Avaya Expands Deployment Options for IP Office Cloud
Avaya is moving quickly in rolling out cloud services for the mid-market based on IP Office, now offering two options for its channel partners – (1) a partner-hosted, partner-branded cloud service available globally (Powered by Avaya IP Office) and (2) an Avaya-hosted, Avaya-branded option available in the U.S. (OnAvaya-Google Cloud) for partners that do not want to host and manage the service or do not have the data center infrastructure to do so.
First, the hosted version of Avaya’s IP Office communications platform has moved from testing and controlled introduction to reality. The integrated Unified Communications and Customer Communications as a service (UCaaS and CCaaS) solution, now known as Powered by Avaya IP Office and available globally, is currently being hosted and branded by 10 partners that were involved in the controlled testing, with another 30 Avaya distribution partners in various stages of on-boarding the new solution. An additional 75+ partners are on an “interest list.”
Avaya has also expanded its OnAvaya – Google Cloud U.S.-based offer (first launched in March 2015) to include the full Avaya IP Office telephony, UC and contact center capabilities. Initially, only the IP Office Contact Center technology was available as-a-service via the Google Cloud platform. Now, partners that are certified to sell IP Office, but do not have the data center infrastructure to host and manage the service, can offer the full stack of IP Office as-a-service through Google Cloud. Additionally, Avaya has enhanced the hosted contact center solution to support multi-channel contact center interactions with voice, email and chat services (the initial service was voice-centric). To date, OnAvaya-Google Cloud is available in the U.S. through 20+ partners (and growing).
It is the virtualized version of IP Office (specifically, the IP Office Select software) that is perfectly suited to a hosted/data center environment as it allows a unique VMware instance to be set up and managed for each end customer. Further, full redundancy can easily be made available by deploying a secondary server instance in a geographically separate data center or by storing a copy of the VMware instance in an off-site location for activation in the event of an outage. With the latest feature pack, Avaya IP Office Select software can support up to 3,000 users across as many as 150 sites.
The Avaya IP Office UCaaS and CCaaS deployment options are timely as more and more businesses are evaluating and adopting subscription-based hosted/cloud services for telephony and UC to replace or augment aging telecom equipment or for the ease of utilizing advanced applications as-a-service, without the hassle of installing any hardware or software on-site.
Avaya is leveraging its expertise in traditional, on-premises telephony solutions to offer hybrid cloud-premises configurations which will likely be the most common type of deployment going forward. Hybrid models protect existing investments by allowing a business to continue using on-site equipment, while taking advantage of a pay-as-you-go hosted service for some applications or to network a mix of premises-based and cloud-based solutions across geographically dispersed business locations. Because Avaya uses the same software code base for premises and cloud IP Office solutions, the company can support the deployment (cloud or on-site) that best meets a particular customer’s requirements.
Recently, Avaya highlighted its progress with respect to the hybrid cloud, announcing a hybrid networking capability that enables the networking of cloud and premises deployments. For example, a multi-site organization with existing investments in telephony equipment can continue to use these premises-based assets at some locations (IP Office 500V2, IP Office Server Edition or IP Office Select), while subscribing to hosted/cloud services at remote sites (Powered by Avaya IP Office or OnAvaya – Google Cloud), creating a unified, multi-site network with extension dialing and feature parity across all locations regardless of the deployment.
With either Avaya hosted deployment (Powered by or OnAvaya), IP Office customers with premises-based installations can take advantage of some over-the-top services such as contact center in the cloud or disaster recovery that provides a temporary backup system hosted in an off-site data center. Additional hybrid capabilities are on the roadmap and will roll out in phases during 2016.
The Powered by Avaya IP Office subscription bundles sold to end customers are defined and branded by each hosting partner. Below we highlight some of the offers and packages available now in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
- AGC Networks, a global technology solution integrator and Avaya Connect Platinum Partner in India, is offering the Avaya cloud-based unified communications solutions to businesses across India. This includes services for small and midmarket businesses based on the Avaya IP Office platform and larger businesses based on the Avaya Aura platform.
- ScanSource Catalyst has introduced Cloud Solutions featuring Avaya IP Office which are hosted by ViaWest, a colocation, managed services provider in North America. This pay-per-user-per-month model has two user options: Telephony Plus and Advanced UC.
- Six Degrees Group (6DG), an Avaya Connect Platinum Partner in the UK, is offering a unified communications service powered by Avaya IP Office to UK-based small and midsize businesses. The service is delivered over 6DG’s high speed, privately owned, managed network and also leverages 6DG’s SIP services and business continuity capabilities.
- StarHub, a communications provider in the Singapore region, is offering the StarHub SmartUC service based on Avaya IP Office for businesses in Singapore. StarHub has designed two options: SmartUC Standard, a traditional on-premises deployment designed for smaller businesses with more basic communications needs, and SmartUC Premium for mid- and larger-sized businesses with more sophisticated UC requirements (deployed on-premises or as a hosted service).
- SYNNEX Corporation is offering a hosted solution based on the Avaya IP Office Platform as part of its SYNNEX CLOUDSolv technology portfolio. The SYNNEX Monthly Hosted Cloud Solution for IP Office is available to resellers in the continental U.S. and Canada.
