IT Skittish About Unified Communications Over Public Clouds

Loss of customization and IT control deters deployment.

Tapping unified communications (UC) services over a public cloud may sound like a good idea, but many midsize and large U.S. enterprises are reluctant to use the technology according to an industry-commissioned study conducted by Osterman Research. It found that just 10 percent of survey respondents planned to deploy public cloud-based UC services within the next year. The top reason for not using UC services over a public cloud was "loss of customization and IT control," according to 58 percent of respondents. Other reasons included a "lack of confidence in public cloud uptime claims" and a perceived low level of security.

Seattle-based Azaleos Corp. commissioned the study. A spokesperson for Azaleos said the study "was a broad U.S. survey of 100+ enterprise IT executives conducted in May 2011.", adding that all respondents claimed to be knowledgeable about -- and decision makers for -- the UC systems at their enterprise.

Azaleos specializes in Exchange e-mail, collaboration, and UC technologies, along with managed services, for Fortune 500 and midmarket organizations. The study results don't look promising, even as Microsoft gets ready to launch its Office 365 services that include UC technologies. Microsoft plans to launch Office 365 on June 28 with services offered through Microsoft and its partners.

It's all good, despite some IT skittishness about the public cloud, according to Scott Gode, Azaleos' vice president of product management and marketing.  "I believe it is going to be an exciting thing," Gode said of the Office 365 launch, in a phone interview. "At the end of the day, no matter how strong or weak the perception of that offering is when it comes out of the chutes, the fact that Microsoft is bringing a lot of marketing muscle and a lot of attention focusing on the cloud -- and particularly unified communications in the cloud for e-mail and SharePoint and linked-up applications -- is good for partners overall because it encourages businesses and the IT decision makers in those business to take the pulse of what's happening."

The study, UC in the Cloud: Ready for Primetime?: Cloud Realities in the Age of Office 365, cited several common objections to using the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Services and its coming successor, Office 365. The online services are perceived as having some "limited functionality and features." Areas of concern include Lync's PBX integration, Active Directory Federation Services 2.0 security (with regard to single point of failure), SharePoint integration, and "inadequate support for BlackBerry Enterprise Server," according to the study. IT pros want a "de-migration" possibility to bring capabilities back in house. They also want service level agreements that include response time, as well as service availability.

The study points out that "if decision makers had to choose a public-cloud unified communications provider, only one-third would choose Microsoft BPOS or Office 365." Data security, as well as fears that the services aren't mature yet, typifies the concerns, according to the study.

The UC cloud outlook is not all gloomy for Microsoft and its partners. Of those who said they will not deploy public cloud UC services, nearly half (48 percent) would opt for a private cloud deployment, which is perceived as a more secure option. Hybrid clouds, tapping both public and private cloud infrastructure, were perceived as an option for 45 percent of respondents. The possibility of using a hybrid-cloud architecture boosted the responses of those planning to move within the next year from 10 percent to 26 percent.

The study notes that although the adoption of cloud services for e-mail has overall momentum, using the public cloud for UC services "is relatively slow" yet. UC purportedly ties together a number of communications solutions, such as e-mail, voice-over-IP telephony, presence, calendaring, and Web conferencing, among others.

The 11-page study can be downloaded for free from Azaleos' white paper site (registration required).

A more optimistic survey about the prospects for cloud-based UC was conducted by CDW-G in February, as described here.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.