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With companies juicing up their collaboration capabilities at the same time
they replace and upgrade traditional applications such as e-mail, it’s not just
small and midsize businesses looking to the cloud anymore.  Now, more and
more enterprises are moving collaboration to the cloud to reduce CAPEX
and ease maintenance.

Channel Insider recently sat down with cloud provider Apptix’s vice president
of product and software development, James Bond, to talk about the move to the
cloud and why it’s one that many companies are choosing to make.

CI: Do you find that enterprises are more willing to transfer e-mail and
collaboration solutions to the cloud now? What do you think is driving that
trend?

JB: Yes, more larger enterprises are realizing that e-mail and collaboration
solutions do not have to be held and maintained in-house. Data center space is
at a premium, technical staff to maintain these systems are hard to keep, and
the cost of a “hosted” solution is now equal to or less than hosting e-mail and
collaboration in house.  Add to this that many companies have distributed
offices and employees, so is there really any value in having their server
farms “centrally located” in one of their sites? The workforce is highly
distributed across the country or world, so hosting “in the cloud” actually
makes more sense.

Helping drive the trends to outsourcing e-mail and collaboration to
hosted/cloud providers is that the latest generation of providers is giving all
the control and features back to the enterprise/corporate administrators. 
No longer are hosted services this mysterious unseen system “in the cloud,” but
customers are given Web-based control panels to configure just about every
aspect of their environment.
 
CI: How do you dissipate enterprise and SMB security concerns around hosting
such sensitive data in the cloud?

JB: Apptix, and certainly other hosted/cloud providers, would not exist if we
did not legitimately earn and continue to earn the trust of our customers in
regard to data security.  The fact is that given our specific expertise in
network, communications and data security, our personnel’s skill set and the
security systems in place far outpace anything an individual company/customer
could afford to install in-house.  How many customers have seven Internet
providers, multiple layers of network firewalls, hardware load balancers, four
layers of back-end subnets separating applications from databases, encrypted
databases, real-time streaming data backup off-site, and daily encrypted
off-site tape backups—all housed in $10 million plus data centers with 24/7
security guards, cameras, biometric scanners for access, a half-dozen rapid
engagement generators with three fuel suppliers, 10-foot-thick reinforced
concrete ceilings, Kevlar walls and triple fire suppression systems? 
Those that have made this investment—try maintaining all of this 24x7x365 and
replacing everything software and hardware every three to five years.  

CI: OK, what about legal and compliance issues?
 
JB: As for legal and compliance issues, cloud providers all offer various
levels of archiving or compliant journaling of all data.  Some even
maintain this data off-site from the normal server farms for an extra level of
security and compliance.   All of the data is secured and
transmission of data encrypted—in fact, it is generally considered an advantage
to have your compliant data stored off-site and securely rather than in-house. 
It clearly delineates who has access and control of the data, confirms data
cannot be tampered with by internal employees, and is widely accepted as the
norm in the legal community should legal discovery and evidence need to be
gathered and categorized.

CI: Apptix recently integrated Microsoft OCS. How is OCS from Microsoft any
different from getting an enterprise license or using Google Apps Google Chat
or
AIM?

JB: Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) is often just considered an instant
messaging (IM) application.  Just in terms of IM, OCS is a private
secure/encrypted instant messaging system rather than the plain text/open and
unsecure solutions by AOL, Gmail, MSN,
Yahoo, etc.  This feature, along with the ability to have audit logging of
all communications—required by many organizations for compliance purposes—already
sets OCS apart from free or public IM systems. While OCS certainly provides IM,
it has a vast array of other functionality including remote desktop control,
file transfers, voice and video chatting, Web conferencing, and
screen/application sharing.  

