Enterprise Communications

Avaya Desktop Video Device: To Be or Not To Be

by Elka Popova 17 Sep 2010
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After reading a few commentaries on the Avaya video product launch on www.nojitter.com, I felt I should follow up on my post on www.sipthat.com of September 16. Mostly, I saw criticisms around the name of the Avaya Desktop Video Device. Also, analysts seem to be comparing its price and capabilities to tablet devices and, in this light, the Desktop Video Device appears to be at a disadvantage. There were also some criticisms about Avaya’s overall strategic focus and its (allegedly unfortunate) choice to launch a hardware device instead of a software solution.

I have to agree with my fellow analysts that there are some downsides to the way Avaya positioned the new product suite. For starters, the lengthy name of the “Avaya Desktop Video Device” is not going to create the kind of buzz a shorter and fancier name like CIUS or even its own Flare software could. In fact, I really liked the working name Mojo! A one-X derivative would have been good, too. But I disagree with how Avaya's new products are analyzed in isolation, disregarding their role within Avaya’s specific portfolio.

In my opinion, an end user should (and most likely will) be evaluating the entire Avaya architecture and vision, rather than making decisions based on a single device. Avaya’s SIP- and SOA-based Aura architecture provides the context within which its video strategy should be assessed. Avaya’s vision seems to be focused on delivering a comprehensive set of applications and end-to-end communications solutions that leverage existing, typically multi-vendor infrastructures within clients’ organizations.

As demand for videoconferencing grows, and mergers and acquisitions continuously change the landscape turning previous Avaya partners into future competitors, it seems prudent for Avaya to develop its own video solutions to gain a certain degree of independence and, certainly, create a new revenue opportunity as well. The bottom line here being – Avaya HAD TO develop its own video portfolio. For customers with existing Avaya infrastructure, an Avaya video solution is likely to help alleviate interoperability challenges and maybe significantly lower the cost of video implementation.

With Aura, however, Avaya aims to also be able to deliver its UC applications suite across multi-vendor core networking environments. Therefore, the potential for its video collaboration solutions is not limited to its own installed telephony base. In fact, the virtualized Collaboration Server can help it extend the reach of its application portfolio into both existing customers running older Avaya products and 3rd-party customers. It can front-end other telephony platforms and deliver advanced capabilities without having to rip and replace existing infrastructure.

Now is Avaya’s Desktop Video Device (Shall we abbreviate it to DVD or ADVD?) a tablet or is it not? Being larger and potentially more expensive that Cisco CIUS, how will it fare in the marketplace?

In my opinion, this question is only partially relevant. Yes, tablets are going to increasingly gain traction in the enterprise market and will complement or replace other communications endpoints. Most likely widely popular consumer tablets such as the iPad will be the first to penetrate the prosumer space with IT struggling to figure out if and how they should support such endpoints. Business-grade tablets, on the other hand, will take a while to evolve until they can serve a good number of business purposes besides communications. As noted in some other posts, we (business people) need to be able to take notes and store, edit and retrieve documents, spreadsheets and presentations, etc.

With that said, I would expect Avaya to continue to enhance and change its Desktop Video Device until it can confidently compete in the tablet space. In the meantime, however, it will need to ensure its Flare interface appears on as many already popular devices as possible – smartphones, other vendors’ tablets, etc. I agree with Melanie Turek (see her blog post here) that the Avaya Flare is indeed a very good interface and worth delivering on multiple hardware devices.

And as far as competition with Cisco is concerned, this is where I want to refer back to my previous point about customer choices being based on total infrastructure vision and roadmap, rather than individual devices. If a customer chooses Aura for its greater openness and flexibility compared with Cisco’s core infrastructure, for example, it is a moot point to compare the Desktop Video Device to the CIUS as they are not likely to tip the scales. Each of these devices will work best with the respective vendor’s own infrastructure. But it is a fact that, with its newly launched video suite, Avaya has now more to offer to its customers. If a customer is evaluating the two vendors on the comprehensiveness of their communications portfolios, Avaya is now much better positioned to compete with Cisco than it was before.

In her blog post, Melanie stated that Avaya should have focused on software instead of hardware. While she is making some valid points, the truth of the matter is, purpose-built devices are frequently best of breed, especially in highly demanding environments. Yes, I do want to see Flare on PCs and laptops, desktop IP phones and selected smartphones as soon as possible, but the Desktop Video Device serves a specific purpose. From an integration, performance, security and control points of view, the Desktop Video Device is a better starting point and a more appropriate proof of concept than any third-party smartphone or tablet. The touch-screen technology gives it an advantage to IP desktop phones; the larger form factor makes it more appealing for professional video than most smartphones; and with a separate audio path, it is a much more reliable endpoint for real-time communications than the PC or laptop.

Overall, I think Avaya’s new video suite can be quite successful if properly positioned among potential customers. But it needs to evolve to capture larger opportunities and address broader customer needs.

I would love to hear from some end users and channel partners. It is interesting to know how they perceive the new Avaya product suite and how it compares to other video solutions they have evaluated.

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