Unified communications market shifts gears in the UK

The UK unified communications market is experiencing change because of factors like cloud computing, increased video traffic, and a shift to UC managed services.

The UK unified communications market is changing, due to many factors -- cloud computing, increased video traffic, and a shift to UC managed services, to name a few. Contributor Tracey Caldwell spoke with Chris Barnard, IDC EMEA's research directorof European telecommunications and networking to discuss where the unified communications market is heading and IDC's UK network infrastructure predictions for the rest of the year.

Cloud services are everywhere, and we are hearing more about them in terms of UC. Will UK cloud computing continue to grow?

Chris Barnard: Cloud computing will absolutely gain credibility in 2011. IDC does an annual survey of 1800 enterprises across Europe. One of the questions is, ‘What is driving your network investment for the next 12 to 18 months?’ Cloud is clearly on the agenda of CIOs that we spoke to.

It was not leading the agenda. In 2010 it was all about virtualisation; security being another hot topic for CIOs. All major vendors have a cloud story. In terms of applications that might go into the cloud, we will probably see a move to relatively easy wins first -- something like email. Unified communications will follow the general trend to cloud, but I believe it will be a little bit slower in adoption.

Even though we have seen a lot of interest and a lot of noise around things like BT’s HUCS (Hosted Unified Communications Service), which is in essence a cloud UC service, it is relatively early days to see strong growth for that. But probably towards the end of 2011 and onwards that will happen.

How will network managers support the increase in video traffic that is forecast?

Barnard: At first, people will try and throw bandwidth at the problem; it will just be a case of trying to make the pipes as wide as possible. Towards the end of 2011, it will reach a stage where network managers have got to do more than that and increase the intelligence of the network. What is also interesting is that, as we run into issues in terms of network load, we expect significant interest in managed services around video, which makes your problem someone else’s.

What will be the impact of increased unified communications and collaboration on UK network infrastructure?

Barnard: It will definitely drive the adoption of IP networks and especially SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) -based architectures. I don’t think it will have a massive impact -- not as much as video, because the network load of a UCC solution excluding video is not as dramatic as video-based communications. But there will be an impact.

What we saw in the early 2000s, when we moved from packet data networks to IP PBXs, was a fundamental network refresh. I don’t think it will be as significant as it was then, but there will be significant expansion of the IP network.

What we have also seen is that most of the UC equipment vendors, as well as the channel partners, have a significant UC consulting business and part of that consulting business is network assessment. It is no longer a case of just rolling something out and hoping for the best. There has to be a clear network assessment. Usually one of the outcomes of that is that you need to upgrade your network.

UC implementations that fail that can be attributed to not understanding that it is not a technical solution but business process should be key.

UC is usually based on a multivendor solution. Is the increasing complexity of the network infrastructure going to mean that it will be handled in-house less often?

Barnard: The increasing complexity of UC is leading to pressure to outsource that as part of a managed service. We definitely see people looking at UC managed services as a clear option, although there are some business and financial issues in moving from capex to opex.

We have seen enterprises are increasingly willing to turn to services providers for managed services that in the past were very much the domain of systems integrators (SI). We have seen significant acquisition in that space, so even if you were interacting with an SI in the past, in Europe a lot of the smaller in-country SIs were acquired by service providers, so you became a client of a service provider.

Major enterprises are rolling voice and/or UC into major managed services contracts. In the past, these would have been kept on-premise. But increasingly they are looking for someone else to take that on as part of a wider managed services contract. In the process, organisations are looking very closely at changing the whole business model. Even companies that are not hosting the PBX in the data centre of an SI but still on-premise are looking to change the business model around the UC solution into a per-month, per-seat basis.

--Tracey Caldwell is a professional freelance business technology writer.

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