in the near term, be a common implementation. Users should press cloud providers to address the following best practices in their service offerings:
  • Many enterprises have their own PBX or IP PBX. UC cloud services should be able to interoperate with the various functions of existing systems, including dial plans, voice mail, contact centers, help-desk features and user profiles and privileges.
  • UC clouds should support multiple vendors' IP phones and standard Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) phones to let customers move easily among cloud providers and take advantage of the lowest IP-phone prices.
  • The cloud should support not just one but a number of popular mobile device operating systems for UC clients/applications.
  • The cloud should support connections to enterprise systems supporting such applications as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook without imposing barriers to their full use.
  • If the cloud provider uses a third-party platform such as Amazon EC2, it should shield the enterprise from problems related to that platform. The provider should also guarantee that, in the case of a financial or other dispute with the third party, the enterprise's services will not be curtailed, and information stored on the third-party platform will be retrievable and usable without undue delay.
  • When the cloud provider is acquired or merged into another organization, the enterprise should be protected from service changes and pricing changes for some defined period (e.g., 12 months). If the enterprise does not like the changes, it should have the option to change providers without cost or service penalties.
  • The cloud service data centers should be able to be located anywhere in the world without impeding enterprises' ability to satisfy domestic regulations or provide information in response to legal or government enquiries.
  • Many UC cloud services focus on the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market. The most attractive service would be able to scale to 10,000 or more users without requiring any changes by the users or IT organization other than managing the increased user population.
  • One of the ways providers compete is through pricing. Providers historically seem to have gone out of their way to make price comparisons difficult. The basic UC cloud service should be described clearly so enterprises can make reasonable comparisons among providers.
  • Consistent service-level agreements (SLAs) among providers should be available from all UC cloud vendors.



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