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Commentary
5/15/2007
04:23 PM
Melanie Turek
Melanie Turek
Commentary
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Software-as-a-Service for UC

Lately, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about whether the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model will work for unified communications. My answer: Absolutely. No wonder Siemens announced OpenScape Enterprise hosted earlier this week.

Software as a Service (SaaS) is an attractive option for companies of all sizes and industries. The benefits of SaaS are many: Deployment is quick and easy; you pay only for what you use; IT doesn’t have to manage capacity, performance or maintenance; it’s easy to extend use to partners, suppliers, customers and others outside the organization; and users can test-drive applications without having to commit to long-term implementations or get locked into a single solution. What’s more, SaaS supports integration, which is especially important as companies make applications part of broader technology deployments and business processes.

To anyone who’s been involved with software technology for more than a few years, SaaS probably sounds a lot like ASP. You remember ASPs, right? They were supposed to be the software delivery model of the future, back around 1998 or so. Then they all tanked when the tech boom went bust. So why are vendors pitching hosted offering again? And why should companies consider them?

Well, one reason is that the SaaS model is designed differently than the ASP one. ASPs generally stuck to the traditional client-server model, and simply managed the servers without making any modifications to the delivery system. SaaS, on the other hand, rely on net-native applications, making their performance much better.

SaaS has its drawbacks—many IT executives rightly worry about security with the model, especially when it comes to mission-critical data. But I see it offering several advantages for UC deployments, since it mitigates so many of the issues with unified communications today. SaaS offers enterprises choice, which is a big deal when you’re trying to integrate a variety of applications—many of which employees have already been using, and therefore grown accustomed to. SaaS vendors that offer multiple UC options from multiple vendors ensure that IT managers can mix and match to give their end users the applications they prefer, without jeopardizing integration.

And speaking of integration, although a true UC app is designed to make life simple for end users, it adds complexity for the IT department, since what were once disparate applications now need to be integrated on the back end, and eventually made interoperable. Despite what many on-prem vendors tell you, that’s not possible out of the box today—at least, not for all the components of a UC application. If a SaaS vendor can do the hard work for you, you’re a lot closer to getting where you need to be.

SaaS isn’t for everyone. But smaller organizations with limited IT resources and the desire to deploy UC will likely find it appealing. And surprisingly, even very large enterprises can take advantage of SaaS as a way to test the UC waters, and offer disparate end users, or groups of end users, the applications they want, from the vendors they prefer, right off the bat.

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