Supporting Unified Communication's Great Growth

A Frost & Sullivan study released in March says that the installed base of UC users worldwide will grow from 2 million last year to 50 million in 2015. Much of this growth -- especially early in the cycle -- will be software based and sit atop existing infrastructures. In the longer term, organizations must ensure that the networks supporting their UC implementations are up to the task.

By Carl Weinschenk | Posted Apr 7, 2010
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The top line finding of a study released by Frost & Sullivan at the end of March is striking: Unified communications will grow from an installed base of about 2 million last year to 50 million by 2015.

The release goes into detail on the report, which provides flavor on the nature of the extreme growth cycle. The report focuses on importance of tools such as the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and service-oriented architecture (SOA) to drive the growth.

The release says, in essence, that a great deal of the work will be done on the software level:

In the near term, however, although vendor bundling and free-trial strategies will help increase user familiarity with software-centric communications and their benefits, they will not be strongly correlated with investments in the rest of the infrastructure required for a complete UC implementation. For instance, customers deploying softphones from their telephony vendors do not always purchase the conferencing and/or instant messaging (IM)/presence servers.

In other words, a lot of the UC growth will be superficial. That sounds like a criticism, but it is not. It makes sense. The reluctance to make deeper investments – ones capable of hosting a full UC suite -- will lead to companies sticking with a “one-stop shop,” the study concludes.

But if UC is the real deal – and growth by a factor of 25 in six years suggests that it is – there is a deeper issue to consider. Organizations will need to plant UC far deeper in the guts of their infrastructure to gain the fullest advantage -- and to easily change the UC platforms as technology and organizational needs change. I wrote a piecethat was posted over at IT Business Edge yesterday that describes the pre-assessment work that has to be done in order to begin this deeper transition. 

There seem to be two levels that have to be satisfied when analyzing the existing infrastructure. The network must be stable enough to support VoIP and all the associated real- and non-real-time applications. This includes the proper amount of bandwidth and tools and procedures that ferret out and eliminate delay, latency and other problems.

The other level of concern is tied more explicitly to unified communications. Most definitions of UC include presence and escalation. The thinking is that implementing a UC infrastructure will lead to an increase of on-the-fly meetings. (Why deploy UC if this isn't the thinking?) People and communications channels (i.e., a voice call morphing to a videoconference) will proliferate in a difficult to predict manner. The infrastructure must be able to handle the change in overall capacity and this far more complex and mercurial traffic profile. In short, true and full UC is a complex undertaking.

A key educational task facing vendors, system integrators and others is to convince organizations that, after software-driven early implementations, the best type of UC infrastructure is one that is architected from the ground up.

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