Unified communications applications coming to the cloud

Expect more communications services from cloud computing providers such as IBM's LotusLive Engage that becomes available tomorrow, according to makers of unified communications gear and providers at the recent VoiceCon Orlando show.

The launch of the IBM service uses the cloud to host profile and contact management, online meetings, file sharing, instant messaging and lightweight project management capabilities, an IBM spokeswoman said at the show during a discussion of cloud-based communications services.

The company foresees a portal through which customers can access both services and an environment to quickly develop new applications, said Bethann Cregg, director of IBM online collaboration services.

Verizon Business said it is about to launch its cloud computing service, which it promised last quarter and which is expected anytime now, according to a Verizon Business executive at VoiceCon. Separately, the company has announced virtualization services and infrastructure.

Christopher Kimm, vice president of solutions engineering at Verizon Business, said he foresees charging just for the computing used, using a "virtual-machine day" as the unit of billing. For example, customers might want resources for pre-staging applications on multiple operating systems for quality assurance purposes. They could do so on virtual servers within Verizon's network without dedicating their own resources. While the customer might book 40 days worth of resources, if the project wrapped up early, the customer would be charged only for what they used, he said.

He also said businesses might use cloud resources as tertiary backup -- the backup to the backup system that is called into play after the primary system has failed. So if a primary data center goes down, predefined backup resources could come live in a cloud provider's network to back up the backup until the primary site is brought back online.

"The infrastructure is ready, IP trunking is all set," said Kimm. In metro areas, the company can support less than 1 millisec of delay and has a flexible virtual machine architecture conducive to unified communications, he said.

Also at the show, Siemens announced a proof-of-concept service in which customers could buy a communications service based on the company's OpenScape unified communications software running on virtual servers in the Amazon.com cloud.

While cloud computing is frequently used to provide storage for businesses, it is new as a platform for communications, and it comes with some drawbacks, including security.

Kimm said providers will likely offer a range of security options in which customers can pay more for stricter security. He likened it to the different types of network connectivity businesses can buy -- public Internet, VPN, MPLS, frame relay, private line -- and their relative security and reliability.

"With computing, you might see private clouds, public clouds and dedicated clouds," Kimm said.

Cregg said LotusLive will follow internal IBM security standards for software and hardware. They were formulated by looking at user behavior and locking down applications to the degree that they are secure but still accessible enough that users don't start trying to get around the security measures, she said.

This story, "Unified communications applications coming to the cloud" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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