Cloud communications took a twist yesterday with the launch of Team Edition by SipGate. The Web-based service replaces both phone systems and phone lines with a Web-based softphone, allowing small and mid-size companies to move their corporate phone service to the cloud. At the same time, the lack of scaleable administrative tools and LDAP support will likely restrict the Team Edition to small- to medium-sized enterprises.
The top line benefits of Team Edition are what would be expected from a cloud-based service. Cost reduction remains a fraction of server-based solutions (just $2 per user per month). Deployment times are significantly lower than server based solutions. I was able to configure a small (three person) group, for example, in under a half an hour.
The mix support for a VoIP-enabled phones and softphones will also help transition onto the new service. Organizations can continue to use their regular handsets while migrating new users onto softphones.
While any Internet-based voice quality testing is a tad shy of witchcraft, experience with SIPgate was very positive. I spend a lot of time overseas (Israel to be precise.) so am used to some quality problems on my calls. Yet during my 33 calls on SIPgate, neither I nor the people I was speaking with noticed voice degradation, even when a background processes brought processor utilization to 100 percent and exercised the hard drive, graphics card, and network.
SIPGate also includes a number of collaboration features will also appeal to users. Local call recording is provided throughout. Faxes can not only be sent and received online, but users can upload letterheads, signatures, and even send PDF documents. Voicemails can be forwarded, labelled and commented upon much like email.
At the same time, users will likely find a number of points of frustration with the software. There is no single keystroke to hang up on a call. This means the SIPgate window must be brought to the foreground, an inconvenience when you're multitasking or taking notes in a different application. Auto-attendant is supposed to be offered, but I didn't see where in the software. There also is no presence, IM or other collaboration tools and technologies that are standard in many telephony services today.
Administrators of large groups won't like the lack of mass configuration tools to the lack of LDAP integration (contacts can be imported from Gmail and through vCard). They will also likely want to h more details of SIPGate's hosting procedures. The recent data center outages have underscored for many the risks of cloud computing.
But these are small details for the small- to medium-sized enterprise. In the end of the day, business is looking for affordable communications that will work when its supposed. SIPGate does just that and should be smart choice for many organizations.