On their own, voice-over-IP and managed services are hot markets. Toss the two together, and maybe you can fan the flames of opportunity. For instance, check out how Cistera Networks is hosting VoIP managed services for schools.

I've worked at a major university, so I know how difficult it is to find funding for major IT upgrades. Enter Cistera. Rather than issuing bonds, raising taxes or begging Uncle Sam for more money to pay for a new telephony infrastructure, schools can use the managed services model to pay for hosted VoIP services from Cistera. The company is working with two key partners -- Sylantro and Aastra -- to offer hosted VoIP to schools.

I can't endorse Cistera's technology because I've never used it. But I certainly think Cistera's business strategy is worth noting. Many VARs are focusing their managed services efforts on horizontal markets such as security or storage. But Cistera shows you can take a horizontal managed service (such as VoIP) and plug it into a vertical market (like education).

Will Cistera connect with customers? Unfortunately, many businesses are under-utilizing VoIP services. Consumer-oriented services like Vonage have underwhelmed many of us, so some small business owners have hesitated to link all of their applications (CRM, etc.) to VoIP.

But by its very nature, the education market is open to trying new approaches -- especially when the offerings deliver value and save money.

Where do we go from here? Throw in the Asterisk open source telephony platform, and I bet hosted VoIP options for schools will really heat up.