“Communications as a Service” or CaaS can include any type of communications delivered as a service based on a subscription model. That is, Voice over IP (VoIP), instant messaging (IM), email, chat, web, audio and videoconference services. It might also include telco network operations and management in the cloud. Yet the term CaaS now means different things to different vendors/ service providers. We describe three scenarios for CaaS in this article; each offering a different set of deliverable capabilities for: Contact Centers, Audio Conferencing and Video Conferencing. In a Closing Comment, we describe a fourth CaaS model that we believe telcos will use for cloud based operations and management of their own networks.
But what exactly is CaaS? I like the definition from CaaS contact center provider Interactive Intelligence Inc: “The communications system and applications are hosted and managed by a provider in an off-premise data center, with the applications being provided to customers as a (subscription) service. Payment is made based on a per user/per month charge.”
1. CaaS for Contact Centers:
Interactive Intelligence Inc. is an IP communications software company that specializes in delivering both premise and CaaS contact center (what used to be called “call center”) solutions that may include call routing, IVR, outbound, chat, email, social media, quality monitoring, workforce management. The company has over 4,000 customers across 90 countries. In addition to the contact center, Interactive Intelligence also provides Enterprise IP Telephony and Business Process Automation capabilities. For its hosted contact center solution, the company offers three different CaaS deployment models: Remote Control VoIP (the primary equipment and telco circuits are located at one or more facilities operated by the hosting company), Remote Control TDM (customers maintain their existing PBX and incoming calls are connected via a bridged call to the agent) and Local Control VoIP (call control model with VoIP application server in a cloud resident data center).
Local Control VoIP gives the customer most of the advanced benefits of having an on-premise VoIP contact center system, even though the primary application server (Customer Interaction Center, or CIC) is located off-site in a hardened data center. While calls come into equipment on the customer premises, call control is handled by CIC which is in the hardened data center.
For customers with exceptionally strong compliance or security requirements or who rely upon high bandwidth applications, the combination of features, functionality, and flexibility seem to be enticing. Since phones, network, gateways, proxy/media servers, customer information and call recordings remain at the customer’s facility, the amount of (sensitive) data that travels beyond the firewall and across the MPLS network is more controlled. The customer’s telco lines also remain at the customer’s location. This works well when a customer has a preferred voice carrier, has existing contracts that must be fulfilled, or possesses many existing numbers they would prefer not to port or forward. Customers also avoid the costs of forwarding or bridging calls with the Local Control VoIP model. IP MPLS is used as the communications protocol between the call controller in the Interactive Intelligence data center and the customer premises equipment (VoIP gateway to PSTN, Proxy/Media Server, Database Server, IP router to Internet, and IP phones).
In a recent email exchange, Jason Alley, Solutions Marketing Manager at Interactive Intelligence shared that the Local Control VoIP model has had the most traction, followed by Remote Control TDM (allowing for rapid deployment with minimal change) and then Remote Control VoIP. He said that Interactive Intelligence’s CaaS offerings for the contact center all deliver excellent security, choice and flexibility over a proven and reliable software platform. Jason told me there were several important advantages Interactive Intelligence had over its competition:
- Choice of three different CaaS delivery models for the contact center; each addressing specific customer requirements. This results in flexible deployment models to fit customer needs.
- Unique “Local Control” model that gives customers greater control over their voice and data traffic with remote survivability.
- Broad set of applications developed by Interactive Intelligence with over a decade of experience implementing advanced contact centers.
- Proven, stable and growing provider of CaaS contact center services.
- Ability for the customer to migrate their CaaS based solution to the premise, or their premise solution to the cloud, without losing their investment.
Jason shares, “We are seeing tremendous growth in our CaaS business. In fact it’s the fastest growing segment of our business today. Addressing customer concerns around security, predictability, choice and flexibility is playing a big part in that.”
2. CaaS for Audio Conferencing:
Global Crossing recently launched its version of Communications as a Service (CaaS) as the first phase of the company’s network-centric, cloud-based solution set. GC states on its home page, “CaaS is designed to deliver easy-to-use, integrated, customized communications options to enterprises around the globe.” GC’s version of CaaS is actually an on-demand business service for audio conferencing. This CaaS offering integrates three components:
- Global Crossing IP Virtual Private Network (VPN), with enough capacity to handle converged broadband demands for today and tomorrow.
