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It's All About Cloud UC

Introducing Microsoft UC Cloud Archiving Services

Introducing Microsoft UC Cloud Archiving Services
A key application area for Cloud providers to consider is the UC suite (Unified Communications), referring to technologies for VoIP, 'Presence' and Instant Messaging, and a single inbox for email, fax and voicemail.

Not only can it improve staff collaboration but it can provide quick solutions for e-workflow needs and help meet record-keeping compliance needs through new 'Cloud Archiving' features that can plug in to popular tools like the Microsoft UC suite.

Unified Communications
Microsoft caused big waves in the telco industry in 2007 when they launched their products into this space, significant because traditionally the worlds of IT applications and telco telephony has remained quite seperate.

Business applications run as software in the enterprise data-centre, and telephony is provided by black box hardware and maintained by a different team who look after networks too.

The 'convergence' of these two worlds is the same underlying driver pushing Cloud Computing forward, so it's a very potent area for their combination. The fact that the Microsoft option is so software-centric makes it ideal for Cloud deployment.

It is a useful way to help frame a strategy for successful adoption of Cloud Computing because actually it highlights what's real and practical about this approach.

Moving an application "into the Cloud" doesn't just mean re-locating from an on-site location to a remote data-centre. As many experts will tell you UC is exactly the type of application that will quickly show you the limitations of this model, because it is so dependent on local high-performance or else voice quality will not be sufficient enough to be usable.

It's more likely the performance-intensive apps like the main OCS communications engine, will be on-site and an ideal early candidate for delivery via the private Enterprise Cloud.

Cloud Archiving Services
So for this and many other applications the most likely scenarios for enterprise adoption of Cloud are an integrated combination of on-site and remote data-centre based services, where the limitations and strengths of each are used in the right way.

One simple and very practical example that illustrates both points is 'Cloud Archiving Services', referring to connecting the Microsoft applications to remote Cloud storage facilities, for archiving the documents and other information they're working with.

The UC suite includes Instant Messaging tools that are swapping files, emails receiving attachments and the like, and also the key selling feature is better use of these tools for various e-workflow scenarios. For example the Unified Messaging component of Exchange lets you receive faxes direct to your email inbox, rather than printed to paper via the fax machine.

Doesn't sound like much but for users who have only had paper-based fax processes all of their lives this is a huge productivity booster.

Not only that, with a Cloud plug-in for storage services that can automatically time-stamp and archive the fax as its coming through, then it can tick the Compliance box too. All government agencies are regulated to retain their records in line with certain legislations, the MIA here in Newfoundland for example, which means that all of their customer forms received this way must be kept according to these standards.

Cloud technology can not only automate the process, converting a paper-based workflow to an electronic one, but it can certify compliance with these laws too.

For example there are deadlines for receiving various types of documents at the Courts and other government offices, and so when received via fax or other methods their arrival needs to be 'stamped' in some form to record the transaction, so it can be provable that you did deliver them.

"CloudLocking" - Securing Unstructured Content Records
This certification process can be thought of as "Cloud Locking", and is ideal for 'Unstructured content'.

This refers to all the information outside of databases, like Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and multimedia files. What this example highlights is that there can still be 'structured data' within them, like customer information, and so they must be e-archived the same way as the main corporate databases.

However what this Aberdeen report Securing Unstructured Data (33 page PDF) highlights is that these types of files fly around relatively unprotected, stored and shared across users laptops, not behind the firewall, and shared promisciously through UC tools.

Cloud-based services are ideal for securing this pool of data, acting as one big overall file repository, particularly so when combined with popular tools like Microsoft Sharepoint which is ideal for providing features to post and share these documents. There are add-in options for classifying and time-stamping the documents with meta-data that can then be used for programming their archival.

As Vivek Kundra, Whitehouse CIO explains in this news article, installing specialist on-site storage systems for this type of function can be prohibitively expensive, and so using Cloud for this type of email and 'e-discovery' archiving is one of their key adoption scenarios, and is the ideal type of IaaS that web hosting companies can offer.

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