- TELMEX, a telecommunications services provider in Mexico, is offering the TELMEX Managed Unified Communications service, a hosted UC service based on IP Office. The service is hosted in TELMEX data centers and is available as a monthly fee or as a pay-on-demand subscription to businesses in Mexico City and across the region.
- Westcon has launched the UCaaS solution Powered by Avaya IP Office for its reseller customers in the United States and Canada. Westcon is partnering with TelAgility for cloud hosting, carrier services, customer billing and tax compliance. Data centers are located in New York, Los Angeles and Montreal.
For the OnAvaya – Google Cloud U.S.-only offer, Avaya tells us that there are no predefined user packages. Each customer will select the number and type of UC and/or contact center users at time of order and can flexibly adjust these quantities as their business grows. Avaya has not disclosed any list pricing for the service, but explains that each partner will determine a “street price” based on their own costs and other value-added services. More to come on this new offer and the partners selling it.
Cisco Spark Adds Cloud Telephony and Video Conferencing
Cisco has extended the features and functionality of its cloud-based team collaboration application, Cisco Spark, adding business telephony and video conferencing to the existing messaging and meeting capabilities already available. This latest development takes Spark to a whole new level, making it a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) contender with built-in messaging, meeting and calling functionality. The Spark Calling service is aimed at small and mid-sized businesses with 250 users or less and is offered through Cisco partners as a monthly per-user subscription.
To recap, Cisco had been seeking feedback on this evolving cloud-based application since its introduction as Project Squared in November 2014. In early 2015, Cisco incorporated new features, added additional device support and began offering Spark as a free version with limited functionality (e.g. one-to-one video calling and 3-party meetings) or as a monthly subscription with additional functionality such as room moderation, directory synchronization and broader meeting capabilities.
The complete Cisco Spark service with the new telephony and video conferencing functionality is available through Cisco partners as of March 8, 2016 in the United States. General availability in Australia is expected later in 2016, followed by Canada, the UK, Germany, France and additional countries in 2017.
Spark User Packages
Cisco defines three “M” level packages (for Messaging and Meeting capabilities) and a “C” level package (for Calling) that can be layered on top.
M1, M2 and M3 target hybrid implementations in which a Cisco customer wants to complement and enhance an existing Cisco Unified Communications Manager (UCM) system with the Spark Messaging and Meeting capabilities added as a subscription-based service. Cisco continues to offer a “free” Spark service for instant messaging and one-to-one video with other Spark users.
- M1: “Business Messaging” allows Spark users to participate in group chats, engage in 3-party video calling with screen sharing and easily join Spark and SIP-based meetings (WebEx is not required).
- M2: “Business Messaging & Basic Meetings” builds on M1 to support 25-party meetings with other Spark users (WebEx is not required).
- M3: “Business Messaging & Advanced Meetings” adds WebEx-powered meetings, including with external participants, Personal Meeting Rooms and meeting scheduling.
The new Spark Calling capability adds business-class voice and video, mobility and voice messaging. This “C” package can be added to any of the M level options to enable telephony as-a-service from the cloud, eliminating the need for a phone system on-site. The Spark cloud-based phone system is optimized for the under-250 user market with an essential telephony feature set (a subset of the Cisco UCM features).
To be specific, small and mid-sized businesses in select geographies can subscribe to the following Cisco Spark Calling packages:
- C1: M1 + Cloud Calling (business-class voice and video, mobility and voice messaging)
- C2: M2 + Cloud Calling (business-class voice and video, mobility and voice messaging)
- C3: M3 + Cloud Calling (business-class voice and video, mobility and voice messaging)
Cisco Spark is sold as an annual contract, with discounts for pre-paid annual subscriptions. List pricing ranges from about $8 to $29 per user per month for an annual subscription (pre-paid) for the M options or about $20 to $39 per user per month for an annual subscription (pre-paid) for the C options; partners will offer discounted street pricing. A few add-on services are available, including for room registration and event training centers.
Note that PSTN Calling is an additional monthly fee above the cost of the C level plans. Cisco has announced IntelePeer as the first Preferred Media Partner (PMP) that will provide PSTN services; others will follow. Alternatively, in hybrid environments, customers that have purchased or are considering purchasing a Cisco Business Edition or Cisco UCM solution can utilize Cisco’s new Call Service Connect software to connect to the Spark cloud. This allows Spark users to place and receive PSTN calls via the customer’s local PSTN gateway (i.e. “bring your own Cisco call control”). More below on the Spark Hybrid Services.
Cisco is placing an emphasis on investment protection in that Cisco customers with a premises-based solution for call control can take advantage of Spark cloud services, while continuing to leverage their existing equipment investments. Studies validate the growing preference for hybrid cloud-premises implementations as businesses of all sizes recognize the value in flexibly deploying a combination of on-site equipment and hosted services to best fit their particular business communications needs and requirements.
As noted above, Spark Messaging and Meeting services complement and enhance the functionality available with a Cisco UCM system. This includes systems deployed on-site (Business Edition 6000 or 7000 or Cisco UCM), as well as Cisco’s Hosted Collaboration System (HCS) that delivers Cisco’s UCM and collaboration portfolio as a subscription-based service. Spark services bring a dual benefit when it comes to Cisco’s HCS since HCS customers can take advantage of Spark Messaging and Meeting for enhanced functionality, and HCS partners can now target SMBs with the more cost-effective Spark cloud-based phone system (HCS is typically best suited for medium to large organizations).
