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5/19/2010
10:42 AM
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Unified Communications Standard Emerges. . . Sort Of

Unified communications (UC) applications are designed to enable users to work with data, video, and voice information stored in a variety of places. One challenge has been getting different products to work together in a seamless manner. In response, vendors, including Microsoft, Polycom and Hewlett-Packard, formed the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF). However, two of the UC industrys largest providers, Avaya and Cisco, are not members.

Unified communications (UC) applications are designed to enable users to work with data, video, and voice information stored in a variety of places. One challenge has been getting different products to work together in a seamless manner. In response, vendors, including Microsoft, Polycom and Hewlett-Packard, formed the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF). However, two of the UC industrys largest providers, Avaya and Cisco, are not members.UC has been gaining momentum for a number of reasons. Companies now have sufficient network bandwidth in place to support video and voice applications. In addition, barriers among different types of applications have been falling, so users can more easily mix and match information from different sources. However, because UC typically touches upon a variety of systems, usually from different vendors, small and medium businesses have found it difficult to deploy such applications.

The UCIF plans to help address that problem. The group won't set standards but will establish profiles that describe particular ways of implementing specifications. In addition, it will hold testing sessions so vendors can be sure that different products interoperate. Further down the road, UCIF plans to provide logos that certify a given product will work with other devices.

A number of vendors are backing the initiative. HP, Juniper Networks, Microsoft, Logitech/ LifeSize, and Polycom are the founding members of the consortium, and Acme Packet, Aspect, AudioCodes, Broadcom, BroadSoft, Brocade, ClearOne, Jabra, Plantronics, RADVISION, Siemens Enterprise Communications, and Teliris have also joined.

Small and medium vendors would benefit from the development of UC interoperability specifications because they would provide them with a common base to build upon when deploying UC applications. However, such standards are not panaceas. Vendors often add proprietary functionality on top of base standards in order to differentiate their wares. In addition, the omission of Avaya and Cisco is glaring because they are top two UC suppliers. Consequently, some may view the ad hoc group as providing a way for competitors to promote their own interfaces. In sum, the UCIF represents a first step toward simplifying UC deployments, however, more work is needed for it to suit users  rather than vendors  needs.

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