CloudLink is central to Mitel’s acquisition strategy and future vision
At its June analyst meeting, Mitel announced CloudLink as a focal point of its product roadmap and a key element in its ability to absorb future telephony acquisitions. CloudLink is also part of Mitel’s IoT-enablement planning, as discussed in the recent No Jitter article, “Giving Machines a Voice.”
At a high level, CloudLink provides:
- A bridge to enable any Mitel call control platform to interface with cloud-based applications
- Access to vertically-focused micro applications
- An aggregation point for an organization’s IoT sensors that can trigger communications actions or responses
- APIs for third-party developers for use in creating applications
- A zero-code application development environment non-programmers can use to create apps
- An integration point for third-party cloud apps like Salesforce, Zapier, If-This-Then-That, using call control signaling and notification in the workflow
- CloudLink as a “Bridge to Cloud”
With technology gained over the years in the Inter-Tel, Aastra, and Toshiba Unified Communications Systems acquisitions, Mitel has a larger variety of call control platforms than any other vendor. One of the company’s mantras has been that it does not require end-user customers acquired through acquisition to upgrade to Mitel-branded call control solutions and handsets; rather, customers with any Mitel-branded or Mitel-owned platforms can continue to use the call control engine they currently have, and Mitel will continue to support it. These customers will eventually need to upgrade, and Mitel will be there with new systems and/or cloud-based offerings.
CloudLink is a strategic asset because it gives application developers access to the 60 million telephones connected to the many Mitel call control platforms. CloudLink does this by normalizing proprietary call control signaling so that an application built in CloudLink can use nearly any PBX a customer already has in place. Plus, it makes it easy for Mitel to do additional acquisitions while providing an immediate pathway to cloud applications for new customers.
The CloudLink Architecture
CloudLink has two elements:
- The CloudLink gateway
- The Mitel Next Platform that runs in the Amazon cloud
The CloudLink gateway is a physical device, about the size of a small router, that can be deployed on-premises, in the cloud as part of Mitel’s MiCloud service, or as part of a partner-hosted, Mitel-powered service. Adaptors within the gateway communicate with the underlying call control platform using the PBX’s signaling protocol or generic SIP.
The CloudLink gateway allows participation of the physical side of things — the PBX and the endpoints — by normalizing the signaling protocols from disparate PBXs so there is only one signaling and messaging protocol between the gateway and the Mitel Next Platform infrastructure running in the Amazon cloud.
This is a compelling part of Mitel’s acquisition strategy because all of the Mitel cloud apps and any third-party developed apps will work when/if Mitel acquires additional telephony companies. To enable a new PBX, Mitel would write an adaptor enabling the CloudLink gateway to work with the newly acquired call control engine. (An interesting side note is that the Aastra acquisition provided Mitel with 20+ call control adaptors from one of the Aastra’s European divisions.)
The Mitel Next Platform provides APIs and development tools for application builders who can create applications programmatically, as well as a new zero-code development environment for non-programmers. The zero-code environment (general availability date has not been announced) provides a drag-and-drop interface and intuitive toolset that allow nearly anyone to create communications workflow applications. You can read about such an environment in an earlier No Jitter post, “Integrations and Mashups Via the ‘Un-API.'”
Both development mechanisms allow the creation of apps that work with any of the call control engines supported by the CloudLink gateway. The Mitel Next Platform also provides a run-time environment for the applications to execute in. Applications with broad appeal can be multitenant, purchased and run by any Mitel customer, while Mitel or its partners can customize apps for a particular customer if desired.
Finally, Mitel Next provides hooks to select third-party cloud-based applications, such as Salesforce and Zapier, for which Mitel has built an interface.
Mitel’s own software developers are using the application programmer interfaces (APIs) available in the Mitel Next Platform to create what Mitel is calling micro-apps. Micro apps will generally focus on a particular vertical, and they will often have limited scope and functionality. They are intended to provide highly valuable, broadly needed, reasonably priced functionality that customers in a particular vertical can easily license and use.
A prime example of a micro-app would be a notification application. When a notification event occurs and people need to meet, telephones on any of these systems can ring, bringing people into a conference.
Third-party developers can also create applications using the Mitel Next Platform and make them available through an online store capability for end-user companies to purchase. This is similar to what other vendors are providing in their online stores and development environments.
Connecting with IoT Sensors for Real-Time Communications Processing
One of the other capabilities the CloudLink strategy offers is a way to integrate with IoT sensors, and then trigger communications processes and events via the Mitel Next Platform based on sensor state. The company demonstrated a notification process based on sensors connected via a LoRaWan Low Power Wide Area Network. In this instance, the opening of a defibrillator door triggered delivery of SMS and email notifications to airport emergency personnel. A second demo showed an on/off switch that also triggered alerts, including dialing out to someone.
To be completely accurate, the mass notification capabilities Mitel showcased in this demo came via its recent acquisition of the Blazecast product from Benbria and have not yet been fully integrated into the Mitel Next Platform. However, the integration is on the immediate roadmap, and you can easily conceptualize Mitel Next’s role in creating complex communications-enabled business processes that use data from IoT sensors.
Analysis of CloudLink
Creating a gateway so that a particular vendor’s unified communications capabilities can work even if another vendor’s call control is part of the mix is not new. Nortel did it with ACE so that Nortel’s other applications could use underlying third-party call control. IBM did it with Sametime Unified Telephony, the idea (in this case) being that anyone could deploy Sametime and integrate it with any vendor’s call control so that the Sametime client could serve as a telephony endpoint. And there have been others that have tried. None of them gained any traction.
CloudLink is different in that customers are not relegated to using Mitel-created apps. Customers can build their own apps, their own communications-enabled processes, and their own IoT-enabled communications processes, as opposed to just relying on those provided by Mitel. Furthermore, these apps become easy to consume because they are cloud-based. The capabilities we saw with IoT sensors triggering communications processes were indeed compelling.
But more than that, CloudLink allows Mitel to create vision.
One of the challenges facing PBX manufacturers, with the exception of Cisco and Microsoft, is the ability to create a vision that secures their places in the hearts and minds of the partner channel and the user base. Lacking compelling visions, PBX vendors like Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, and Unify seem to be stalling in the market. They’ve not been able to create excitement in the user or prospect base.
Mitel has had the same challenge: It has been looked at as a sort of stodgy PBX company that happens to be growing through acquisition. CloudLink may allow Mitel to break through this barrier.
Is the micro-app idea going to work like Mitel thinks it will? By definition, the micro-app is a very specific, limited functionality, application. These may be easy for Mitel to develop, but the question is, can they generate enough revenue to be sustaining? One of the challenges with software is that the real costs start once the first version is released. Apps must be maintained forever.
Will any of the micro apps generate enough money to support the sustaining effort required, and how will Mitel keep these micro apps from transitioning over time, due to software bloat, to mini and on to major apps accompanied by major support costs? We will see how this plays out.
The CloudLink strategy enables an instant on-ramp to cloud-based app consumption for all existing and future Mitel customers obtained through acquisition as well as an opportunity to begin incorporating IoT into an organization’s communications processes. Mitel will release CloudLink later this year, and we will watch with great interest to see how application attach rates and IoT-enabled business processes roll out across the company’s customer base.