In addition, presence awareness is one of the most useful features but is hard
to realize the benefit until you have tried it.  Imagine wanting an
immediate answer to a question and seeing right from within Outlook, SharePoint
or the OCS client that your co-worker is online, currently working on their
computer (i.e., not idle or away) and you can then IM or chat with the
individual immediately.  It would be obvious using OCS if the person is
not online right now, in a meeting or on the telephone so that you can
immediately go to someone else or switch over and send an e-mail instead. 
Presence awareness combined with IM, chat, e-mail and VOIP completely changes
the way you communicate and work on a daily basis—you’ve got to try this!

CI: How do you see the proliferation of mobile devices and the
consumerization of IT affecting an enterprise strategy for supporting multiple
mobile devices for corporate e-mail?

JB: Long gone are the days when an IT director could stand firm and declare, “Our
company only utilizes xxx brand device.”  Whether it is the company CEO
or the IT director doing it themselves, newer, smaller and “better” smartphones
and mobile PDAs are being introduced into corporations—whether the IT
department manager likes it or not.  The proliferation of mobile devices,
each with unique operating systems and e-mail synchronization technique, is
occurring so fast that most IT departments no longer worry about specific
device standards but focus more on which synchronization technique they
use. This allows corporate e-mail managers to either support (or not) all
devices that utilize ActiveSync, for example.  Many companies have and
still support BlackBerry and any device that utilizes the BlackBerry Enterprise
Server (BES) system.  Between these two standards, you cover about 90
percent of the smartphone/mobile PDA devices
on the market.  Bigger issues now involve ensuring that the mobile devices
can be remotely “wiped” of all data in case they are lost or stolen—something
most devices and sync technologies are capable of now.

CI: Do you see a trend in businesses looking to MSPs or cloud computing
providers for VOIP and unified communications services? If yes, Why?

JB: Yes, implementing internal phone/PBA or VOIP systems is very complex and
expensive.  Add to this business-class e-mail, voicemail and instant
messaging, and you are headed toward “unified communications” but the cost to
implement and manage all of these services, server farms, etc., is considerable. 
Small and medium-size businesses under 500 employees simply cannot make the
cost justification to install these systems.  Those finding themselves
already having some or all of the components of unified communications already
have high maintenance costs and trouble keeping technical talent on
staff—whenever their three-to-five-year systems’ lifecycle expires, outsourcing
once again starts making a lot more sense economically and technically.

CI: What does the Holy Grail of truly integrated collaboration solutions
spell for the enterprise or the SMB? Is this way off, or do you think
integrated unified communications will happen sooner rather that later?

JB: Messaging systems are the backbone of most corporation communications—even
more so than telephones in today’s modern workspace.  Then came
collaboration features such as SharePoint or other applications and intranet
sites that allowed distributed workers to engage on the same project, share
information and store documents centrally.  Then, instant messaging shows
up and some say it will replace e-mail someday—not so sure about that one, but
certainly IM and e-mail will co-exist.  Users can use “instant”
communications when your peer/co-worker is online and e-mail for when the topic
requires a larger audience (other recipients), file attachment or a more
permanent message thread.  Finally, you have the telephone, or in many
cases the VOIP telephone.  Combine all of these along with voicemail and
presence awareness, and you have “unified communications.”  

Once you’ve experienced the flexibility of having all of these systems
integrating, it is often hard to explain to others, but it truly does improve
your productivity.  The problem is that most companies are constantly
upgrading their internal systems often enough, and at a cost, that they never
get all of the components of unified communications in place. This is where a
hosted or cloud provider comes into play—imagine having everything up and
running in a single day for all of your employees—then letting the hosted
provider worry about maintenance, upgrades, data backup, etc.
 
Personally, I believe the ability to unify all communications has really only
been practical and affordable for the past two to three years.  It is now
not only feasible, cost-effective and considered proven technology, it is also
available “on demand” without the huge internal investment required to install
and manage all these systems in-house.  Hosted/cloud providers already
have the solution ready to go and at a price—due to their scalability, cost of
economies—equal to or cheaper than in-house implementations, but without the
hassle and three-to-five-year upgrade cost cycle.