BroadSoft Moving Into Hosted UC - Busy, Busy

October has been a busy month for BroadSoft, perhaps their busiest to date. I've had a couple of recent items on hold pending yesterday's announcement with Microsoft around hosted Unified Communications, and now I can tie them all together.

Working backwards, the most recent news shows a deepening relationship between BroadSoft and Microsoft, especially in terms of serving the business market. It also builds nicely on momentum stemming from another joint announcement this summer about their approach to offering hosted services to SMBs, which I wrote about in my Service Provider Views column on TMCnet.

They have had an integrated offering since last year, and now the push is towards hosted UC, positioned under the broader guise of SaaS, or even CaaS - communications as a service - as others are calling it. Whatever you call it, this is an important evolution away from hardware-based IP telephony, and as the concept of a legacy PBX becomes less relevant, the story shifts from voice/VoIP/telephony to an integrated multimedia services platform, or UC for short.

For BroadSoft, this is a great way to widen their exposure to new customers - i.e. pretty much anyone using OCS, and for Microsoft, this gets them the best of both worlds. Their joint offering keeps the focus on this being a software-based solution, which plays well into Microsoft's comfort zone, and makes it easier for their customers to entrust their communications regime to a Microsoft-based solution.

Moving beyond this comfort zone, by positioning this as SaaS, Microsoft now has a stronger footing to counter Google Wave, and the rising tide of cloud-based communications solutions that are threatening to displace software much like the way software displaced hardware. In effect, Microsoft is covering both flanks here, and the news gives Microsoft another angle for reaching the SMB market, where their enthusiasm was recently curbed following a round of job cuts that brought Response Point to a near halt. Given all this close activity, along with BroadSoft's newfound dominance (post Sylantro) of their served market, you have to wonder if these two companies are more than just friends - makes you wonder, right?

In terms of the news elements from yesterday's announcement, a few items are worth noting to show there is some substance to what these two companies are doing together:

- their hosted UC offer is in "testing with 12 of the top 25 carriers in the world". That can mean many things, but if this is BroadSoft's ticket to the top tier of carriers, so be it.

- two service providers currently using this were cited - Alteva and Outsourcery - so they do have some proof points to share with the market

- to strengthen the hosted UC value proposition, they announced an expanded partner ecosystem - which is a pretty key piece of the puzzle. It's not clear to me if this is simply BroadSoft's Xtended community getting a boost, nor if it serves as a replacement of sorts for Microsoft's CSF Sandbox, which was quietly and quickly shelved last year - but that's another story.

- two integration items were highlighted - BroadWorks and Dynamics CRM 4.0, and BroadWorks SIP Trunking with OCS. Both will add weight to this offering, especially when you think about how Microsoft was an early supporter of SIP, and now they can truly bring an end-to-end SIP solution to market.

I think this tells a pretty strong story, but there's more to talk about. Before getting to that, I should add that the announcement also talked up how Microsoft will be a major sponsor of BroadSoft's upcoming Connections event, and you can be sure this will be a major showcase opportunity for customers and prospects alike. Connections is going into its 7th iteration, and runs later this month in Phoenix. I've been attending the last few of these, and will be there this year as well, so look for my blog posts about it for updates on how this joint initiative is being received.

To round out this post, I need to now tie in some other important items. We've got a long way to go before SaaS takes over the world - if ever - and there's still hardware for any form of UC beyond the handset. In particular, I'm talking about the media gateway, and last week's news with AudioCodes.

This may not be as exciting or headline-grabbing as Microsoft, but you can't have hosted UC without a gateway. I've written about AudioCodes's MSBG previously - Multi-Service Business Gateway - and they've done a great job of building a complete portfolio of gateways that can address any stage of a carrier's IP migration plan.

The main idea here is the integration of their MSBGs - and IP phones - with BroadWorks. Both companies have strong brands, and many carriers no doubt would want to deploy them together. With this integration, that process now becomes much easier, not just for the carrier, but their enterprise and SMB customers. Ease of use is still king, and it's been a particular issue for SMBs, who generally lack the IT expertise to make all these things work together. Everybody gets that, and it's good to see vendors focus on this very basic message. SMBs do not want to be system integrators, and carriers will have a much easier time selling them on hosted services with this type of an offering.

Finally - there's one more thing to add here - QoS. The press release makes a passing reference to BroadSoft's PacketSmart VoIP QoS solution. QoS is another obstacle to deploy hosted services, especially for businesses relying on the public Internet - can you blame them? Well, when you have SIP Trunking and SIP aware gateways - and a QoS solution - you can pretty well be assured of carrier-grade, end-to-end IP service. That's a pretty strong selling point, and takes away the standard defence of hiding behind the rock-solid quality of TDM. Fair enough, but when you can now assure equal-or-better QoS with IP, the legacy fallback gets a bit shaky.

I'm mentioning this, not because it's an important part of a truly integrated hosted offering, but because it rounds out the busy month I referred to at the top of this post. The QoS piece comes courtesy of a small acquisition BroadSoft made at the beginning of October; a company called Packet Island. I don't know them, but you can read more about that if you like, in the press release. You can also get the corporate view from Mike Tessler's blog post about the acquisition.

I wanted to mention this primarily for the benefit of anyone wanting to follow BroadSoft more closely. They recently re-launched their website, which now includes a separate site called BroadSoft Ignite. That's where their top executives all blog, and the content is pretty good. However, it's not easy to find Ignite on BroadSoft's main website, and I'm not sure if that's by design. Whether it is or not, I'm telling you about it here, and it's worth keeping tabs on, especially if hosted UC is important to you.