Rob Arnold's Blog


UCC Solution Review: Pexip Infinity Video Conferencing

28 Oct 2013

In the months since InfoComm this past May, startup cloud video conferencing infrastructure provider Pexip has quickly established a market presence. The privately funded company was founded in 2012 by ex-Tandberg staff, including execs, programmers, sales, marketing and other personnel. It was at InfoComm that Pexip had its coming out party.

The company’s Infinity video conferencing solution is anchored by a virtualized (utilizing VMware) transcoding MCU that can be deployed as a customer premises, hosted or cloud solution using partner or customer sourced VMware qualified commercial servers. Infinity features an intelligent distributed architecture designed to maximize scalability and performance while optimizing bandwidth. The core Infinity user application is the virtual meeting room, or VMR. Users access their VMRs via the Pexip WebRTC client, as well as standards-based H.264 and H.263 hardware and software endpoints. A Pexip VMR supports an unlimited number of participants, with the meeting host and the six most recent participant speakers displayed in continuous presence thumbnails, and the active speaker promoted to the largest cube in the layout.

***This review is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of the company and/or its entire portfolio. Rather, it is intended to provide a fast and light recap of my personal experiences and opinion of a specific application, product or service.***

Pexip's true value is in the core infrastructure delivery, the ability to scale due to virtualized software (especially important with BYOD), and the distributed architecture. The existing infrastructure solutions in the market are primarily built on dedicated chassis and fixed capacity hardware; the associated high costs, do not fit the evolution of user needs for pervasive video. Therefore, Pexip to a certain extent changes that equation and could help lead to a spurt in innovation in the video conferencing industry. We are already beginning to see more virtualized videoconferencing infrastructure options on the market, however few appear to be as “software to the core”, and therefore as flexible as Pexip’s.

From a user perspective one of the things I like most about the Pexip solution is the clean WebRTC client interface, which I accessed via Google Chrome. The client lives up to WebRTC’s promises of accessibility. Users can simply paste a VMR link into their address bar or click on a VMR link in their calendar invite, enter their name (as well as optional meeting ID and PIN, if necessary), permit the WebRTC client service to access their audio/video peripherals, and directly enter the meeting. The HD video resolution and audio quality are both crisp, and I experienced little to no video freeze-framing or tiling. Furthermore, peripheral settings can be adjusted on the fly and activated with a quick browser refresh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pexip client. Snapshot courstesy of Pexip.

I also joined a Pexip VMR using my standards-based H.323 hardware endpoint. While I am a big proponent of soft clients, I find myself routinely relying on the dedicated hardware endpoint due to PC or peripheral performance issues. I was able to adjust my bandwidth settings mid-session when dialing in from my hardware-based client. In contrast bandwidth adjustments need to be performed prior to joining a session via the WebRTC client however the low, medium, and high bandwidth menu options are very intuitive. In one particular call I was even able to join from both my hardware endpoint and the WebRTC client at the same time – an impressive feat given the sometimes challenging bandwidth limitations at my home office.  

The Pexip solution supports presentation/content sharing in full HD with some nice feature flexibility. All users can individually adjust their content and video display priority. Any host or guest can share content, and participants can split the video and content to separate monitors and even to separate devices, such as an iOS device from which hosts can control the presentation. Furthermore, iOS devices used in this way are not counted as full users or clients from a port capacity perspective.

Every user gets a VMR with a static address, making it easy to remember, bookmark, or routinely populate to calendar invitations. The solution is licensed under a couple of different models, per user per month or per port per month, to give customers flexibility.

There are, however, certain things about the Pexip solution that I’m not so fond of. For example, there is no IM/chat or recording functionality, and there is currently only a single fixed layout (users cannot individually adjust their layouts). Pexip executives state that Infinity is designed for high quality, reliability, easy to use, scalable video conferencing; therefore other capabilities are deemphasized. The broader Pexip approach is to fit into what customers or partners already have. One could argue, however, that this position is a mandatory stance until the solution matures and additional functionality is added over time. The Pexip executives do have some proof points of their position however, as a number of provider partners and customers are already leveraging Infinity video conferencing infrastructure as part of their collaboration solutions and have integrated third-party components to enable additional desired functionality.

