Virtualization and unified communications have been on a collision course for the last few years. This convergence is due in large part to the fact that both of these technologies are data center oriented. Virtual appliances are increasing in popularity due to their ability to simplify the delivery of aggregated software elements. As I'll explore further, virtual appliances may be a perfect fit for unified communications in that respect.
Unified Communications Overview
Unified communications is a term used to describe a broad set of communications and collaboration capabilities that are designed to enhance individual and workgroup level performance. This is accomplished by providing communications tools such as IM, presence, voice, video, email and collaboration functions in a single client interface. While the end user sees only a single interface, all of these communication tools require a number of software elements that today reside on separate physical servers. There is a level of complexity in the backend in the design, deployment and management of these software components. By leveraging some of the key data center technologies vendors are striving to reduce complexity in all areas to foster greater adoption and innovation.
Virtual Appliance Overview
Virtual appliances are pre-built software solutions comprised of one or more virtual machines that are packaged, updated, maintained and managed as a unit. Unlike a traditional hardware appliance, these software appliances let customers easily acquire, deploy and manage pre-integrated solution stacks. This speeds up time to market and simplifies software development, distribution and management. With virtual appliances vendors can create a single platform, reducing the cost and complexity of software development and management. They can efficiently and securely distribute the virtual appliance in an industry standard format such as the open virtualization format (OVF). Customers can deploy an OVF packaged virtual appliance on the virtualization platform of their choice. This approach will significantly reduce the complexity of implementing a unified communications portfolio.
Unified Communications as a Virtual Appliance
Unified communications comprise a number of individual software elements. Each of these software elements represents a critical part of an overall UC solution; however, they also represent increased complexity. Developing, testing and maintaining separate stacks can be time consuming and often confusing to channel partners and customers. The OVF provides a new paradigm to distribute software solutions. Complex multi-tier applications consisting of several virtual hosts can be configured and packaged into a single "virtual appliance." Virtual appliances enable software vendors to greatly reduce the cost of distributing, installing and configuring a solution. Distributing unified communications as a virtual appliance enables vendors to deliver a complex solution consisting of many applications as a single package that is easy to design, deploy and manage.
In summary, virtual appliances can address several pain points for vendors, channel partners and customers when it comes to implementing unified communication platforms. The benefits apply to the full lifecycle from design to deployment to ongoing management.