To be specific, customers that have Cisco’s Business Edition or Cisco UCM deployed on-site or that subscribe to Cisco HCS-delivered services will interact with Spark via software applications known as “Connectors.” These Connector applications reside on a Cisco Expressway gateway that can be deployed virtually or as an appliance. Cisco defines four Spark Hybrid Services generally available as of March 8, 2016 in 30 countries (these services are included with the M-level packages):
- Call Service Aware for shared features among Spark (cloud) users and premises-based users such as desktop sharing (Q1 CY16). In the near future, Call Service Aware will enable desktop phone control by the Spark client (Q2 CY16).
- Call Service Connect for placing and answering calls between Spark clients and premises-based clients (Q1 CY16). Used with Call Service Aware, the Spark client will also provide a complete, unified call history list of calls made, missed or answered via the desk phone or the Spark client.
- Calendar Service for scheduling meetings from a mobile device or Outlook; Spark will automatically create a “room” to meet in (available since July 2015). Integration with Microsoft Office 365 is planned (Q2 CY16).
- Directory Service for extending the enterprise directory to the cloud; entries are synchronized and secure (available since March 2015).
Cisco is offering Professional Services to help with configurations, customizations and end user training, and has launched the Cisco Spark for Developers environment for building custom applications and integrations. Additionally, at the recent Enterprise Connect 2016 event, Cisco announced the Cisco Spark Innovation Fund, a $150 million investment to accelerate the creation of custom applications and integration tools based on the Spark communications platform. Rowan Trollope, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cisco’s Internet of Things (IoT) and Collaboration Technology Group explains what’s behind the significant investment, "This unique SaaS model is not about service providers simply reselling Cisco Spark, but about joint innovation and shared business outcomes."
Despite the Cloud, Part II
A few new premises-based IP-PBX systems enter the market
Business communications manufacturers are putting a lot of R&D into building out their cloud unified communications (UC) offers. Their commitment to “cloud” is strong, and for good reason as we witness the continued migration from traditional on-premises telephony and UC installations toward subscription-based services to access these solutions. Nevertheless, these vendors continue to roll out enhanced hardware and new software releases for their on-site phone systems. And, even a few brand new premises-based IP-PBX systems made their way into the market over the past year.
Market analysts confirm a steady decline in the enterprise telephony market globally as businesses hold off on new phone system (PBX) purchases (e.g. see reports from Infonetics and MZA), yet the installed base of TDM, hybrid and pure IP-PBXs remains a significant opportunity in terms of software and support contracts and the potential to upgrade these to more advanced technology or as part of a hybrid cloud migration. Incidentally, vendors that have developed both premises- and cloud-based solutions using the same software stream are in a particularly good position since any new software releases will benefit both solution types.
Since 2015, five of the vendors we track actually introduced a new IP-PBX system for on-site installations. This is down from the prior year’s review (there is some overlap since two of the new hardware models from Cisco and Panasonic made their debut in the early part of 2015 and were included in the last review) and another tell-tale sign of the march toward UC in the cloud with its appealing budgetary and strategic advantages (e.g. predictable per-user monthly fees, reduced capital expenses, fewer IT personnel, flexible scale, consistency across a network, ease of adding future innovations, etc.).
Below are “recent” IP-PBX entries. The majority target the small and mid-sized business (SMB) market, except for ShoreTel’s new Connect ONSITE premises-based system which, like its predecessor, scales to fit small to large businesses by supporting up to 20,000 users in a single system image.
New IP-PBXs 1Q 2015 – 1Q 2016
Cisco’s Business Edition 6000S became generally available in January 2015. This all-in-one business collaboration platform is built into a Cisco 2921 Integrated Services Router (ISR) with a Cisco UCS-E server blade on which five pre-configured and “essential” virtualized applications are running. BE6000S targets the low-end of the mid-market or branch offices with 25-150 users and introduces a smaller scale, more cost-effective version of the full Business Edition 6000 virtualized telephony platform designed for mid-market organizations with up to 1,000 users. Cisco’s BE6000S fills a gap in Cisco’s product line, following the January 2014 end-of-sale of the company’s line of on-premises business telephony platforms for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). See the write-up Cisco Introduces Business Edition 6000S for Smaller Offices for more detail.
Panasonic released the KX-NS700 communications server for SMBs in the U.S. in February 2015. The system offers scale and functionality over and above the company’s earlier KX-NCP500/1000 and KX-TDE100/200 converged digital/IP systems. The KX-NS700 supports 288 extensions, including up to 160 analog or digital extensions and up to 128 IP extensions. Notable features include built-in voicemail with email notification (expandable via licensing), an embedded call center capability and license-activated One-Look Networking software that connects multiple KX-NS700 servers and the earlier, higher-capacity KX-NS1000 server as a single system with centralized administration and reporting. See the write-up Panasonic Targets SMBs with New KX-NS700 Communications Server for more detail.
