Let us look at what has been happening over the Years in Unified Communications and Collaboration from the Infrastructure perspective.
When it comes to Infrastructure the first thing that comes to my mind was a tweet that mentioned that before Telegram the fastest communication mechanism was limited to about 30-40 miles per hour which was basically the speed at which any land/sea vehicle could move. As Humans, Communication is paramount for ‘Getting Job Done’. Fast forward to the Post-WW2 age and we see the rise of Non-Manufacturing Business Mushroom and with it the need to Create, Store and Share Information in both Real-Time and Non-Real-Time. Graham Bell’s Telephone enabled voice communication over continents. In the early days the lines physically connected between the different locations and were operated by the telephone companies. Later they moved to centralize the lines to manually operated switching facilities. Next with the arrival of microprocessors, the switching process moved to electronic exchanges that could scale beyond what manual exchanges could. With Larger businesses setting up large campuses, the need to move the electronic switching function inside the campus was realized using Private Branch Exchanges (PBX). These PBXs connected to the Telecom Service Providers (SPs) Switch using Leased Lines based on Analog and Digital ISDN based E1/T1 Lines. At the same time Telecom SPs connected with each other and this network of globally connected Telecom SPs is what came to be referred to as the Public Switched Telephone Network or well known as PSTN. This backbone has over the years changed many technologies maturing into a multi-service backbone but is now threatened by another more Open Service Independent Network called the Internet. Over the Internet all communications happen over Internet Protocol (IP) and can include Text, Voice, Video and any other mechanism of communication we may encounter in the future…I’m talking about Machine2Machine for I.T, BrainWave for Remote Machine Manipulation by Human Thought, 3DObject Metadata for 3dPrinting etc.
Now getting back to our Business of Communications and Collaboration, Let us now look at how the Technology developed over the years on five distinct buckets.
By Appliance I’m referring to Equipment that performed only one service per device. These devices have their own local Network Capability, Local Security and even their own local administration. Remote management of these devices is typically requires buffering devices and complex networking. PBXs are remnants of this category that can still be seen in Business even today. Fax and Telex became Non-Real-Time Communication Mechanisms.
The Reign of Appliances changed when IP became prevalent and with it moved Communication services over IP. Business initially adopted IP Network to allow access to Corporate File Servers used to Store Corporate Content and allow them to be shared securely within the Enterprise. With more GRC requirements comes the new class of collaboration solutions under the head of Enterprise Content Management which made it easier to control the content and ensure retention and sharing with full traceability. With the Arrival of Email Business to Business Non-Real-Time Communications over Internet grew exponentially. On the consumer side AOL led the Group Persistent Chat as a technology that the 90’s generation grew up with. On the Voice and Video side IP PBXs from Cisco dominated this category forcing all the traditional players to change their solution architecture to IP backbone. PSTN also changed to allow for IP Based Trunks.
This however meant that the ‘Data Network’ needed a lot of re-architecture, upgrade and re-engineering to provide a stable Quality of Experience (QoE). Similarly the domain of security also expanded dramatically.
Next we look at virtualized solutions which basically took the Applications from Physical Servers to Hypervisors from VMware, Hyper-V and Xen-Server. This enabled considerable performance, efficiency and scale improvement across multiple communication and collaboration Services. Most of the Current Generation solutions belong to this category. However adoption rates have been different for different Enterprises.
With Large organizations taking up virtualization in a big way it became evident that consolidation of Compute and Network would yield huge benefits but the different nature of the businesses meant that the underlying layer still had to be segregated. The answer to this is Private Cloud IaaS and PaaS solutions -that allowed to dynamically handle compute-network-storage and basic Infrastructure like Database and Middleware to be Built and Allocated without compromising on accountability and Security. Solutions are available to allow this for communication and collaboration solutions as well but the initial costs could be prohibitive.
Further Enterprises realized that QoE can be better at lower cost if exposed on the Internet for Consumption from Employee Owned and Managed Devices. This however has meant that the underlying Internet facing Network and Security had to be relooked.
What we see now is that most leading OEMs and Telecom service Providers now built large Cloud Infrastructure, added Collaboration and Communication Applications and now make them available to Customer on a Pay-As-You-Go Use model. This means that Business now can utilize the Service and decommission when needed, paying only for the used period. Even in the Voice/Video side now we see Internet based UC Service Providers who allow for B2B collaboration without any complex investment from the user organization.
Conferencing for Example is a technology that is already on Public Cloud.