Other shortcomings compared to competing solutions include a present lack of native calendar integration, an inability to adjust bandwidth settings mid-session, and the inability to lock or pin selected speakers into continuous presence view when calls have more than 7 participants. All of these things can, in fact, impact usability and the user experience. And while users of third-party clients (e.g., Lync) can join Pexip VMRs via a variety of mobile devices, the Pexip App itself currently has its mobile device support limited to iOS devices.

In summary, the Pexip solution is founded upon a fully virtualized, and therefore highly flexible and differentiated infrastructure. It is the type of software-centric design that many end user organizations and partners will prefer going forward. Although capable of standing on its own, it is positioned as a video-first solution in environments where customers and partners have existing assets they wish to leverage. For this position it is very well suited. In the near-term those seeking a more rounded collaboration feature set from a single source provider may want to look at alternatives or to a Pexip partner that can act as a single throat to choke for multi-vendor solutions. My guess is that Pexip will find success with its current offer, but will continue to build out its feature functionality to capture greater opportunities in the future.

 

Frustrated with Web Conferences? See these Considerations for Effective Online Meetings

03 May 2013

In my job I attend a number of Web conferences each week with different groups of people and using a variety of different conferencing platforms. Quite often valuable time is wasted as the organizer, host or presenter is disorganized or struggles to invoke the appropriate features at the right time. 

According to a recent Frost & Sullivan decision-maker survey, the top reasons for delaying investments in Web conferencing are based upon commonly held perceptions that it is not a user-friendly or useful tool for many knowledge workers.

These misguided perceptions stem from lack of user familiarity with the Web conferencing tool set and user interfaces. At times, Web conferencing may prove ineffective because of the underlying complexity of the technology. However, Web conferencing providers remain steadfastly focused on delivering a user-friendly experience. Technology advancements are helping to improve the user interface and are enabling conference participants to effectively leverage a more comprehensive set of collaboration features. Many conferencing software suites today are designed to service the everyday user, with the most frequently used tools intuitively designed and positioned front and center in the user interface. Still, hosting an online meeting can be intimidating for presenters.

Many hosts and presenters are only familiar with the few Web conferencing features that they consistently employ in their online meetings. Although useful in some regards, this limited approach is not always the most effective. Presenters can add value to their meetings by incorporating a greater variety of features available with their Web conferencing platform. By accessing the tutorials, self-help tools, consulting services, or customer support available from their Web conferencing providers, hosts can learn to incorporate features that best support the objectives of their meetings.

Attached is a check list of best practices that will free presenters from technical obstacles and enable them to effectively host productive and efficient meetings. (I also have a checklist cheat sheet available by request).

I hope this is useful. Happy conferencing! 

 

Best Practices for Effective Online Meetings

Focus on Objectives, Not on Technology:

  • Technology and features should not be a focal point. Rather, the platform should support the host and the intended message.
  • It is easy to become overwhelmed by all of the useful features available with Web conferencing platforms. A helpful approach to remain focused on the intended message is to draft a meeting script prior to any other steps being taken.
  • Once the script is prepared, the host should consider which features and functionalities are most appropriately aligned to support the intended objective and message.

 Apply the Tools that Best Support the Message:

  • Once the intended message has been organized, meeting hosts should consider the specific type of meeting they plan to hold. The appropriateness and effectiveness of collaboration features will vary based on the number and demographics of participants (colleagues, partners, customers, prospects, etc.), as well as the meeting format (interactive, presentation, demonstration, training, etc).
  • Desktop or screen sharing features help audiences to better understand complex information. Screen sharing ensures all participants are literally on the same page and are not individually searching for documents on their desktops. A key benefit of desktop/screen sharing is that the host can pass control to others, which allows advanced features such as co-editing of documents.
  • File sharing enables documents to be uploaded to a Web-based content library or database which is accessible to all participants during and after the meeting. By pre-loading the documents, the presenter has the necessary files readily available for display during the meeting. File sharing eases version management and ensures that a single version is made available to all participants post-meeting. File sharing prevents presenters from displaying their entire desktops to participants, thereby eliminating privacy issues and distractions due to screen savers, pictures, and open applications on a presenter’s desktop.
  • Polling, Q&A, and chat can all be variously employed to engage the audience. Participants can communicate with presenters or with each other via chat. Polling and Q&A can be useful ways to organize attendee feedback and inquiries to be fielded during the meeting or in the context of post-meeting follow-up. All of these features can be turned on/off based on the host’s objectives.
  • Audio controls are available to help the host retain order throughout the meeting. The host can choose to mute all or un-mute specific presenters or audience members when it is appropriate for them to speak.  
  • Integrated desktop videoconferencing is available with many Web conferencing platforms. The host should consider whether this feature will add value to the meeting, and if so, how it should be employed. Videoconferencing can promote a sense of intimacy or convey information through body language, yet viewing fidgeting participants can be a distraction. Meeting organizers may elect to enable video for only the host and other presenters, or for all participants, or for no one at all.
  • Hosts should consider whether they wish to record their meetings to make the material available for future use, either for documentation and compliance, or to make it available to participants who are unable to attend the live event.

 Invite All of the Appropriate Participants:

  • Calendar and e-mail integrations and other scheduling tools should be leveraged during the planning and initiation phases of Web conferences. Calendar invitations synchronized with e-mail make it easy for participants to join.
  • Invitations should include meeting details such as the meeting name and a summary of the discussion topics, time, and audio and online log-on information. E-mail and calendar reminders can be set up to ensure participants join on time.

Make It Easy to Join:

  • Adequate preparation is only part of an effective Web conference. Factors such as content delivery and professional etiquette play key roles as well. A delayed start immediately compromises perceptions of competence and credibility. Many providers offer solutions that expedite the meeting entry process. For example, there are tools that allow participants to join by right-clicking on a link embedded in an e-mail or calendar item.
  • It is recommended that, if possible, multiple audio options are provided for participants–including toll and toll-free, domestic and international audio dial-in options, as well as VoIP. This will enable users to choose the most appropriate method for their environment and may help to encourage attendance.

Be Prepared:

  • Integrated e-mail and calendar tools allow meeting organizers to view the availability of prospective participants and select the most convenient time that will generate the largest degree of participation.
  • Calendar integrations also display which participants have or have not accepted the invitation. Hosts should continually monitor the accepted roster prior to the meeting to ensure top attendance and to reschedule if necessary.
  • Hosts should gather all content they plan to share and upload these materials to the Web conferencing content library or to their desktops prior to the start of the meeting. Pre-loading files to the content library ensures that content is easily accessible and cached, which allows them to load quickly during the meeting.
  • Hosts choosing to share content by attaching files to meeting invites should ensure updates to that material are kept to a minimum once distributed.

 Conduct a Dry Run:

  • To ensure seamless execution of the Web conferencing session, hosts should conduct a trial run. During the dry run hosts should focus on the technical aspects of the session. A proper review of log-in details, audio and video quality, Internet connections, and the features that will be utilized will help to limit delays and avoidable distractions during the live event.
  • Today, callers have a great variety of audio dial-in options, including traditional PSTN and VoIP connections or mobile access over cellular networks. Selecting the most appropriate and reliable connection is imperative. To ensure the best audio quality, hosts and presenters should briefly test their chosen audio solution prior to the meeting’s start. If a presenter is calling internationally, it is recommended that they do so from a toll number using a land line for reliability and quality purposes.
  • Audio quality is one of the most important factors of a Web conference and environmental factors should be considered. Presenters should call in from quiet or private locations with good acoustics. To prevent background noise, presenters should use audio equipment such as headsets, which should be tested prior to the start of the meeting.
  • Meeting organizers should keep a close eye on the clock. Frequent time checks will ensure that the pace is appropriate to clearly and fully share all intended information.