Allworx’s new Connect series entered the market in March and April 2015, representing the company’s third generation of IP phone systems for small and mid-sized businesses. Connect, with faster processor speed and the latest System Software 8.0, enables additional functionality over and above earlier Allworx systems such as the Allworx Reach Link device handover capability, native Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and enhanced security (HTTPS encryption). There are five Connect models for different capacity requirements: Connect 731 (to 180 users), Connect 536 (to 50 users), Connect 530 (to 50 users, no analog ports), Connect 324 (to 20 users) and Connect 320 (to 20 users, no analog ports). See the write-up Allworx Introduces Third Generation IP Phone System, Allworx Connect for more detail.
ShoreTel began the phased rollout of its newly developed platform ShoreTel Connect in September 2015. ShoreTel Connect is designed to function as a common platform for cloud, on-premises and hybrid deployments, with the same user experience, features and applications regardless of the deployment. Connect ONSITE, the name of the new premises-based system, retains and builds upon ShoreTel’s earlier IP-PBX functionality and unique architecture with distributed application servers for management and distributed voice switches for call control and trunk and station connections, supporting up to 20,000 users in a single system image. ShoreTel has introduced an all-new user interface, plus a number of new capabilities, including a new Edge Gateway security device, Remote VPN phones, redesigned Director management software and a new series of double density “ST” Voice Switches, to name a few. See the related write-up “ShoreTel Addresses the Hybrid Cloud with New Connect Platform” for more detail on Connect ONSITE and the other Connect solutions (Connect Cloud, Connect Contact Center, Connect HYBRID Apps and Connect HYBRID Sites).
Vertical Communications expanded its Summit product family in November 2015, adding a new higher-capacity model for medium businesses. The new Summit 800 IP/TDM hybrid phone system supports up to 400 users in single system or to 800 users by connecting an expansion unit. With Summit, popular telephony functionality is built-in, including voicemail and auto attendant, e-mail notification, Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and Web-based administration. More advanced capabilities, such as click-to-call, a mobile client for Android or iOS devices and a softphone for Windows PCs, are embedded and easily license-activated without the need for any add-on software (five licenses of each are included). Call Recording and an IP Attendant can be optionally added. Vertical introduced the first Summit system in 2014 as an IP key system suitable for businesses with 5-50 users with scale to 140 extensions using one of four basic system units and one expansion unit. Both Summit systems can be part of an IP network (up to 250 sites) with Vertical’s small SBX IP and larger MBX IP key systems.
Toshiba's Two-pronged Hybrid Cloud Approach
Recent market studies validate the shift toward hosted/cloud unified communications in general, but also highlight a growing preference for hybrid cloud-premises implementations. A 2015 IDG Enterprise survey finds the number of small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) and enterprises planning to implement a hybrid unified communications and collaboration model is rising, citing 54% of enterprises and 42% of SMBs in their survey are preparing to do so in the next two years (compared to 30% and 27% using a hybrid approach today).
Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division is on board with the trend toward the hybrid cloud - and has been for a while. Toshiba first introduced its VIPedge cloud-based service in 2012 as a hosted version of the company’s IPedge IP-based system (the same software stream), adding this option to its well-known portfolio of telephony systems and other on-premises business communications solutions. Toshiba’s experience in communications dates back 140 years.
Since 2012, Toshiba has been developing additional cloud-related offerings, including hybrid solutions that involve a combination of on-site equipment and hosted services – often a perfect fit for the company’s installed base of IPedge systems, Strata CIX converged IP/digital systems and even the earlier Strata CTX digital systems. For Toshiba, investment protection and ensuring that its customers are not left behind as technology moves forward remains a top priority during the company’s research and development cycles.
Hybrid Cloud Approaches
To explain further, most of the traditional telephony vendors are now offering some cloud-based solutions. These may include (1) Hybrid Applications that allow a business customer to subscribe to hosted/cloud services for some applications, while using on-site solutions for others and/or (2) Hybrid Networking whereby a multi-site organization can deploy an on-site telephony system at some locations, while subscribing to a cloud telephony service at others, tying all locations together as a single network with feature transparency and common applications across all users regardless of the deployment model.
While many of its competitors are in the process of developing solutions for both hybrid approaches, Toshiba is already there.
In June 2014, Toshiba introduced Hybrid Cloud Networking among the company’s hosted/cloud telephony UC service (VIPedge) and its premises-based business phone systems (IPedge andStrata CIX). Toshiba customers can also tie in the company’s SIP Trunking I-VoIP Service for free local and long distance calling among all networked locations. Toshiba’s VIPedge Application Service followed in September 2014, making Unified Messaging (UM) and Unified Communications (UC) applications available “as-a-service” for Toshiba customers with a Strata CIX or upgraded Strata CTX system (these apps are already built into the company’s IPedge software). In 2015, Toshiba announced common management across its cloud and on-site solutions with the latest version of its Enterprise Manager browser-based administration tool.
A Case in Point
Toshiba has a number of actual hybrid cloud deployments under its belt, including Dixie Plywood and Lumber Company, a Toshiba customer since 1996. Dixie Plywood added Toshiba’s VIPedge cloud-based business telephone service to its existing network of IPedge and Strata CIX on-premises systems, creating a unified hybrid network across 12 locations in five states. With Toshiba as the single vendor, multi-site businesses like Dixie Plywood can choose the deployment type (cloud or on-premises or a mix of both) that makes the most sense for their particular business communications needs and requirements.
