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Hosted Unified Communications Meets Open Source

For the second time in recent weeks, hosted unified communications is earning some headlines. But this time, the news involves an open source initiative between Open-Xchange (an open source email company) and 4PSA (a VoIP and cloud unified communications specialist). Here are the implications for VARs and managed services providers.

The VAR Guy

March 16, 2010

3 Min Read
Hosted Unified Communications Meets Open Source

For the second time in recent weeks, hosted unified communications is earning some headlines. But this time, the news involves an open source initiative between Open-Xchange (an open source email company) and 4PSA (a VoIP and cloud unified communications specialist). Here are the implications for VARs and managed services providers.

First, let The VAR Guy set the scene. Some solutions providers are worried about falling prices (and falling margins) for Exchange Online and other SaaS email systems.

In early March 2010, hosted applications specialist Intermedia responded by launching hosted Unified Communications in partnership with Unison Technologies. Intermedia is carefully balancing a continued commitment to hosted Exchange while promoting higher channel margin opportunities on hosted Unified Communications.

Today’s News

Now, Open-Xchange, the open source email specialist, is making a similar move. Open-Xchange expects more than 15 million users to run its software by the end of 2010. At the same time, Open-Xchange is partnering up with 4PSA to introduce a unified communications bundle. According to a joint press release:

“Open-Xchange…today announced enhancements that give users telephone and fax integrated with e-mail, contacts, calendar and task information. By combining Open-Xchange (hosted and on-premise editions) with Unified Communications and Virtual PBX solutions, businesses can replace their traditional phone lines — saving on phone bills. Presence and instant messaging services will be added in the coming software releases enabling users to communicate in real-time anytime, anywhere.”

Sounds intriguing. The Open-Xchange/4PSA effort is the latest counter move to Microsoft’s Office Communications Server. And yes, Open-Xchange has a partner program. In fact, the company has largely left the SaaS market to hosting partners.

But The VAR Guy wonders: How many VARs and MSPs will push beyond hosted email systems to offer customers hosted Unified Communications? It’s definitely a growing market opportunity. But some attendees at the recent Intermedia partner conference in Silicon Valley said they are taking a “wait and see” approach to hosted Unified Communications.

The reason: Customers complain a bit if email goes down but they generally don’t go into panic mode. In stark contrast, customers scream a lot when they lose dial-tone. Even if hosted Unified Communications delivers five-nines availability (about 5.26 minutes of unplanned downtime per year), many data-centric VARs and MSPs still have to get up to speed on VoIP. Then, those same partners need to provide peace of mind to customers that may be wary of IP PBXes and hosted systems.

Like The VAR Guy said: This is a growing market opportunity. But channel partners will also need to overcome some initial customer skepticism. And they’ll also need to address competitive messaging from Microsoft, Cisco Systems and other companies promoting unified communications into corporate IT.

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