Conduct the Live Event

  • It is recommended that hosts and presenters shut down all applications not directly related to their meetings. Pop-up notifications for incoming e-mail or instant messages, for example, are potential distractions that can be eliminated.
  • Meeting hosts and presenters should always log-in to their Web conferences five minutes early. This will ensure that any required automated software updates are preformed prior to the meeting’s beginning.
  • It is recommended that hosts allow several minutes after the meeting start time for presenters and audience members to log in and adjust their settings.
  • Hosts should be deliberate and clear when activating and explaining conference features that are meant to engage the audience.
  • Just as in the dry run, hosts should keep an eye on the clock to ensure the meeting stays on schedule.
  • Presenters should not attempt to read their prepared scripts or shared content verbatim. Instead they should hit the high points of background and basic information in order to allocate greater time to cover the more complex or important aspects of the content.
  • Hosts should allow sufficient time for Q&A and open discussion at the end, if applicable.
  • Before ending the session, hosts should inform meeting participants and audience members that follow-up information will be made available.

Be Sure to Follow Up:

  • Post-session actions extend the life cycles of effective online meetings. Functionality such as workspace and file-sharing integrations, and recording and playback solutions are evolving Web conferencing platforms into persistent collaboration tools that are used before, during, and after online meetings.
  • Follow-up activities can help hosts overcome poor attendance and expand their potential audiences. After their meetings, hosts can make follow-up tasks, meeting notes, and multimedia recordings available to participants via e-mail, collaborative work spaces, or content libraries. These functionalities extend the meeting life cycle, thereby increasing the value of the meeting and its content.

 

 

Lync Conference 2013 - One Analyst's Key Takeaways Spelled Out

25 Feb 2013

This week Microsoft held Lync Conference 2013, its first ever conference dedicated to Lync. It was a forum for Microsoft to showcase Lync successes to date and to lay out some future initiatives.

Already a lot has been Tweeted and blogged about the event. Because my 18-month old daughter has me thinking from new perspectives, I decided to blog my takeaways in a different format.

"M" is for mobile. Mobility took a prominent place from the start, with Skype President Tony Bates espousing Microsoft’s mobile UC advancements during his opening keynote and Lync Engineering VP Derek Burney working a number of impressive mobility demos into the kickoff keynote session. Derek showed off the new Lync Mobile 2013 client delivering a variety of UC features to a range of iOS, Android and Windows smartphones and tablets. You can find a nice overview here by Matt Landis. It is clear that Microsoft faces similar challenges as its competitors in providing consistent feature support across different mobile OSes and devices. In a feature comparison across devices, it is also clear that Microsoft still trails in some aspects, such as consistent support for content sharing, multi-party video and the Lync 2013 mobile client not expected for release until sometime in Q2. In any case, the Lync Mobile 2013 client is a vast improvement over its 2010 predecessor.  

"I" is for interoperability and integration. Among the biggest announcements at the event are plans to federate Lync and Skype. The first phase will be IM/presence and voice federation due in June for premises-based Lync deployments. In a tool set that looks similar to that in today’s Skype client, Lync administrators and users will be able to customize their permissions and controls to allow/disallow connection with Skype users. On-net calls between Lync and Skype clients will be free, just as Skype-to-Skype calls are today. At the back-end, customers can connect their Lync systems to the Skype network via SIP, with pricing yet to be finalized. Federated video and collaboration features (i.e., content sharing, etc.) are slated for availability sometime in the next 18 months. Many customers and partners seemed very enthused about the use cases for Lync-Skype integration such as B2B, B2C and interaction with other external parties. Still, most of the questions I heard pertained to the security, governance and compliance concerns that have long surrounded Skype. Microsoft spokespeople were armed with responses, but in my opinion the story needs a lot more shoring up.  

