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Who is Doing What in UC Server Virtualization: Cutting through the Hype

15 Feb 2013 | by Rob Arnold
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The virtualization hype-cycle in enterprise UCC markets is nearing a climax.

In the realm of UCC, the use of virtualization technologies aims to reduce the costs associated with hardware and to unlock operational efficiencies enabled by the centralized command, control and resource optimization of cloud computing.  

From a high-level, server virtualization involves the use of hypervisors to create an abstraction layer between the server environment’s hardware and software resources. The hypervisor essentially allows multiple virtual servers, or virtual machines, to co-reside on the same physical hardware in order to share physical resources such as power, footprint, memory, CPU, and network interfaces.

Virtualization technologies are well established in enterprise datacenters to support IT infrastructure and business applications. The use of server virtualization to support UC applications components has also become more widespread. Enterprises have become comfortable with implementing their UC management, monitoring, reporting, directory, IM and presence, and other non-real time and near-real time components in virtual server environments.

However, the ability to reliably support real-time communications media such as voice call control, and audio and video conferencing in virtual server environments has only become available in the last two or three years—and many enterprises have a high level of interest in taking this next step in network transformation.

In order to capitalize on potential opportunities and to remain competitive many UCC developers are now offering their real-time software applications for deployment in virtual server environments. With such a broad selection, it has already become difficult to cut through the marketing hype to determine what is available from the different vendors. Because of this I launched a research project to get beyond the hype and find out who is really doing what. 

Findings

All UCC vendors in the top 2 tiers have launched initiatives to virtualize their real-time applications software. VMware reigns as the most popular virtual infrastructure qualified by UCC vendors. However there are distinct differences in configuration options.

  • Most vendors have launched solutions for SMB, mid-market and service provider infrastructure that leverage a single software stream.
    • SMB offerings tend to be turn-key, with UCC apps and virtual components pre-installed on industry standard hardware provided by the UCC vendor. The turn-key approach intends to placate traditional SMB customer and channel requirements for simplicity and lower cost.
    • Mid-market solutions tend to be comparatively more flexible and robust. Several leading vendors offer both turn-key options as well as the opportunity for customers or partners to source the hardware and virtual infrastructure. Best efforts are made to toe the line between simplicity in terms of use and operation while still supporting more sophisticated features.
    • Virtual enterprise UCC offerings are in fact solutions, not products. You’ll find few turn-key options available. These are highly scalable and certain UCC vendors also position their enterprise offerings for deployment by partners seeking infrastructure as the basis of cloud UCC services.
  • With a few notable exceptions most vendors support co-residency at capacities similar to their proprietary hardware or dedicated appliance offerings.
  • Most vendors have already enabled call control, voicemail/ unified messaging and IM/presence to be deployed in co-resident configurations.
  • Support for full-feature enterprise contact center, audio and web conferencing, and especially video conferencing, varies widely among different vendors.
  • VMware HA is commonly supported among UCC vendors. VMware FT support is uncommon. UCC vendors are recommending customers employ multiple business continuity measures including both VMware capabilities and the UCC system options.

Conclusions

UCC is predicated upon the concept of convergence – the convergence of voice, video and data networks, the convergence of fixed and mobile capabilities, and the convergence of communications/collaboration apps with business software and processes. UCC server virtualization is the next logical step in truly bringing disparate IT and communications networks together.

That is not to say that the market is anywhere near finished in this area; there will always be more work to do.

It is, however, my opinion that virtualization of UCC software is the way forward. It begins to address specific concerns stemming from hardware headaches and inefficient operational support that have long constrained more widespread UCC adoption among organizations of all sizes.  

My full report, including profiles of top UCC vendors, is in production now and should be published to Frost.com soon.

In the meantime, or after reading my report, please feel free to contact me with any constructive comments and/or questions.

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