Information & Communication Technologies


Avaya Collaborative Cloud Goes Live with AvayaLive Connect

by Elka Popova 06 Apr 2012
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It’s been more than a week since I returned from Enterprise Connect in Orlando, but I only now found the time to put together my thoughts on some of the key announcements. As expected, cloud was one of the key topics at this major industry event. Coincidentally, I am also in the process of updating Frost & Sullivan’s North American Hosted IP Telephony & UC Services Market study, which makes this topic particularly interesting to me. I also had the honor of presenting on hosted UC at one of the general sessions (slide deck available upon request).

At Enterprise Connect, Avaya launched a long-anticipated cloud strategy and portfolio dubbed Avaya Collaborative Cloud (see press release). With several leading PBX vendors already boasting cloud solutions (more specifically, multi-tenant or multi-instance platforms hosted by the vendors themselves or their partners and delivered as a service to business customers), Avaya is somewhat late to the market with the announcement of a cloud strategy. It should be noted that all PBX vendors (including Avaya) are developing virtualized versions of their premises-based platforms for private, internal clouds. But the more interesting phenomenon is their foray into the hosted, public cloud space.

 

Avaya Collaborative Cloud is a framework, a broad umbrella for a series of cloud solutions that will become available over an undefined period of time. The first product in this suite to be launched shortly (by mid-2012) is AvayaLive Connect—a public cloud solution targeted at very small businesses of up to 20 users. The solution will be available for purchase through a Web portal (using Avaya web.alive technology, now rebranded as AvayaLive Engage). At the back end, the solution will be powered by the former Nortel SCS technology. The solution will feature basic PBX functionality, voice conferencing, voice/unified messaging, video, mobility, presence and instant messaging (IM)/chat. It will support PC, Apple Mac, iOS and Android devices.

The key selling point, according to Avaya spokespeople, is the speed and ease of deployment. Basically, small business owners can swipe a credit card, download the soft clients, and start using the solution within minutes. Hard phones are available for purchase, if required. Currently, the solution only supports Avaya desktop phones, but third-party phones can be tested and certified based on customer demand.

Another key advantage appears to be the solution’s price point. While Avaya has not publicly announced its pricing structure, I challenged them to compare their anticipated pricing to the broad range of hosted voice/UC solutions currently available in the market. In North America, businesses can find a hosted voice solution for as little as $25/user/month, no bandwidth included, with bundle fees ranging all the way up to $100/user/month with access line, contact center functionality, and all kinds of bells and whistles included (even hardware sometimes). Avaya spokespeople claim their solution will be very competitively priced vis-à-vis those other options. The flat monthly fee will include all features and capabilities, as well as local and long-distance calling.

As is obvious from the feature/functionality description of AvayaLive Connect, it very much resembles a Skype solution. Skype appears to be even ahead of Avaya with some recently launched desktop sharing capabilities. However, Avaya has another advantage in that it offers 800 numbers and a business auto attendant that can help small businesses present a more professional appearance to customers and partners calling from outside. It should be noted that plenty of other hosted business VoIP solutions include an auto attendant as well as more advanced PBX features, such as a receptionist console, hunt groups and even ACD capabilities. Based on my discussions with the Avaya team, I feel that more features and functionality (including desktop sharing) may become available in the near future.

I have to admit that the launch of AvayaLive Connect came as a surprise to me. With Cisco betting heavily on its Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS) targeted at larger businesses, and several dozen service providers targeting the North American small business market with a broad array of hosted solutions, I would have expected Avaya to leverage its Session Manager (originally a telco platform) and its Aura Architecture to go after larger businesses straight from the start. However, it seems to be using AvayaLive Connect as a proof of concept, and as a means of fleshing out its business strategy for delivering cloud solutions to larger businesses. I am confident that we will soon see a more HCS-like service from Avaya. In the meantime, AvayaLive Connect promises to be as appealing as any other over-the-top hosted UC solution out there, but it is tough to figure out what its key differentiators are going to be.

One of my key concerns is that it is delivered over the public Internet. Many application service providers (ASPs) got burned with their early Internet telephony offerings. The more successful service providers quickly acknowledged the importance of managing the solution all the way to the desktop. Small businesses with no in-house technical expertise choose hosted offerings for the convenience and simplicity, but they also need it to work properly and appreciate having a single throat to choke (as in the case of a service provider delivering a PBX+bandwidth type of a bundle). When the solution is offered over managed bandwidth, the provider has much greater control over the quality and reliability of the service, which helps ensure customer satisfaction and better customer retention rates. It is true, however, that the public Internet has become a lot more reliable over the past few years. It is also true that, due to customer demand, many service providers are now introducing bring-your-own-bandwidth (BYOB) offerings for businesses that choose to deploy their access line from a different provider.

Avaya has announced a partnership with Level 3 for a managed-bandwidth offering and potentially a white-label service marketed by Level 3. In my opinion, such an option will be quite appealing to more demanding customers where service reliability is of critical importance. Avaya did not make a statement about tech support, but I hope it makes it easy and convenient for busy, possibly low-tech business owners to not only deploy, but also maintain a cloud-based communications solution.

I have a few outstanding questions for Avaya, as follows:

  • Who will be providing dial tone (along with E911, CALEA compliance, etc.)? Will Avaya be acting as an intermediary for its business customers or will they be handling this on their own?
  • Federation appears to be a key focal area for Avaya. Will AvayaLive Connect become federated with other IM or voice solutions (something small businesses may find quite appealing when dealing with other small businesses)?
  • What integrations are planned for the future—both with other hosted/cloud solutions and premises-based platforms and applications? CRM integration is a big trend among hosted providers today (driven by customer demand).
  • Are there any advantages to deploying AvayaLive Connect as a branch-office solution where the main office is deploying Avaya infrastructure?
  • I am also curious how Avaya is planning to reach out to the extremely fragmented small business customer audience. For now, it appears Avaya is planning to use mostly e-commerce tools. I believe some consumer-type advertising (TV, radio, retail outlets, printed media) may be effective with small business decision makers. Other hosted providers have also found that an agent network can help reach their target audience.

Overall, I would encourage small businesses to give AvayaLive Connect some serious consideration as a viable cloud option. I’d be glad to help compare the solution to other hosted solutions once it becomes commercially available.

 

 

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