"C" is for conferencing. Lync Conferencing is getting a makeover to better support structured meetings. In what appears to finally be the merging of LiveMeeting functions with Lync’s strong ad-hoc conferencing capabilities, the latter is receiving a plethora of scheduling, meeting management, host control, attendee participation and other features that have been missing. This all bodes well for continued Lync growth, as the conferencing applications have proven popular due to ease of use and tight integration with other Microsoft products. My initial investigation does not suggest any improvements to Lync Conferencing scalability in the immediate future, leaving it to partners and competitors to address customer requirements for large scale web events and meetings..

"R" is for Room System. OK, the official name is Lync Room System (LRS). Four Microsoft partners have signed on to develop room-based video conferencing endpoints that will integrate natively with Lync. LRS was a main talking point from a multi-media apps perspective. By the end of this year SMART, Crestron, LifeSize and Polycom all plan to introduce multi-screen room systems. All will support content sharing, touch screens, white board, and HD video conferencing with continuous presence as well as the Microsoft flavor of SVC that was announced at the conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With LRS, Microsoft is appealing to customers that want tighter integration of video conferencing and content collaboration solutions with UC and IT infrastructure. The value prop is fairly strong, however Frost & Sullivan research finds that the market for software based clients and executive systems has outpaced growth in the high-end room systems endpoint segment for several years.

"O" is for Online. Lync Online is expected to support many of the enhancements with the premises version of Lync Server 2013. Availability of new functionality will come in phases. O is also for Office, as the emphasis on Lync integration with Microsoft Office desktop productivity apps continues. In my opinion, the undertones of business process enhancement enabled through such integrations are understated by Microsoft. And O is for Outlook, as Lync Conferencing and other Microsoft UCC apps will benefit from strengthened integration with the Outlook Web Access (OWA) interface that appears to be will improve lightweight and remote access to a richer set of functionality.   

"S" is for social and SharePoint. Lync Conference 2013 was squarely centered upon UCC. However, it was surprising to me that so little fanfare was given to the social realm in which Microsoft has so heavily invested in recent years. I listened to many conference attendees inquire about end-to-end Microsoft UCC, which encompasses content management and social integrated with UC. Perhaps it was not exactly the right forum for Microsoft to emphasize its social capabilities but I still think an opportunity was missed, especially as IBM, Jive, Cisco and others continue to pound away at the value propositions of integrating social with both the enterprise IT and UC stacks.

"O" is for Office 365 (O365). There were a number of breakouts sessions about cloud-based solutions – including O365 integrations with CPE-based Microsoft components (Lync, Exchange, etc) as well as the myriad Online and associated hybrid cloud options. Most of these sessions were well attended, so interest among customers and partners is obviously high. Q&A segments often centered upon issues with Active Directory sync and federation across domains as well as ensuring security, compliance and control. I did learn that there are significant impacts to scalability for certain applications in cloud and hybrid configurations. Combined with GRC concerns, customers and partners have plenty of homework to do.   Finally, we learned at the conference that Enterprise Voice will be offered as a component of O365 will be available sometime in the next 18 months. Details are forthcoming, but it will be very interesting to see how this plays out, especially against the backdrop of Skype integration with O365.

"F" is for five million. That is the number of total Lync Enterprise Voice user licenses Microsoft reports it has sold. At the end of 2011 the number was 3 million (including Lync Plus and grandfathered OCS R2 users), putting Microsoft’s 2012 efforts at 2 million clients. This lines up with Frost & Sullivan estimates.

Microsoft faces an interesting paradox here. On one hand, it positions Lync with Enterprise Voice as a PBX replacement. Therefore, the company must show traction that provides an apples-to-apples comparison with the way PBX vendors report their success (such as line licenses and end point sales). On the other hand Microsoft wants to move past the PBX era to make call control a cog of the greater UCC wheel. As such, several Microsoft executives stated they are looking into reporting total voice minutes over Lync networks as a measure of their success. A key issue here is that about 60% of voice traffic is inter-company (according to general Frost & Sullivan estimates), which is the main use case and need for the PBXs that Lync is trying to replace.  