Look for additional IPedge software improvements in 2016 that will benefit Toshiba’s installed base of IP-PBX systems (a huge opportunity in terms of software and support contracts and the potential to integrate these as part of a hybrid cloud migration) and the company’s VIPedge cloud service. Any new IPedge software developments effectively “kill two birds with one stone” since the improvements will benefit both deployment types (premises and cloud). Some key hosted capabilities are coming in 2016, including meet-me conferencing, contact center and disaster recovery delivered from the cloud. Stay tuned.
Vertical Updates Wave IP, Adopts Cloud-first Strategy
Vertical Communications is in the midst of a transition focused on growing and enhancing its unified communications (UC) portfolio around the concept of streamlining business “workflows” and how people work today. It is solutions, not technology or infrastructure that will impact a worker’s ability to conduct business and better manage customer interactions. To this end, Vertical has identified some key focus areas in terms of its product strategy: flexible delivery models (on-premises, cloud and hybrid), enhanced, yet simplified collaboration via video, mobile, chat and other technologies and open APIs for development of customized applications that target specific vertical markets.
In the near-term, Vertical will release two new software updates for Wave IP, the company’s lead telephony system for the small and mid-sized business (SMB) market and larger distributed organizations. The new releases, Wave IP V5.1 (currently in beta) and V6.0 (in alpha and expected within the next few months), will add some key functionality, including a new virtualized version of Wave IP, a multi-channel contact center solution, new unified communications client options and a cloud-based Web and video conferencing service.
Both the traditional Wave IP unified communications (UC) appliance and the forthcoming “Virtual Wave” incorporate Vertical’s ‘Applications Inside’ architecture that embeds all applications within the system software. Most of the functionality is standard with a single user license, including enterprise telephony features, voicemail and mobile twinning, Vertical’s ViewPoint desktop and mobile UC client applications and ViewPoint Softphone. Additional applications such as for contact center and networking can also be incorporated without any additional hardware.
What’s New for Wave IP 5.1 and 6.0?
The new software releases for Wave IP, currently in testing, address the need for flexible delivery of the product, simplified collaboration and improved interactions with customers. Here are some of the highlights:
- Virtualization. With V6.0, Vertical is releasing a new virtualized software-only version of Wave IP (VMware vSphere technology) designed for customers looking to consolidate hardware and incorporate telephony components into their IT infrastructure. The new virtualized version also fits well in a hosted or cloud-based environment (a public cloud offering based on Wave IP is planned for 2017). “Virtual Wave” will handle an estimated 1,500 users per node (currently in performance testing) compared to 750 users on the existing appliance model.
- Customer Connect. Wave IP supports an add-on application today for an inbound and outbound voice-centric call center capability with skills-based routing and queuing. A later version of 6.0 will add a new multi-channel contact center software option called Customer Connect that will allow agents and customers to interact using non-voice technologies such as Web, chat, video and SMS. Like all Vertical applications, no additional hardware is required to implement Customer Connect; only a software purchase and a license for each agent is required ($500 per agent).
- ViewPoint Hub. Vertical is expanding its portfolio of ViewPoint client applications. The overall portfolio referred to as “ViewPoint Team Connect” includes Vertical’s current ViewPoint desktop and mobile UC client applications and ViewPoint Softphone which are already part of the single Wave IP user license. V5.1 will add a new Web browser-based version (ViewPoint Web) that requires no VPN or client download. The forthcoming ViewPoint Hub is a new concept that will provide enterprise users with a personal web URL (a web equivalent of a business card). Through ViewPoint Hub, external colleagues and customers will be able to connect with the enterprise user using voice, video and IM. Users can, for example, publish this personal URL via their email signature or add it to their LinkedIn profile. Team collaboration is on the roadmap.
- Vertical Meetings. Over the past year, Vertical has introduced some cloud-based applications which are easily added over-the-top as subscription services. The latest is Vertical Meetings (now in limited release) which enables unlimited team meetings and webinars with video conferencing, file sharing, remote control and private chats for as many as 500 participants. Participants simply click on a single link to enter the meeting – there are no downloads required and no PINs to remember. Vertical will offer three subscription tiers that are priced per user/account (the user is a moderator; participants join for free). VMeeting joins two earlier cloud-based services, CRMLink and Vertical Updates. All of these subscription services can be easily accessed by customers from Vertical’s new secure portal VAppcenter.com that runs on Amazon Web Services.
Down the Road
Going forward, Vertical is adopting a “cloud-first” strategy such that any new applications will be designed as cloud services that can be accessed by all Vertical customers, even those with earlier premises-based telephony deployments. Vertical uses the same Wave IP code base for all of its Wave-related solutions whether on-site or accessed in the cloud, making it possible for Vertical to offer hybrid arrangements which will likely be the most common type of deployment going forward. Customers can select the combination of on-premises equipment and cloud services that best fits their particular business “workflow” needs.
More cloud-based applications are expected in 2017, along with a new public cloud offering based on Wave IP (Unified Communications as a Service or UCaaS) that will likely target smaller businesses, though the target market is still under review. Additionally, Wave IP customers can expect increased scalability through server clustering, more contact center enhancements (related to social media, analytics and self-service) and open APIs for development of custom integrations. Stay tuned.
