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The trick to unified comms deployments in a VDI environment
Mon, 16th Apr 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

With the ongoing shift towards cloud-based services and virtual desktop environments, many organisations are also looking at Unified Communications as an important step towards digital transformation. Rolling telephony, video conferencing, messaging and other comms services into the one package is a smart way to take control of one very important part of a company's business tools.

With the rise of virtual computing however, there is sometimes a perception that endpoints will not be able to handle high-definition graphics, so unified comms are kept as a separate entity.

Zero and thin clients have a reputation for being lightweight devices with little to no computing power – which, of course, is entirely the point. However, it is very possible to sustain a sophisticated unified communications plan with a virtual network, and there are plenty of thin clients that can provide excellent graphics and video capability.

It makes sense to combine a UC solution with a VDI environment. Typically, a virtual UC solution will provide transportable communications that tie in with the user's desktop credentials.

So, in an environment where end users log on to any terminal and receive their personal profile and applications on that device, their personal comms options and profile will instantly be available on that terminal as well. In the modern workplace, this makes a lot of sense as it provides the flexibility and user experience that employees have come to expect.

There is no secret that VDI environments are inherently cheaper to maintain than traditional ‘fat' desktops. Smaller, cheaper devices with cloud-based applications are easier and faster to manage, and can be managed, patched and upgraded remotely rather than in person. Similarly, virtual Unified Comms solutions tie in with this architecture by bringing all forms of comms into the one place, which allows them to be managed as part of the same network and operating system.

Also, fewer individual comms devices means less hardware that can break and requires maintenance, and reduces the cost of replacement, as one would find in a VDI environment. With thin clients tending to last much longer than traditional PCs, the cost of a hardware refresh that includes virtual comms is also greatly reduced for an enterprise.

There are platforms that allow comms to run excellently in a virtual environment, such as Cisco Spark, Cisco Jabber and Skype for Business. These bring instant messaging, telephony and video conferencing seamlessly into a virtual environment, allowing employees to communicate in the way they have come to expect.

Comms is available as a software plug-in, which can also allow some of the processing load to be shifted from the server to an endpoint, if that device has the capacity to perform the given task.

At IGEL, we have noticed that while these systems cover a lot of the market, there are other players in the game whose solutions are being picked up as well, such as Avaya, Mitel and our compatriots from Germany, Unify. The company is working on ways to integrate with as many vendors in the UC space as possible.

Economy of scale is an important part of this process. Using a Private Branch Exchange (PBX) allows an enterprise to use and pay for only a handful of external phone lines which are then able to serve many times more end-users. A server switches the calls internally, working in a one-to-many capacity. This saves money on the cost of an external phone line, as well as the hardware for each end-user, as calls can be routed to any chosen device including mobile phones and virtual end-points.

Opportunities for resellers and systems integrators reside in providing a package that includes not only computing, but a full spectrum of business tools. By deploying a virtual solution for the desktop and communications of a company, the reseller can offer an affordable, sophisticated cloud-based solution that is easy to manage and maintain, as well as being easily scalable.

With companies likely to outsource much of the management for their virtual environment, a reseller or SI can provide services that are flexible and easy to maintain, as well as providing deep insights into the company's use of their network and business tools, which can enhance productivity.  Combining Comms-as-a-Service with Infrastructure-as-a-Service offers resellers the opportunity to value-add to the original deployment, and do so in a way which is relatively easy to manage from their point of view.

Moving comms into the cloud makes a lot of sense for an organisation which has virtualised its desktop infrastructure, rolling out the workplace flexibility that today's employees have come to rely upon.

It also provides the option of remote device and network management, which reduces the burden of an IT department and frees up their time to focus on other tasks. For resellers, offering affordable, stable and flexible deployments backed up by ongoing value-add services provides plenty of opportunities as more and more companies look to digitally transform and move services into the cloud.