UCaaS - Alcatel-Lucent Recasts PC As The Personal Cloud

Many will know Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) as the infrastructure company providing high-end switching and routing, many will also know that there will be a bloodshed in the carrier infrastructure as Ericsson, Cisco, Avaya, Huawei, NSN (soon to be just Nokia), ZTE, Juniper and ALU fight it out on carrier and large enterprise infrastructure contracts. Attempts at establishing secondary lines of business like Ericsson’s entry into the mobile handset market and Cisco’s foray into consumer product lines have rarely been successful. Cisco has of course gone on to create a vibrant cloud server business, but ZTE’s and Huawei’s broad entry into the handset and tablet markets is still to be proven outside China. However, the carrier-grade infrastructure providers do all have a common expansion path as they explore cloud service hardware and infrastructure opportunities. Being communication-centric companies, a primary application focus is on unified communications as a service (UCaaS). For ALU Enterprise (ALUE), the solution is called OpenTouch. This shift brings new competitors into scope notably Microsoft’s Lync.

User-Centric OpenTouch UCaaS

In June the global Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALUE) Dynamic Tour 2013 reached Birmingham in the UK, to present its Personal Cloud Era UCaaS vision (replacing the Personal Computer Era) to over a hundred UK customers and channel partners. Core to the ALUE UCaaS approach is the seamless Open Touch integration of voice-video-data streams across multiple end-user devices, and the ability to switch connections from one device to another on the fly, in order to adapt to an ever changing mobile work environment.

Essentially, the ALUE UCaaS philosophy is to take the holistic approach, to be user-centric rather than device-centric; the UCaaS services are device, OS and connection agnostic (albeit with a performance perk on ALUE’s own hardware, where applicable). This is highlighted in the 8-year contract to upgrade connectivity for California State University’s (CSU) 430,000 users across 23 campuses. Based on OmniSwitch hardware, ALUE is to deliver a standards-based high-speed infrastructure providing wired and wireless access to plug-in data and UCaaS services. Winning this contract in a shoot-out with arch-rival Cisco (in Cisco’s own backyard) was down to a combination of price and the degree of open standards adhered to in both software and hardware that allowed CSU to continue using its existing access equipment and students and guests to connect securely using a very broad range of devices.

Apart from secure multi-device and multi-media interoperability, high-speed networks also need ‘application-awareness’ in order to assign the right traffic priorities e.g. distinguishing between traffic streams from critical life support systems in a hospital, and patients checking their emails. The OmniSwitch addresses this issue using ‘virtual network profiling’ (vNP), a deep packet inspection capability with associated MPLS QoS levels and performance optimization. Demonstrating such capabilities along with massive network scalability, security and reliability, ALUE is now targeting the health sector, which has been notoriously slow to adopt even the private cloud paradigm – and winning deals both in the US and the UK.

So What Makes OpenTouch Stand Out?

Personally, I tend to stick with one device per conversation, and I do not take video conference calls with me when I leave my desktop to get into my car with my smartphone. I might conceivably switch an Apple FaceTime call from my phone to a monitor, if I needed to view more details in the picture or involve more people on the conference call – but that is rare. However, I do recognize that most professional videoconference systems providing any level of QoS, are tied to specific end-user devices and configurations.

With OpenTouch, ALUE distinguishes between device-centric video connectivity and user-centric video conversation – ALUE strives to make the technology seamless and thus ‘invisible’ to provide the full conversation experience. Apple and Cisco have led the way with proprietary video conferencing solutions locking customers into both software and hardware, but providing a level of service and interoperability that is hitherto unmatched by any ‘open’ product. This state of play may not last much longer. As available bandwidth goes up and device independent standards like HTML5 mature and become ubiquitous, video interoperability across multiple devices will become a lot easier. However, that will not solve the QoS issue, so on the business user market ALUE stands out with its ability to provide multimedia multi-device interoperability with QoS – optimally using both OpenTouch and the underlying OmniSwitch architecture. However, OpenTouch does provide a single communications environment, on any underlying architecture, to enable users to seamlessly move between devices and media and communicating with multiple parties.

Yet to be proven is the degree to which business users will embrace integrated QoS video conversations, moving off the free point-solutions like Skype. Today this is still only the case for 20% of the +100,000 OpenTouch user base. To encourage adoption of full UCaaS, OpenTouch comes with a consumption-based licencing model. ALUE only charges for those users and functionality actually used during the billing period, with full flexibility up and down. Thus the classic cloud model of flexible and scalable usage-based pricing allows users to expand their range of unified communication options as their needs and familiarity with the UCaaS service increases.