- Session Initiated Protocol (SIP)
- Global Crossing Ready-Access® – Audio conferencing provided in a predictable, shared-seat billing model that, for a monthly fee, provides global access to unlimited audio conferencing minutes for each user that accesses the service.
Among the features included with the conferencing service is “Global Crossing Connect Mobile,” offering users a standard application programming interface (API) so they can join or host an audio conference from compatible mobile devices by clicking on an icon. The mobile application also syncs meetings with users’ calendars.
Global Crossing says it’s using its own internal CaaS implementation in each of its locations around the world. This results in decreasing the its annual telecommunications spend by 30%, according to the company’s statement. “The integration of CaaS Phase 1 into our global IP and SIP network allows for the creation and delivery of other services network centric services, and that’s what is coming in our CaaS Phase 2 offer later this year: You can expect to see presence, IM, sip based video, integration with PSTN/IP telephony and find me/follow me type features that an enterprise can consume in the combination most fitting for them…globally.” wrote GC’s Anthony Christie. Chief Technology and Information Officer for Global Crossing. He also said, “Global Crossing CaaS is integral to our global cloud solution strategy.”
3. CaaS for Video Conferencing:
Managed VoIP provider 8×8, Inc. recently announced it will be offering SMBs (8 x 8’s target market) a new set of cloud-based video conferencing services that enable them to benefit from visual collaboration. The offering will potentially provide a new recurring revenue stream for resellers, partners and VARs. This new service offering will be based on 8×8’s voice and video IP service platform and the video conferencing/ Unified Communications capabilities provided by Polycom, Inc.
The 8×8/Polycom video conferencing solution will combine 8×8’s advanced, SIP-based communications services with the Polycom® UC Intelligent Core™ in a new “8×8 Virtual Room” service offering that lets customers add HD video conferencing as another extension to their regular hosted business communications from 8×8. The Polycom UC Intelligent Core enables high quality, reliable collaboration to help SMBs improve productivity and reduce costs.
Utilizing 8×8’s unified communications technologies, the service will make scheduling, initiating and managing continuous presence visual and high definition audio collaboration across multiple endpoints as simple as clicking on a web page or dialing into a conference bridge with the added appeal of a fixed low monthly fee for unlimited use. The 8×8 service will also eliminate the need for the customer to configure firewalls, open ports or utilize public IP addresses due to its advanced, built-in NAT/firewall traversal technologies. The offering will support multi-party continuous presence video conferencing services on a hosted, ad-hoc basis in a highly available and redundant manner, eliminating the need to purchase, maintain and operate expensive video bridging system.
“As many in the industry are aware, 8×8 has significant technological expertise in video communications which we’ve continued to leverage in current offerings such as our 8×8 Virtual Meeting web conferencing service,” said Bryan Martin, chairman and CEO at 8×8. “We are very excited now to take this expertise to the next level with an accomplished and respected leader like Polycom that has already made tremendous strides developing and deploying industry-leading high-definition voice and video platforms that scale from a single user up to large room conferencing equipment.”
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[Editor’s note: 8×8, Inc. has been a pioneer and a long-term proponent for making video conferencing practical and have developed many iterations of the technology, one of which is highlighted in this video interview from 2007 with 8×8’s CEO, Bryan Martin].
There is another type of CaaS that we expect to see: the outsourcing of most telco back-end management like provisioning, mediation, OSS, and BSSs from telco owned data centers to cloud resident data centers operated and managed by a 3rd party. With telcos continuing to outsource management of their networks to Ericsson, NSN and others, we think its only a matter of time before they opt for cloud based operations management solutions. Unlike so many other analysts, we don’t believe telcos will be successful as cloud based IT service providers. This is because they have little or no experience with managing their customers IT needs or in IT hosting, have failed previously in attempts to deliver computing services (especially AT&T), and have accelerated the outsourcing of their own internal network operations to third parties.