Unified communications brings real benefits to education

As its name suggests, a unified communications suite gives the user a variety of business services, from instant messaging and email to voice calling and video conferencing, in a single convenient platform. On top of that, UC can serve as a natural path into cloud computing. Many of its key functionalities do not even require on-premises physical equipment since they can be run from remotely hosted servers.

UC solutions are ideal for organizations looking to consolidate their communications processes and save money while doing so. Let's look at some of the general benefits of UC, as well as how it has worked in practice for institutions in higher education.

Why organizations should consider replacing legacy systems with UC
The well known limitations of legacy hardware and software – inflexibility, difficult maintenance and total cost – can hold back businesses that are in the midst of rapid growth. Rather than deal with arduous upgrades of traditional phone systems, for instance, companies can adopt a UC platform that provides a broader set of communications services with a lower price tag.

Some of the most notable perks of UC include:

  • Better overall user experience: Thanks to the rise of mobile computing, individuals now expect immersive, intuitive interactions with all devices and applications. UC offerings may feature rich interfaces, plus they're usually compatible with smartphones and tablets, making it possible to work from anywhere.
  • Reduced equipment- and support-related costs: Investing in a UC system may not even require purchasing new hardware upfront. Services are delivered through an IP network, an appealing arrangement for cost-conscious small and midsize businesses. The UC provider may also handle support issues, freeing up the IT department to attend to other matters.
  • Flexibility and scalability: Backed by cloud storage services, UC solutions can be easily modified and extended as business requirements evolve and the user base grows.

University puts UC to work in modernizing practices
How does UC look in the real world? EdTech chronicled the Florida State University College of Medicine's adoption of a UC suite that included video conferencing and was supported by server virtualization.

Five years ago, the institution upgraded its network to support the added bandwidth requirements of video conferencing, and more recently it virtualized its servers to save rack space. The result has been a UC video conferencing platform that enables remote work and easy video viewing by students and guests.

"We now have more than 2,000 recordings that take up in excess of 2 terabytes of data," college media specialist Patrick Sparkman told EdTech. "While virtualizing our UC servers was part of the college's effort to modernize its server infrastructure, adding the [storage area network] gave us the storage capabilities we needed. And, through the server virtualization, we now have the redundancy we didn't have when we started."

The college is still moving toward full implementation of UC. Over the next few years, it hopes to continue making use of platforms such as Microsoft Lync and also integrate voicemail with email.