In recent news:
3CX announces the integration of its software-based phone system with software-as-a-service solutions from Tenfold. The Tenfold solutions enhance the integration of the 3CX Phone System with popular Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems through additional dialing options, reporting and analytics such as Tenfold’s lead danger reports, team-based analytics and automated “next” dialing that prioritizes sales workflow, among other capabilities. Tenfold products support integrations with dozens of CRM systems, including Salesforce, Zendesk, NetSuite, InfusionSoft, Oracle, Sugar and many others.
8x8 is enhancing its current Virtual Office Meetings cloud-based conferencing and collaboration service with HD video conferencing and mobile collaboration. Support for HD 1080p video on laptops and computers will be generally available this spring, adding to the meeting features already available such as one-click meeting scheduling, document sharing and annotation, group chat, launching a web conference from a chat session and standard-definition video conferencing. Additionally, this summer, the 8x8 Virtual Office mobile client for iOS and Android will add support for Meetings with HD 720p video. Virtual Office Meetings is available as part of 8x8's Virtual Office Professional bundle. In other news, 8x8 is updating its Virtual Contact Center (VCC) service (June 2016) to include a native quality management solution (interaction recording and display and agent scorecards), customer journey analytics (from the customers’ perspective) and a new EasyConfig tool for contact center managers to better control agent screen and workflow options.
Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise announces Rainbow, a new cloud service that will be operated by ALE to offer contact management, instant messaging, presence, persistent messaging, audio/video, screen sharing and other cloud-based business services. Rainbow is an overlay approach that makes the cloud services available to companies with any vendor’s on-premises or cloud-based solution. Rainbow expands upon ALE’s earlier OpenTouch Personal Cloud portfolio that requires channel partners to invest in invoicing tools and support. With Rainbow, ALE becomes the complete provider, making it easier for partners to offer these services to end customers. Later in the year, ALE will add support for a hybrid approach (Cloud Connect) that will allow premises-based communications platforms from ALE and other vendors to connect to and integrate with the Rainbow cloud services. To encourage usage, ALE will begin to offer free Rainbow services to its installed base in the second quarter of 2016. In other news, ALE will be introducing virtualized versions of its communications servers (planned for Q4 2016 and early 2017), two new DECT phones and a new entry-level IP desk phone (GA Q2 2016).
AltiGen updates its MaxACD all-software contact center specifically designed for Microsoft’s Skype for Business (Lync) and Office 365. The new R7.0 software adds Web Chat Queuing and Routing (click-to-chat from any web page with chat requests routed to available agents) as another channel for customers to engage with agents in addition to voice-centric communications. R7.0 also adds a new web-based administrator console for administering agents and workgroups and monitoring and managing system activity. AltiGen MaxACD runs on industry standard servers using VMware or Hyper-V virtualization technologies and can be deployed on-premises, in the cloud or in a hybrid configuration.
Avaya has expanded the deployment options for its IP Office cloud services, now offering two options for its channel partners - a partner-hosted, partner-branded hosted/cloud service available globally (Powered by Avaya IP Office) and an Avaya-hosted, Avaya-branded option available in the U.S. (OnAvaya-Google Cloud) for partners that do not have the data center infrastructure to host and manage the service. See the related write-up Avaya Expands Deployment Options for IP Office Cloud for more detail.
Avaya announces a new subsidiary called Zang that offers a cloud-based communications platform-as-a-service with an application development environment, embedded Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and pre-built applications. Developers and end users can utilize the Zang subscription-based services to build and deploy custom communications-enabled applications and services for consumers or enterprises. This includes using Zang applications with third party communications applications such as Cisco Spark, Microsoft Skype for Business and Google Hangouts. Zang leverages the assets of the previously-acquired Esna Technologies and its cloud integration software, but extends these capabilities into more of a complete and open development platform with APIs and pre-built applications such as the forthcoming Zang Spaces team collaboration application expected in the second half of 2016. The Zang communications platform is available now in the United States. Avaya also announces “Avaya Breeze,” a new name for the Avaya Engagement Development Platform and a new direction that extends this Avaya Aura application development environment to now support third party communications platform integrations. The new Avaya Snapp Store is an online marketplace for distribution and purchase of Avaya Breeze applications (pre-built snap-ins) that are developed by Avaya or third party developers.
BroadSoft acquires cloud contact center company Transera and its omni-channel (voice, email, chat and social) and analytics software solutions for the contact center. The acquisition expands the BroadSoft portfolio into the rapidly growing Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) market and will enable BroadSoft’s service provider customers to offer a “single stack” solution that includes contact center along with its BroadWorks and BroadCloud hosted PBX and Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) offers and with the service provider’s own network transport.
Cisco has extended the features and functionality of its cloud-based team collaboration application, Cisco Spark, adding business telephony and video conferencing to the existing messaging and meeting capabilities already available. This latest development takes Spark to a whole new level, making it a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) contender with built-in messaging, meeting and calling functionality. The Spark Calling service is aimed at small and mid-sized businesses with 250 users or less and is offered through Cisco partners as a monthly per-user subscription. See the related write-up Cisco Spark Adds Cloud Telephony and Video Conferencing for more details. Cisco also announced the Cisco Spark Innovation Fund, a $150 million investment to accelerate the creation of custom applications and integration tools based on the Spark communications platform, and the recent acquisition of Synata search technology which is expected to enhance the existing Cisco Spark search capabilities. In other news, Cisco is also buying IoT service provider Jasper Technologies; Cisco will benefit from Jasper’s recurring revenue IoT business, but will also be adding new services, including advanced IoT security and analytics solutions.