"T" is for TechNet. TechNet has historically been an excellent resource for Microsoft product information—from high-level vision to technical minutia. However, Lync Server 2013 for premises deployment has been available since December, and Lync 2013 Online will reportedly be available at the end of this month. To the dismay of many customers and partners at the conference, there is a dearth of useful Lync 2013 information currently available on TechNet to help them plan now. "T" is also for telephony. There were some details about an enhanced telephony feature set in Lync 2013, such as group call pickup and Response Group improvements. However, in-depth details on most advancements to the much scrutinized Lync Enterprise Voice feature set were not provided and are not yet posted to TechNet.

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With Lync 2013 Microsoft has upped its ante in the UCC market, specifically in terms of Lync mobility, conferencing, and video, and by providing a more concrete roadmap for Lync-Skype integration.

So there you have my ABCs of Lync Conference 2013, an event well worth attending. Please tell me what you think about Lync 2013.

 

Who is Doing What in UC Server Virtualization: Cutting through the Hype

15 Feb 2013

The virtualization hype-cycle in enterprise UCC markets is nearing a climax.

In the realm of UCC, the use of virtualization technologies aims to reduce the costs associated with hardware and to unlock operational efficiencies enabled by the centralized command, control and resource optimization of cloud computing.  

From a high-level, server virtualization involves the use of hypervisors to create an abstraction layer between the server environment’s hardware and software resources. The hypervisor essentially allows multiple virtual servers, or virtual machines, to co-reside on the same physical hardware in order to share physical resources such as power, footprint, memory, CPU, and network interfaces.

Virtualization technologies are well established in enterprise datacenters to support IT infrastructure and business applications. The use of server virtualization to support UC applications components has also become more widespread. Enterprises have become comfortable with implementing their UC management, monitoring, reporting, directory, IM and presence, and other non-real time and near-real time components in virtual server environments.

However, the ability to reliably support real-time communications media such as voice call control, and audio and video conferencing in virtual server environments has only become available in the last two or three years—and many enterprises have a high level of interest in taking this next step in network transformation.

In order to capitalize on potential opportunities and to remain competitive many UCC developers are now offering their real-time software applications for deployment in virtual server environments. With such a broad selection, it has already become difficult to cut through the marketing hype to determine what is available from the different vendors. Because of this I launched a research project to get beyond the hype and find out who is really doing what. 

Findings

All UCC vendors in the top 2 tiers have launched initiatives to virtualize their real-time applications software. VMware reigns as the most popular virtual infrastructure qualified by UCC vendors. However there are distinct differences in configuration options.

  • Most vendors have launched solutions for SMB, mid-market and service provider infrastructure that leverage a single software stream.
    • SMB offerings tend to be turn-key, with UCC apps and virtual components pre-installed on industry standard hardware provided by the UCC vendor. The turn-key approach intends to placate traditional SMB customer and channel requirements for simplicity and lower cost.
    • Mid-market solutions tend to be comparatively more flexible and robust. Several leading vendors offer both turn-key options as well as the opportunity for customers or partners to source the hardware and virtual infrastructure. Best efforts are made to toe the line between simplicity in terms of use and operation while still supporting more sophisticated features.
    • Virtual enterprise UCC offerings are in fact solutions, not products. You’ll find few turn-key options available. These are highly scalable and certain UCC vendors also position their enterprise offerings for deployment by partners seeking infrastructure as the basis of cloud UCC services.
  • With a few notable exceptions most vendors support co-residency at capacities similar to their proprietary hardware or dedicated appliance offerings.
  • Most vendors have already enabled call control, voicemail/ unified messaging and IM/presence to be deployed in co-resident configurations.
  • Support for full-feature enterprise contact center, audio and web conferencing, and especially video conferencing, varies widely among different vendors.
  • VMware HA is commonly supported among UCC vendors. VMware FT support is uncommon. UCC vendors are recommending customers employ multiple business continuity measures including both VMware capabilities and the UCC system options.

