Cisco, Verizon Moving Cloud UC Service into Beta

Cisco and Verizon say they are moving their joint unified cloud communications service into beta testing, and eventually will add enterprise social media capabilities from Cisco.

Cisco Systems and Verizon in July 2010 kicked off field tests of a hosted unified communications service built around new offerings from Cisco. That partnership evolved further last month, when the two businesses unveiled their Unified Communications and Collaboration as a Service offering during the Enterprise Connect conference.

At a recent briefing for analysts and journalists, officials with both companies gave an update on the service, which currently is entering the beta test phase. The enterprise communications service is offered by Verizon in Cisco's HCS (Hosted Collaboration Suite), which includes Cisco Unified Communications Systems Release 8.0, HCS Management System and a virtualization platform, according to Eric Schoch, senior director of hosted collaboration solutions for Cisco.

The Cisco technology is integrated with such Verizon assets as audio conferencing; service applications; sales force capabilities such as ordering, billing and SLAs; and the carrier's data center infrastructure.

"It is truly and completely a Verizon service, with key elements provided by [Cisco]," Roberta Mackintosh, director for hosted unified communication and collaboration at Verizon, said during the briefing, which was conducted via Cisco's TelePresence and WebEx technologies.

The service currently includes such offerings as hosted email, Jabber instant messaging and presence, conferencing, unified wired and wireless clients, and IP PBX. A key benefit of the cloud-based service is that it can be offered on-premises, through the cloud or in a hybrid fashion, and can be customized depending on a customer's needs, Cisco's Schoch said. The key is the combination of Cisco's IaaS (infrastructure as a service), based on the company's UCS (Unified Computing System)-and integrated all-in-one data center offering-and the services offered through Verizon.

"It enables this hybrid environment and also provides the architecture that is more suited and attuned to the enterprise," Mackintosh said.

The companies are currently in the first phase of developing Verizon's Unified Communications and Collaboration as a Service, according to Schoch and Mackintosh. It is a 14- to 18-month phase that will get the initial set of applications-from voice, video and messaging to IM and presence-in place.

The response from early customers has been very good, Mackintosh said. The two companies now are working with several enterprise customers, hoping to get them into the beta testing phase, she and Schoch said. Neither would name which companies they're talking to, but promised more information later.

They also said that for the first phase, the two companies are focusing on the U.S. market. That will change down the road, Schoch said.

"This will be a very global offering," he said.

A key part of the second phase will be incorporating some of the enterprise-level social networking technologies that Cisco has been working on into the Verizon service offerings, Mackintosh said. That includes integrating the Contact Center applications and Quad platform, which Cisco introduced last summer. Quad offers businesses communications capabilities similar to those used in such social media environments as Facebook, including profiles, updates, microblogging, people search and auto-tagging.