News From Tier-1 Research

Unison launches unified communications platform; Intermedia is first hosting partner

By Philbert Shih of Tier-1 Research

An important recent development in the messaging space was the launch of Unison, which has been in stealth mode for several years and just came out of a 12-month beta. Unison is run on Linux and is a unified communications platform that combines collaborative email (with groupware functionality), instant messaging, presence and voice/telephony as a single hosted service. Unison runs on both Windows and Linux desktops. Unison Desktop is the user client interface and is designed to replicate the Microsoft Outlook experience. Unison Server is the infrastructure foundation and can be deployed on-premises or as a hosted service through a service provider.
Unison delivers a standard business-class messaging and collaboration service, but its main differentiator is the integration of IP-PBX capabilities, enabling full telephony for users. This allows organizations to avoid expensive and relatively cumbersome deployment and maintenance of VoIP and PBX installations. In short, Unison has taken a significant step toward a fully unified communications platform at a price point that will resonate across the SMB market.

Intermedia to launch hosted Unison

Unison, which designed and developed the technology, is an offshoot arm of Exchange hosting specialist Intermedia. It should come as no surprise then that Intermedia will be the first hoster to offer hosted Unison services to its customers, hosted and managed out of the datacenter infrastructure and support operations handling its substantial Exchange hosting customer base. Intermedia charges $10 per seat per month for just Unison messaging, without telephony. Adding on the telephony and unified communications capabilities, the cost jumps to $50 per seat per month. Intermedia is the first service provider to offer Unison as a hosted service, but the company has been actively pursuing other hosters and service providers. It is also likely to be targeting Intermedia’s many private-label hosting partners.

Competitive directions

Unison’s entry into the market is targeted at two segments within the messaging and collaboration space. On the one level, Unison, through service providers like Intermedia, presents an affordable messaging alternative to the dominant Microsoft Exchange offering. We agree this is a sensible move for hosters, given the falling price points for Exchange, which has translated into tighter margins for hosting partners, and Microsoft’s developing presence in the market.

On another level, Unison takes hosters like Intermedia up market into fully unified communications. While Microsoft is planning to play here with Office Communications Server, and Google, Cisco and IBM are also trying, there is little evidence that any one vendor has taken a lead. There is clearly opportunity here and Unison looks to be positioning as an affordable SMB product with scalability up to the mid-market.

For Intermedia, this is an important move that provides it with another avenue for growth. While the Exchange opportunity continues to be healthy for Intermedia, Unison helps it expand its market reach and offer a wider range of choice to customers. Whereas the likes of Google and Microsoft are not able to host competing messaging platforms, third-party service providers can. And they should exploit this advantage to maintain as large of an addressable market opportunity as possible.

Email in the hosting space

Email has been a successful venture for hosters. It helps drive ARPU and enhances customer stickiness. There is no question that it is a key to maintaining long-term customer relationships. However, email margins are also tightening and hosters need to start thinking about where they can begin generating additional revenues. Unified communications is still a nascent market but we believe it is the logical next step up from email. Unison has made an important move here in pursuit of that goal and others like Open-Xchange are doing the same with its new VoIP partnership (more on this to come) and integration with its groupware technology. T1R fully expects to see more movement with VoIP and telephony moving forward. In short, email continues to be a solid anchor service for hosters but over time it will begin to expand into unified communications. Hosters must be a part of this additional layer of value both from a financial and strategic perspective.

About The Intermedia Team

Intermedia's Office in the Cloud™ delivers essential IT services for SMBs and the partners who serve them — including hosted Exchange, Hosted PBX, SecuriSync file sync and share, security, mobility and more.