The cloud is transforming enterprise computing, but not so much for voice processing. Over the past decade, enterprise voice systems migrated under the general IT umbrella, and CIOs are looking hard at cloud computing. There are several factors that suggest voice is a perfect fit for cloud computing. However, there is one sticky point. Voice is a real time application, and so far real time applications have not scaled well in virtualized environments. But that was 2009.
Voice systems have a heritage of a proprietary operating system on proprietary hardware, not exactly a good fit for the cloud. But that has changed. Today, voice systems seem almost perfect for the cloud. Consider the following:
All this confirms telecom manufacturers have an eye toward the sky via private and/or public clouds. But the most aggressive vision of cloud based telephony I’ve seen was demonstrated by Siemens Enterprise Group (SEN Group) at the past two VoiceCon shows. SEN Group’s vision is so in the clouds that there is no indication when it may actually be released; though a new developer “sandbox” is available.
OpenScape is SEN Group’s enterprise unified communications platform. It is fully buzzword compliant with SIP, presence, SOA web services, multimedia, thin client, and more. The platform and suite of products is available now, but Siemens demonstrated their vision of how Openscape might migrate to the public cloud. Last spring at VoiceCon Orlando, Siemens demonstrated a “Proof of Concept” combining Openscape with Amazon’s cloud services and Webstore services to create an on-demand virtualized enterprise phone system. The vision suggests that a customer could purchase and implement an enterprise class voice solution from their browser – effectively creating a hybrid between the public cloud and a hosted offering. The concept raised lots of questions with few detailed answers, but to be fair it was billed as a “concept” – not a product (or service?).
Presumably, the primary difference between this model and a hosted model would be ownership of the software and/or implementation and customer control over upgrades. Software version control will become increasingly important as users implement customized unified communications tools and integrations. Hosted voice outsources upgrade control as well as other critical operating decisions. A public cloud implementation will also require dedicated networking for both trunks and phones; likely a blend of dedicated circuits, MPLS networks, and Internet with VPN connectivity. SEN Group is the only major UC vendor publicly positioning the public cloud as an enterprise strategy.
Last month at VoiceCon San Francisco, Siemens went a step further with a mashup between OpenScape running in the Amazon EC2 environment and Twitter. Siemens referred to this as a “testimony” to its standards-based approach to UC. With this integration, a user could train Openscape to monitor Twitter for contextual phrases within a user’s tweets. For example, a tweet included the phrase “just landed in xxxx” which changed the user’s profile within OpenScape to the new timezone (via GoogleMap lookup). Another contextual phrase was “having lunch” which caused OpenScape to set the user’s availability to “Be Right Back” and to direct calls to voice mail as the user’s preferred device.
Socially aware UC demonstrates potential for untapped collaboration. The example of these specific phrases, or even Twitter itself, are irrelevant. The point is the potential of integrating unified communications to social networking tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and/or an internal collaboration platform can offer productivity gains. Siemens is effectively saying not only is the public cloud a viable (future) option, but UC integration to social media is a natural progression.
Leveraging the cloud even further, SEN Group is making OpenScape available at no charge for developers on the Amazon cloud. This is something the more traditional competitors can’t offer as easily (SEN Group is not covering Amazon instance fees). Individuals and organizations interested in creating and testing mash-ups can obtain software development kits (SDKs). SEN Group hopes developers will create a library of utilities to strengthen the OpenScape offering. The Open Developer Portal will be launched early in 2010 here. The portal will provide developers the SDK, documentation, training, and support for the cloud based sandbox environment.
It is hard to imagine that cloud computing won’t transform voice services, but it is equ
ally hard to determine the extent. Many organizations are currently looking at consolidating phone systems into fewer or one location – the next step will be to determine if that location is in a cloud. The reality is the technologies to put voice in private or public clouds are rapidly aligning, and 2010 will be the beginning of what will be a remarkable and interesting journey.