Mitel Takes Its Virtualized UC to the Cloud

Already firmly established as a purveyor of VoIP systems and services, Kanata, Ontario-based Mitel this week announced what it says will be a new way of delivering services.

The Mitel Freedom Architecture adds a range of new features and capabilities to the company’s existing offerings, including improved mobility and an all-in-one capacity intended to simplify telecommunications for small to mid-size businesses.

The release represents another step in an “evolutionary processes” toward a software-oriented, standards-based provisioning of unified communications, said Stephen Beamish, vice president of marketing and business development at Mitel.

As a cloud-based system, the new architecture allows businesses to move away from home-grown solutions that require big up-front investments and support from IT staff.

“This is a purely hosted UC-as-a-Service product, a subscription-based model at $35 a month per user, which basically gives you a rich suite of UC components with no other equipment on your premises,” Beamish said. “It’s ready to go right out of the box. You plug your phone in and you’re off and running.”

In another advance, the new architecture also changes the way Mitel delivers UC in the mobile realm. Previous Mitel iterations have asked smart phone users to access their UC functionality via a web browser. The new architecture operates through a native application on the mobile device.

This gives new muscle to the UC offering, Beamish said, by allowing UC functionality to integrate smoothly with a device’s inherent operating elements. Take Blackberry’s GPS capability, for example. As a phone-resident application, Mitel’s UC can tap into that, tracking a mobile worker’s physical location and switching status from mobile to home to work as appropriate.

The new system also allows for greater mobility within the office, utilizing Mitel’s VMWare View to achieve desktop virtualization throughout an organization.

“Wherever you are in a company, you sit down, stick in a smart card and no matter what your desktop was the last time you saw it, that is what pops up on the screen,” Beamish said. All telephony and UC capabilities, along with their settings, can be transported to any desktop.

This could have advantages outside the traditional office setup. Beamish points to car dealerships as a place where the virtualized desktop could boost productivity. “Nobody owns their own desk, they just sit down at any terminal. Or you may have a dealer with multiple locations. So the [virtualization] advantages still work, even at that scale,” he said.

This offers more than just a convenience for workers, Beamish said. “It also means there are fewer pieces of equipment and less gear to acquire, since you don’t need one-to-one mapping between employees and desks, if not all the employees are there at all times. That’s a savings from a management perspective.”

Putting aside questions about functionality, the new architecture departs from previous efforts in a more fundamental way. Mitel describes it as a fundamentally new architecture, a way of aligning UC more closely with other business functions.

The architecture takes UC out of its own separate operating vertical and puts it alongside ERP, call control, and other basic functions, inserting it as just one more business application in a virtualized environment. It works in any network on any platform, with or without Mitel hardware.

“If you have a standard VMware platform, we are just another virtual machine inside that layer,” Beamish said. The advantage comes in relieving the need for a layer of management overhead specific to the communications infrastructure.

In making the case for ease of use and cost savings, Mitel gives all the signs of aiming its product toward the SMB market, and Beamish said this has been Mitel’s ambition. At the same time, though, the company sees room for the offering among enterprise users.

In a soft launch this summer, a limited number of partners introduced the new architecture, “and there didn’t seem to be a size factor in who this plays well to. Organizations with more than 500 users are also coming to the table,” Beamish said. “They see something that has a very firm price to it with no soft cost around staffing or server facilities, none of these buried costs. They know exactly what their telecommunications are going to cost them.”

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