Open Source Meets Unified Communications

It might sound like a David and Goliath tale: Here’s a small company, newly-formed, with an open-source based product, trying to deliver unified communications to the mid-sized and large business market in the shadow of much larger vendors.

Yet eZuce has an ace in the hole. Founded by one of the originators of the open source community SIPfoundry, the company has a solid grasp of what it takes to turn open source code into a paying venture in the real telephony world.

More than just a way of building software, “open source in our minds is a business model; it’s a way to get out there and have as many people as possible use your product,” said eZuce CEO Martin Steinmann, who, as mentioned, was a founder of SIPfoundry.

Based in Newburyport, Mass., eZuce’s chief product is openUC, an enterprise communication solution that combines voice, video, instant messaging, presence, conferencing, collaboration, unified messaging, call center, and mobility.

In addition to its full suite of functional offerings, openUC makes its pitch on the promise of easy migration. Those looking to upgrade from an existing legacy IP-PBX can start out with single elements of the service then build up additional components while still interconnecting to the legacy system, eventually migrating to a full unified messaging and conferencing solution.

eZuce faces significant competition in its efforts to court the midsized and larger UC markets, both from emerging players and from companies like Cisco, Avaya, Microsoft and a handful of others swiftly emerging as the dominant figures in the marketplace.

It is exactly the massiveness of a company like Microsoft that Steinmann said will work in eZuce’s favor. “The reality is simply that Microsoft is far away from 100 percent market share. It is simply unrealistic to assume that a single company is going to rule the world,” he said.

In fact, end users may be looking specifically to break out of the silos housing products from Microsoft, Cisco and other major-leaguers. “In a lot of places people are looking for an environment that is much more diverse than that,” Steinmann said. “They want a solution that gives you more choice, that allows you to integrate more broadly.” That’s where the up-and-comers may have an edge.

Steinmann added that his company’s relatively recent appearance on the scene may give it a technical edge in terms of the fundamental architecture that underlies and ultimately drives eZuce solutions.

In older systems, existing functions such as video, instant messaging, and unified presence often have been stitched together to form a UC offering. eZuce on the other hand has been able to build its service oriented offering from the ground up with UC in mind.

“Many of these older products have grown together from all sorts of different places, so you have some sort of hierarchical structure with elements managers, with managers of managers,” he said. Because eZuce was built with UC in mind from the outset, “our product is much more cohesive. That means we can do it at a much lower cost.”

In fact, an annual eZuce subscription runs $60 per user – yes, that’s annual.

Moreover, the company has patterned its pricing model on Microsoft’s simplified packaging plan. “There are only one or two things you can buy,” Steinmann said. “You buy a user license and that user can use all the features the system has to offer.”

Underlying all this is a commitment to open source coding. It doesn’t quite rise to the level of a religious conviction – “we’re not suddenly thinking open source is going to rule the world,” Steinmann said – but it is a significant driving force in the eZuce business logic.

First, the open source architecture allows potential buyers to explore the software in some depth, to run pilots on their own. Often by the time they come to eZuce, they have already sold themselves on the product. “It cuts my cost taking this to market,” Steinmann said. “Our sales cycle is considerably shorter, and we are dealing with people who already know they like the product.”

The open source nature also may help customers feel emboldened to deal with an untried entity. “From a customer perspective it is an additional kind of insurance. If you are dealing with a smaller vendor and that vendor goes away, that source code will still be there. It gives customers some confidence in knowing that if one vendor is not there to support it, someone else will be,” Steinmann said.

Meanwhile, eZuce is working to expand its offerings. This month it announced a strategic collaboration with German firm OpenXchange. Steinmann said the arrangement will allow eZuce to bundle together e-mail and calendaring into its current offering, in order to deliver a more complete suite of services.

To put all this into play, eZuce recently launched a partner program within the reseller community, with various levels of partnership geared to focus on different market segments. Ronco Communications and Electronics in Tonawanda, N.Y. is among the first to sign on, according to eZuce VP of Product Marketing David Grazio.

In a crowded marketplace, “this gives the resellers a little bit higher profile when they go to their customers,” Grazio said. “It makes them more of a trusted advisor.”

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