The cloud will play a big part
Converging communications will be created in the cloud
With government agencies under a mandate to look for cloud-based answers to IT problems — the focus of the Obama administration’s cloud-first strategy — the question of whether the cloud could provide a solution for agency IP convergence requirements is one that’s bound to occupy a lot of attention.
And it will have an effect, said Richard Costello, a senior research analyst at IDC's Enterprise Communications Infrastructure service. Just in the past year, many cloud vendors have been introducing unified communications (UC) offerings such as telephony, voice and video services.
“As new as they are, I think these are already having an impact on people looking at the cloud moving over to the telecommunications side of things,” Costello said. “I think the cloud will become a much bigger player in this area for the government as agencies face cuts in funding and ongoing budget constraints.”
To some extent, telephony in the cloud is a natural outgrowth of the way that telecommunications were offered in the past, said Kyra Kozemchak, a senior research analyst at Deltek. It was a hosted service that allowed users to buy communications “by the drink,” and so in many ways, those telecommunications companies were the original cloud providers.
That functionality has simply been moved onto IP networks so in many ways, she said, you could say that cloud-based communications offerings are already available.
Certain activities are more conducive to converged communications in the cloud than others, she pointed out. Moving supercomputer networks that are highly customized and deal with very specific kinds of data streams into the cloud would not make sense, so there are “some mission-centric types of capabilities that still need another option,” she said.
There are also questions about the cloud’s ability to deliver some of the services that agencies will be looking for in the future and expect converged IP networks to deliver. Asynchronous applications such as e-mail and most collaboration tools work well in the cloud, for example, but things such as videoconferencing are bandwidth-intensive.
So is the cloud capable of delivering real-time services with the reliability that these applications require? Or is that still the responsibility of providers that can deliver dedicated services via an IP network designed for real-time capabilities?
It will likely need a lot more experience of agencies using the cloud before that can be decided. Just because you’ve migrated e-mail to the cloud doesn’t mean you’ve moved your communications to the cloud, said Ron Hayes, solutions architect at Avaya Government Solutions. Most agencies view the potential of the cloud as just one step up from what they are used to with central office exchange service, and that’s been very much locked into voice service.
Along those lines, then, more extensive use of the cloud by agencies could “unlock multimodal communications and give them true UC, if they choose to use it that way,” Hayes said.
The truth is that the cloud should be seen as complementary to what agencies are trying to do with converged communications because a big reason for using the cloud is that the network is already in place, said Scott Anderson, vice president of cloud strategy at Avaya Government Solutions. The communications carriers have spent the past few years building packet-switched networks using Multiprotocol Label Switching and redundant cores to be able to handle the data traffic that goes through the cloud.
“On the customer side, they need to have quality of service and other attributes configured so they can have the same modalities in the cloud that traverse their physical [converged] networks,” he said. “That means agency cloud experiences would in fact be more fruitful if they paid more attention to converged communications.”