Elka Popova's Blog

Cloud UC with an Avaya Flavor

18 Mar 2013 | by Elka Popova
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Today, March 18th, 2013, at Enterprise Connect, Avaya introduced several new offerings as part of its Avaya Collaborative Cloud portfolio. The announcements included cloud video conferencing, a managed private contact center solution, and a cloud unified communications (UC) and customer experience solution. In this article I’d like to provide my perspective on the cloud UC offering.

Last year, at Enterprise Connect again, Avaya presented its broader vision for Avaya Collaborative Cloud and launched its AvayaLive Connect offering. Since then, we have been waiting for Avaya to make a strong(er) statement in the cloud UC space.

I talked about AvayaLive Connect in this blog post, so I will not discuss it in much detail here.  In short, it is a public cloud solution targeted at very small businesses of up to 20 users. The solution is available for purchase through a Web portal. At the back end, the solution is powered by the former Nortel SCS technology. AvayaLive Connect features basic PBX functionality, voice conferencing, voice/unified messaging, video, mobility, presence, and instant messaging (IM)/chat. It supports PC, Apple Mac, iOS and Android devices.

The new Avaya cloud UC solution is labeled Avaya Cloud Enablement for Unified Communications and Customer Experience Management.  At the foundation are multi-tenant versions of the Avaya Aura platforms. Key UC capabilities include:

  • SIP-based voice (PBX functionality through Avaya Communication Manager and Session Manager)
  • UC application (audio, video, web conferencing, mobility, etc.)
  • Presence
  • Unified messaging
  • Video
  • Desktop and mobile clients and devices: Flare, ADVD, One-X Portfolio, Avaya phones

The contact center solution includes:

  • SIP voice and multichannel capabilities (Elite & Elite MC)
  • Reporting (through CMS)
  • Self-service (Experience Portal)
  • Workforce optimization
  • Avaya one-X Agent
  • Avaya 96xx phones

With the new cloud UC solution, Avaya is joining an already crowded, though rapidly growing space. In addition to platforms provided by the traditional hosted IP PBX vendors such as BroadSoft and Metaswitch and home-grown solutions such as those of 8x8, Thinking Phone Networks and others, cloud UC solutions are now available from a slew of PBX vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Microsoft, Mitel, NEC, ShoreTel, Siemens Enterprise Communications, and Toshiba. While the value proposition of hosted/cloud UC is similar across platforms and service provider offerings (e.g., flexibility, reduced CAPEX, faster access to advanced functionality, and ability to outsource UC management from a skilled third party), architectures and business models vary.

An in-depth analysis of the various offerings is available through Frost & Sullivan proprietary research. Here follows a brief summary of the key differentiators of the new Avaya cloud UC offering:

Multi-tenant UC: Similar to BroadSoft and Metaswitch, but unlike Cisco or Mitel, Avaya chose a multi-tenant rather than a multi-instance architecture. The main difference is in how the hardware and software are partitioned for service delivery. In a multi-tenant architecture, both the hardware and software are shared across multiple end-user organizations, which is relatively easier and more cost-effective for service providers to deploy, provision to end users, upgrade, and manage. In a multi-instance architecture, the hardware is shared through virtualization technology, but each customer receives a separate instance of the software, which typically appeals to businesses with greater security and customization demands.

Software technology: The cloud UC solution uses the same Aura Communication Manager and Session Manager technology that forms the foundation of Avaya’s premises-based solutions. This reduces training costs for partners, internal IT staff, and end users already familiar with the Avaya software stack. It also reduces switching costs for customers that might move to cloud and then choose to go back to a premises-based infrastructure. Furthermore, it provides customers with the same rich PBX functionality of Avaya premises-based solutions (unlike some other multi-tenant platforms which only provide a much more simplified feature set). Finally, open standards and APIs for custom applications and third-party integration enable providers and customers to further enhance and customize their cloud deployments.

Features and functionality: Avaya delivers an extensive set of UC functionality on the cloud platform including PBX, messaging, conferencing, presence, video, and mobility.  Most hosted IP PBX/UC platforms deliver a broad set of capabilities, but few support a full UC stack at this stage. The contact center capabilities also represent a very important differentiator in the hosted/ cloud UC space. Many of the hosted UC offerings either fully lack or support only rudimentary contact center capabilities. SMBs do not typically have formal contact centers but need some key contact center functionality (call queuing, intelligent call routing, analytics, etc.) to provide competitive customer service. The ability to outsource the UC and customer care functionality from the same provider using the same vendor technology is a key benefit to such businesses and thus a compelling value proposition for the service providers.

Devices and soft clients: One of the biggest challenges in the hosted space over the past decade has been the limited number of desktop phones supported by the traditional multi-tenant platforms. Avaya’s cloud UC offering supports all Avaya desktop phones, which provides existing Avaya customers with investment protection and both new and existing Avaya customers with a large selection of devices to choose from. Furthermore, the solution is available with the full Avaya one-X portfolio of soft clients.

Business model: Avaya is  delivering its cloud UC solution only through partners, which helps avoid conflicts of interest. The utility pricing for service providers is a strong differentiator and another very compelling value proposition for partners. Most platform vendors charge one-time license fees and offer volume discounts which forces providers to make large investments upfront. Avaya’s model, which charges providers only for capacity used on a monthly basis, provides partners with greater flexibility and a more predictable return on investment (ROI). Avaya is also providing extensive support through professional and managed services which is critical for both service providers and end-user organizations at this early stage of cloud adoption.

What does this new offering mean for the market?

Avaya: Avaya can now leverage partners offering hosted/cloud services to keep businesses looking to outsource their communications capabilities in the Avaya fold. Avaya cloud UC also provides a competitive alternative to cloud solutions launched by other PBX vendors. Furthermore, cloud UC may enable Avaya to penetrate smaller businesses that would have otherwise chosen a different PBX vendor or opted for hosted services from non-Avaya partners.

Avaya partners: A cloud/hosted solution is a source of recurring revenue. For Avaya partners already familiar with Avaya technology, Avaya cloud UC is a relatively easy transition and a means to retain existing customers and attract new ones. Utility pricing to service providers (versus one-time license purchases) reduces risks and improves the ROI for partners looking to test a novel technology and/or business model.

End-user organizations: Businesses with existing Avaya investments can migrate to cloud-only or hybrid environments without the need for extensive IT staff and end-user re-training. They can also retain existing phones, which reduces switching costs and protects existing investments. Non-Avaya customers, especially SMBs that may find Avaya premises-based solutions out of reach due to limited CAPEX budgets can now deploy Avaya technology in a more flexible, on-demand model.

Competitors: Almost all UC developers have launched or are looking to launch cloud solutions as both an offense and a defense strategy. The Avaya offering poses a competitive threat and levels the playing field across the premises-based and cloud UC markets.

The cloud UC space is evolving rapidly and presenting both opportunities and challenges to communications technology vendors and UC developers. But from a customer point of view, while new solutions and business models are causing some confusion and hesitation, the availability of a broader array of UC alternatives, including one with an Avaya flavor, is a net gain.