Conclusions

UCC is predicated upon the concept of convergence – the convergence of voice, video and data networks, the convergence of fixed and mobile capabilities, and the convergence of communications/collaboration apps with business software and processes. UCC server virtualization is the next logical step in truly bringing disparate IT and communications networks together.

That is not to say that the market is anywhere near finished in this area; there will always be more work to do.

It is, however, my opinion that virtualization of UCC software is the way forward. It begins to address specific concerns stemming from hardware headaches and inefficient operational support that have long constrained more widespread UCC adoption among organizations of all sizes.  

My full report, including profiles of top UCC vendors, is in production now and should be published to Frost.com soon.

In the meantime, or after reading my report, please feel free to contact me with any constructive comments and/or questions.

Will Microsoft's Mobile Strategy Find Success in the BYOD Era?

21 Dec 2012

Microsoft has been in the tech industry news a lot lately as it reinvigorates its play in the mobile device market. There is no doubt that competition is good. Competition keeps the top vendors honest, keeps prices in check and keeps innovation moving forward.

Apple dominates both the smartphone and tablet markets. Android devices are now the second most popular choice in smart mobile devices. After posting strong smart phone and feature phone perfomance in 2012 Samsung dethroned Nokia as the global leader in overall cell phone shipments. RIM still commands a loyal customer base and has created a buzz that grows louder as its Blackberry 10 launch event approaches in January. 

In this age of BOYD does Microsoft stand a chance of clawing its way back to respectable market share?

Frost & Sullivan Senior UCC Analyst, Alaa Saayed, alerted our team to a TMCnet blog that suggests Windows 8 Tablets will beat Apple and Android.

The blog catalyzed an existing debate among Frost & Sullivan analysts - mostly from the perspective of mobile devices in the workplace, but also taking into account some consumer aspects  as well.

The blog opens as follows:"After using and testing the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700t (XE700T1C) for a few weeks I've come to the conclusion that Windows 8 tablets will without a doubt beat Apple iPad tablets and Android tablets. The reason is simple actually and can be summed up in just two words - "No compromise". With Apple tablets and even Android tablets there is always some compromise."

 Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700t

The headline is certainly provactive, as is the first paragraph. The piece raises some good points. We have a lot of respect for our industry colleagues at TMC. But it also raises some flags.

Mike Brandenburg, Frost & Sullivan UCC Industry Analyst, notes that the blog fails to mention price. Mike’s quick web searches suggest that the referenced Samsung Windows 8 Tablet retails for $1200 and up. Mike questions whether anyone seriously looking for a tablet will pay an extra $700 than the cost of an iPad or Android device just for "no compromises".

Mike also notes that the blogger tested the Windows 8 Pro tablet, not the Windows RT devices that are available now (i.e. Surface). Those RT tablets actually have most of the same limitations that iOS and Android tablets have.

With Mike's comments in mind I have to wonder about some of those compatibility issues. We know that developers have prioritized on iOS devices, followed by Android for several years now. Personally, I think that the days of 3rd parties optimizing their apps specifically for Windows in general are starting to wane. Much of what I've seen, heard and read lately seems to indicate that Microsoft's nightmare is coming true.

  • The iPad is eating the consumer PC market.
  • Employees are gradually switching away from using Windows PCs for work.
  • Windows 8 is failing to stop the iPad.
  • Loyal developers are leaving the Microsoft platform.
  • Windows Phone is getting no traction.
  • Office is losing relevance.
  • Microsoft’s other business apps are starting to erode.
  • The platform business is collapsing.