Digium updates its Switchvox premises-based telephony system with enhancements based on the company’s latest Asterisk 13 software. The new Release 6 introduces a redesign of the company’s Switchboard Web-based call control application that adds customizable, roles-based user interfaces, improved Salesforce.com integration and several new widgets, among other features. R6 also introduces Switchvox support for VMware, adding a new, virtualized software-only deployment option for Switchvox customers looking to consolidate hardware and incorporate telephony components into their IT infrastructure. Switchvox 6 was already generally available for Digium’s hosted Switchvox Cloud service and is now officially announced for the on-premises deployments - Switchvox Appliance and the new Switchvox for VMware. Switchvox customers with an on-premises deployment and a current support contract can upgrade to Switchvox 6 at no additional cost; Switchvox for VMware starts at $2,745.
ThinkingPhones renames as fuze, the name of the cloud video conferencing company it acquired in November 2015. The new name is meant to emphasize that the company’s cloud-based services encompass more than just voice and telephony, but deliver (i.e. “fuze”) voice, text, data, and video on a single platform. The company is currently integrating the Fuze web and video conferencing technology with the ThinkingPhones UC services and will be introducing new user bundles in the near-term, along with a unified client application that combines all modes of interaction (voice, email, SMS, video, etc.) that will allow users to easily move between modes for more efficient and effective communications.
Grandstream Networks launches the new IPVideoTalk cloud-based Video, Audio and Web Conferencing service. The platform, built from scratch by Grandstream and hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), allows users to schedule meetings, set up recurring meetings or initiate instant meeting via the online interface. IPVideoTalk is available to consumers and businesses worldwide. Grandstream is offering three subscription plans: a Basic plan for $39 per month (25 meeting attendees, three video presenters), a Pro plan for $55 per month (50 meeting attendees, eight video presenters) and a Plus plan that supports 100 meeting participants; there is also a free 2-month trial. Currently, participants can join using any Grandstream GVC series model or Chrome/Firefox browsers on a PC or Mac. In other news, Grandstream introduces a new 8-line, color IP business phone with on-screen digital BLF keys for high call volume users (list price US $115).
Interactive Intelligence announces PureCloud Engage for Salesforce, a new integration with the Salesforce customer relationship management (CRM) solution. Users can manage and queue calls, emails and Web chats from within the Salesforce user interface, as well as view screen pops of customer information driven by caller ID, dialed number, email address and other data. The integration also supports real-time presence status settings and integrated reporting. PureCloud Engage is part of the company’s PureCloud suite of unified communications and contact center applications running on Amazon Web Services (AWS). PureCloud Engage for Salesforce is available on the Salesforce AppExchange website.
LiveOps Cloud has developed a new Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) platform called CxEngage that builds on the company’s early innovations in the cloud contact center, but adds an open API framework and integration with customer relationship management (CRM), workforce management (WFM) and business intelligence (BI) applications. CxEngage is a multi-tenant solution that runs in Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centers located in various world regions, making the service available to multi-national contact centers that require geographic coverage; over 17,000 users are already on board, according to the company. In November 2015, LiveOps Cloud became an independent CCaaS company. (Mitel introduced the cloud-based MiContact Center Live Service in 2014 based on the LiveOps platform.)
MegaPath enhances its Channel Partner Program with more dedicated resources, enhanced tools and new reward programs, including an additional dedicated sales team and the new Enterprise Partner In-Depth Care (EPIC) Support Program that gives eligible partners and customers direct access to a support agent for service and support (unique toll-free number and PIN for contact). In addition, the company’s MasterStream quoting tool has been upgraded to provide quotes for all product types (Hosted PBX, SIP Trunks and PRI products), and there is a new commission system with a customizable dashboard and improved reporting. Partner rewards and incentives for selling MegaPath services now include the new Jump Start SPIFF (Sales Promotion Incentive Fund) that pays one times (1X) the monthly recurring revenue (MRR) on Q1 revenue over $1,000 (already offers other SPIFF bonuses), plus travel rewards for top-performing agents and partners. MegaPath’s Channel Partner Program includes more than 4,500 Master Agents, Integrators and VARs in North America.
Microsoft makes several announcements related to its new Office 365 E5 Skype for Business Cloud PBX solution, including extended availability for Microsoft’s Skype for Business Online to 32 countries (up from 15), with further availability soon in 60 countries and 100 countries by the end of June. Microsoft also introduces a new virtual Organizational Auto Attendant for the Cloud PBX (GA in April), allowing customers to use Office 365 for the automated handling of business calls and using speech recognition, and a new Cloud Connector Edition of Skype for Business Server for connecting existing phone lines and phone numbers to Office 365. Microsoft will offer a preview of Skype for Business PSTN Calling services in the UK in May (to date, PSTN Calling has only been available in the U.S.).
