Digium's new Switchvox Cloud platform offers Asterisk (the open source IP PBX) in an on-demand format. For channel partners, this could be an intriguing way to enter the hosted telephony market without building out any infrastructure on their own. Switchvox Cloud, which has unified communications capabilities, could also be an alternative to Microsoft Office 365 and Lync Online.

But who's actually hosting Switchvox Cloud for Digium? The answer is VocalCloud, a hosted telephony specialist in Atlanta, Ga. It's an intriguing partnership: While VocalCloud provides the plumbing and data center platform, Digium supplies the software, phone handsets and customer support.

Despite the tight relationship, the Digium-VocalCloud relationship leaves room for market competition and partner engagements. Third-parties can still host Asterisk on their own. Plus, technology VARs and telecom agents can resell the Switchvox Cloud service, notes Bryan Johns, product manager, Digium.

Overall, Switchvox Cloud sounds interesting. But I also think Digium is a bit late to this market. The company has a great following in the on-premises market, where channel partners have rallied around Switchvox phone and unified communications systems. But the hosted approach represented 20 percent of the overall PBX market in 2012 -- a huge segment where Digium didn't really have a market response until Switchvox Cloud launched this week.

No doubt: There's a market for Switchvox Cloud. But the partner program sounds somewhat limited to Talkin' Cloud. For instance, partners can't White Label the service -- which means they can't re-brand it as their own.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has finally expanded Office 365 (and the Lync Online service) to give partners cloud billing capabilities for end-customers. Plus, Microsoft's Lync business has generated consistent double-digit growth in recent quarters. And partners seem to be warming up to the Office 365 partner programs. The big caveat: Lync Online doesn't offer full-blown PBX services yet.

Can Switchvox Cloud carve its own market niche? I'm betting yes. But I wonder how many channel partners plug into the opportunity.