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BT, Cisco Claim Cloud Coup

Ray Le Maistre

If you hear an increasingly loud rumbling noise, you'll probably find it's either: that chicken pesto sandwich you had for lunch; or the sound of telecom operators scrambling to position themselves as cloud services pioneers.

And carriers need to move fast if they're to play a significant role in the cloud revolution. (See Capturing SaaS Cloud Computing Business, TM Forum Seeks Enterprise Help With the Cloud, Outlook Cloudy for Telco IaaS, and Amazon's Lessons for Telcos.)

The latest operator to make a noise about its hosted services offerings is BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), though this isn't the British incumbent's first foray into the world of so-called cloud services. (See BT, Microsoft Get Cloudy .)

Today, the operator is taking its next big step down the hosted applications road. In cahoots with long-time partner Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), BT has unveiled a "global hosted IP telephony service" that "allows businesses to bring converged voice, mobile and data services to every desktop in their organisation, using BT and Cisco’s cloud computing-based technologies."

The Cisco technology in question is the Hosted Unified Communications Services (HUCS) platform. The IP giant, though, has plenty of other ideas about how it can help cloud services reign. [Ed. note: Geddit?] (See Cisco Plays in the Clouds.)

Neil Sutton, vice president, global portfolio, at BT Global Services , says the service should appeal to large companies with multiple international locations because it meets some of the key demands of that particular customer demographic: It offers the simplicity (and cost efficiency) of having a single communications platform, rather than multiple, disparate systems built up in different locations; and offers a pay-as-you-go pricing model, by which companies will be charged based on the consumption of IP telephony, voicemail, conferencing, and unified communications services.

Sutton also stresses the flexibility of the service -- customers can use it as much or as little as they want on a self-service basis, log into the service from any phone, and add new users to the platform themselves. And he points to the "resilient" nature of the underlying technology (Cisco's platform and BT's far-reaching MPLS network). The service can also be "blended" with existing IP-based and legacy voice services so that customers can migrate to the new service at their own pace.

Oh, and it counts as a "cloud" service because, in addition to the service's flexible, self-service, and utility payment attributes, the capabilities are being offered on a "multi-tenant" basis.

And BT, which is hoping the offering will attract new customers as well as meet the needs of its existing 400 multinational users and 1,600 other corporate customers with international operations, believes large companies are crying out for such flexible packages.

But it's not as if other carriers haven't launched such cloud services already, so what's so special about this offering? (See TM Forum Creates Cloud Ecosystem, TWC's Outlook: Cloudy, With a Chance of Ethernet , Verizon Offers Cloud Lessons, NTT, OpSource Bring Cloud Services to US, AT&T Joins Cloud Computing Set, Verizon CaaS Is a Top Pick, Brits Get Bullish on Business Services, Telstra Wins Cloud Deal, Cisco Nexus Wins in Thailand, Verizon Unveils Cloud Services, and AT&T Intros Cloud Storage.)

The partners are claiming a "breakthrough" due to the "global" nature of BT's offering. Sutton says currently extant hosted voice services aren't supported by multiple, regional IP centrex nodes that span the globe. BT's service will be supported by three main regional nodes to start with, but that could grow, depending on customer demand, which Sutton, naturally, expects to be strong. "Our plans are dynamic," he states.

However, BT is been a bit premature in making the "global" claim, as the service is currently only available in the U.K., where it's being used by the National Health Service (NHS), which has 1.3 million employees. So, for now, it's a national service.

The hosted voice offering will become commercially available in the rest of the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) region and the U.S. in 2010, followed by the Asia/Pacific.

Does that make it global? Answers welcome from our Canadian and Latin American readers on the hosted message board below.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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