Microsoft is partnering with Polycom and Logitech in a new initiative codenamed “Project Rigel” that will bring Skype Meeting technology to meeting rooms which are not equipped for modern video conferencing, but have traditional projectors or displays and require remote participants to dial via telephone. The new solutions will involve devices running Windows 10 for center-of-room touch control and Skype for Business online meeting technology for remote participants; the first systems are expected in the second half of 2016. In other news, Microsoft is acquiring Xamarin and its platform for mobile application development; the combination of Xamarin’s mobile development offering with Microsoft’s Visual Studio, Visual Studio Team Services and Azure will provide a complete mobile app development solution for developing, testing and delivery.
Numonix announces the compatibility of its RECITE interaction recording solution with the Microsoft Office 365 hosted service, specifically the new premium Office 365 Enterprise Suite (E5) that adds Skype for Business services and enterprise voice features (telephony) to the hosted service. The latest version of RECITE (3.0) goes beyond voice recording to capture and record content from the multiple media types supported within a Microsoft Skype for Business environment. RECITE 3.0 records voice, but also video, chat and even screen-based communications such as application sharing and polling that often occurs during a conference. RECITE 3.0 was announced for Microsoft Skype for Business (Lync) environments last fall and is now available as a cloud-based service for Office 365 E5 customers. See the related write-ups Numonix Introduces Multi-media Monitoring and Recording with RECITE 3.0 and Microsoft Offers Cloud PBX with New Office 365 E5 Bundle for more details.
RingCentral makes a series of announcements of late, including the new RingCentral Global Office cloud service that allows a multi-national company to expand the RingCentral Office solution to international offices in supported countries and manage all offices via a single centralized administrator dashboard. RingCentral is also extending its Connect developer platform to include a WebRTC-based API and developer kit (now in beta), and is testing a new browser-based voice calling capability that leverages its cloud phone system, a company directory and a WebRTC-enabled browser to escalate a messaging conversation to a voice call. In other news, RingCentral reports “significant traction” of the Glip team collaboration application, citing three times the usage since the acquisition of Glip in June 2015.
ShoreTel has completed the rollout of its new Connect platform, announcing that Connect HYBRID Sites is now generally available in North America for networking Connect ONSITE and Connect CLOUD services and applications across multiple locations. Customers with a hybrid cloud-premises deployment will benefit from automated directory synchronization, a common dial plan that allows extension-to-extension dialing and feature parity for the mixed deployment model. The full ShoreTel Connect portfolio, including Connect ONSITE, Connect CLOUD and Connect HYBRID Sites, is now available in the U.S. and Canada (Connect ONSITE, the new premises-based system, is available globally). For more on the ShoreTel Connect solutions, see ShoreTel Addresses the Hybrid Cloud with New Connect Platform.
Switch.co renames as Dialpad Communications. The new name is said to reflect a user-centric concept that makes it easy for users to access voice, video, messaging and meetings via any device (a unified “dialpad”), offering a “more consumer-like communications experience,” according to the company. Dialpad (formerly Switch.co and Firespotter Labs before that) launched its cloud-based, business-grade phone system for Google Apps in January 2015 for $15 per user per month. Integration with Microsoft Office 365 was announced in October 2015. The company also offers the UberConference audio conferencing and online meeting service.
tekVizion introduces the onTap cloud environment for interoperability testing and solution optimization as-a-service. The new onTAP is a “virtual UC Lab in the cloud” that hosts virtual instances of business communications platforms applications. Companies simply schedule a time online (a pay-per-use model) to log into the lab environment and conduct their interoperability testing; this eliminates the need to purchase any hardware and software to configure an in-house test system. In addition to interoperability testing, OnTAP is being used for real-time demonstration and training. tekVizion has also launched a unique “guarantee” program that guarantees the specific tech components tested will interoperate in that same configuration in a real-world environment; otherwise, tekVizion promises to troubleshoot the interoperability and re-test the configuration. This #tekVizionVerified seal of approval essentially “de-risks” the enterprise purchase and helps end-user customers make better technology decisions.
Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division IPedge software release 1.7.1 embeds two new applications: Meet-me Audio Conference and Call Accounting. The new capabilities add to multiple IPedge applications already residing on the Linux-based server, including call processing, unified messaging, unified communications, mobility and centralized administration. With the new Meet-me audio conferencing, four audio channel licenses are included free, and additional channels can be license-activated for more capacity depending on the IPedge server model and type (for example, up to 200 conference channels are possible on the highest-capacity IPedge Virtual Server EM). The new built-in Call Accounting application has no additional license requirements and requires no external hardware or software to generate call activity reports.
Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise and recently acquired by European IT service company Atos) announces OpenScape Enterprise v9 that introduces new features and enhancements to OpenScape UC, OpenScape Voice, OpenScape Branch and OpenScape Session Border Controller applications. The new functionality aims to support the digital workplace and the on-demand nature of work today. Notable features include improved integration with Microsoft Office and additional OpenScape Mobile call control features (OpenScape UC), advanced telephony integration with Unify’s Circuit team collaboration application-as-a-service and new capabilities related to emergency services and cyber security (OpenScape Voice), local voicemail service and improved management (OpenScape Branch) and increased scale and reliability (OpenScape SBC).
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