It’s going to be almost impossible for any company to maintain a homogenous unified communications environment. Either because of acquisitions or simply the need to be able to communicate with other organizations that have standardized on another platform, unified communications almost by definition is heterogeneous.
But providers of unified communications offerings have been slow to recognize that fact. Most of them seem to be operating under the assumption that because it’s still a relatively emerging market they can ignore business reality. Instead, they focus most of their marketing efforts on the benefits of providing an end-to-end set of applications and services that are much easier to manage because they all come from the same vendor. To a degree that’s true. But it also doesn’t reflect the reality of unified communication in the enterprise today. Fortunately, that myopia creates an opportunity for solution providers in the form of session border controllers (SBCs) that make it easier for IT organizations to integrate diverse unified communications platforms.
SBCs have been typically used by carriers to integrate various unified communications platforms. But now variations of that technology are coming to the enterprise. One such offering is the Sonus SBC 5100 from Sonus Networks, which this week launched its first channel program. According to Joe McLaughlin, vice president of global channels for Sonus, the company is only looking for partners with unified communications experience to resell an SBC offering that essentially makes it a lot easier for one unified communications vendor to move in on a rival vendor’s turf. McLaughlin adds that Sonus is committed to keeping the number of partners it does business with relatively small as part of a deliberate effort to make sure too many partners don’t wind up competing with each other in one geography or vertical market.
That’s important at this juncture because companies such as Microsoft are aggressively promoting a more Windows application centric approach to unified communications, in sharp contrast to companies such as Cisco and Avaya that have a more network centric approach. There’s naturally a lot of interest in the Microsoft approach, but hardly any customer wants to rip and replace everything they have. Instead, they want to be able to leverage what they have in a way that gives them the option to replace specific levels of functionality over time.
There’s obviously never likely to be such a thing as truly unified communications. But that’s a good thing for the channel in that it creates a landscape where diverse components that nominally salute the same session initiation protocol (SIP) need to be integrated.
There may, of course, come a day when vendors feel forced to deploy a more robust SIP standard that eliminates all the room they currently have to add proprietary extensions to SIP. But that day is still pretty far off in the future. In the meantime, solution providers should expect to see a high level of frustration with unified communications offerings for years to come, which when properly managed, creates a major opportunity for solution providers that have the right technical skills to solve their problems.