Unified Communications: Data Center Virtualization's Final Frontier?

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As organizations get comfortable with the idea of virtualizing mission critical applications, they're turning their attention to unified communications (UC). Some even see it as the next big thing in data center virtualization.

But while there's a lot of potential business here for VARs, the fact that UC touches many vital parts of the enterprise IT architecture makes it challenging to work with. This isn’t just file and print servers -- voice and collaboration are as mission critical as it gets and there is zero margin for error. The good news, according to solution providers, is that virtual UC has reached a point in its maturity where companies are deploying it with confidence.

Steve Kaplan, vice president of data center virtualization at INX, a Dallas, Texas-based solution provider, says all of INX's UC deployments today involve virtual Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) running on VMware. And it's not just large enterprises that are taking the plunge. "We're encouraging all of our customers to go this route," Kaplan said. "Convergence used to be about voice and data, but now we're seeing voice converging with virtual infrastructure."

Neil Brenner, vice president of converged technology at Consolidated Technologies, a Port Chester, N.Y.-based solution provider, says between 65 and 70 percent of his firm's UC business involves virtualization. "Voice and data have collided, and voice is now one component of the enterprise applications suite," he said. "Organizations are recognizing that voice and UC have been tested and accepted as reliable and robust on the virtualized platform."

As with other forms of virtualization, there are immediate economic benefits to deploying virtual UC, including server consolidation and lower power and cooling costs. But virtual UC fits in a strategic sense too, offering easier management, portability, and scalability, while laying a foundation for an organization's disaster recovery and business continuity planning.

"Running Cisco UC on VMware means you can have a highly available environment, you don’t need redundant hosts. You can actually have disaster recovery for voice mail systems as well," said Kaplan.

The redundancy aspect is one advantage that ICI, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider, plays up when recommending virtual UC to customers. "Virtual UC allows customers to take advantage of disaster recovery and business continuity. The last thing a customer wants is to have to recover anything from a backup," said Jamie Shepard, executive vice president of technology solutions at ICI.

Virtual UC is especially compelling for organizations that have distributed offices because of the flexibility it can provide, says Mike Strohl, president of Entisys, a Concord, Calif.-based virtualization VAR. Once resources are virtualized, they're more easily managed. "One of the things driving virtual UC is organizations' desire to get centralized control over their IT operations," he said.

Next: Virtual Unified Communications And The Risks Companies Face

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