Brent Iadarola, Frost & Sullivan Global Research Director of Mobile & Wireless Communications, shared some of his thoughts. Here are some general comments on Windows Phone 8 (WP8) from our resident expert:

  • iOS and Android are currently dominating the smartphone market, however, the one OS that has strong potential to gain reasonable market share is clearly Windows Phone.
  • WP8 success will largely depend upon how well the rest of Windows 8 is accepted in the marketplace (with PCs, tablets, etc). We have seen that familiarity with a common UI across devices is increasingly important in a consumer's purchasing decision.
  • The 'halo effect', where the OS choice drives the expanded adoption of the same family of products, has been a key driver for device and OS vendors. Thus, once Windows 8 is on laptops, PCs, and tablets, consumers are significantly more likely to adopt WP8.
  • The simple and intuitive tiles-based interface of WP8 has received good feedback from early adopters (AT&T provided analysts with WP8 NOK Lumia 920s at their recent analyst conference - I can attest, it's a very appealing UI). However, Windows Phone 8 will take some time to gain momentum. It is an OS that has been developed from the ground-up. It is not a holdover from WP7. WP 8 has a lot of unique code and not a lot of carry over code. So it will also take some time to get kinks out.

Debatable as they may be, all of the comments here are valid.

The UCC industry has very much focused on the security, cost and control matters pertaining to BYOD. As organizations begin to expect even tighter integration with their IT and UCC infrastructure as well as a more consistent set of features across device types, its clear that the underlying compatibility issues between the desktop and mobile domains are rising to the surface as more prominent concerns.

So, do Microsoft’s advantages outweigh it's challenges in the mobile enterprise space?

Please let us know what you think.

 

What Customers Want to Know About Polycom's Announcements

11 Dec 2012

Today I attended a Polycom Experience Event, which took place at the company’s Atlanta executive briefing center. The event was organized to provide customers and partners details about the many product and service advancements Polycom made in October. Approximately 300 people joined, including those at a dozen Polycom sites, from the US and Canada. My attendance today was primarily to hear what customers and partners had to say.

I’d been through the presentation and demos with Polycom previously. Polycom spokespeople provided a shorter, yet still fairly comprehensive presentation today. To recap, Polycom categorized its advancements into four general areas (which I further summarize here): the next generation user experience and endpoints; next generation platforms; enabling the mid market; and B2B/B2C connectivity. The presentation was followed by demos of CloudAXIS Suite, Active Touch, Smart Pairing and other new solutions.

The event closed with a Q&A session, which I thought would be good to highlight for those that could not join the event. Following are my summarized and condensed notes from the session.

Q: What are the plans to build more advanced reception and concierge features into the Polycom solution set?

A: It is something we are looking into. The goal is to incorporate more telephony-like features into our video conferencing solutions to enable capabilities such as auto attendant routing, receptionist/operator console integration, and video mailboxes where it makes sense. We’d be glad to hear about your specific needs. Certain capabilities are in fact available today through customization.

Q: We have standardized on HDX endpoints. What’s required for our existing HDX devices to support the new capabilities?

A: The majority of new features can be supported on existing HDX endpoints after a simple firmware update to release 3.1.

Q: I was just approved to purchase an RMX 2000. Now there’s this new Collaboration Server 800s. What should I do? Should I continue with plans to deploy the RMX 2000? What is the difference between the two platforms?

A: The biggest question is what your usage plans are. The feature set supported by both platforms is nearly identical. The biggest difference is scalability, with RMX 2000 being more scalable. ISDN support is not supported in Collaboration Server 800s. Those are among the two main things you’ll want to determine – scalability and ISDN support requirements.

Q: I have investments in RMX. What is needed to deploy CloudAXIS?

A: The RMX is probably the biggest piece of the investment, and you already have that. There are several other components that you’ll need: Resource Manager, Access Director and the RealPresence middleware layer.

Q: With CloudAXIS where is the bandwidth use and how do you manage it?

A: External endpoints joining calls on the RMX bridge effectively take the place of one resource on that bridge. Whether someone joins a call using a Skype, GoogleTalk or Lync client, you can plan for capacity and bandwidth similar to how you would plan for Polycom soft clients.

Q: I already use Adobe Connect as a web conferencing platform. Now it appears CloudAXIS has content features – what are those features?

A: CloudAXIS in its first release will offer screen sharing, in addition to presence federation. In future releases you can expect further collaboration feature additions, however we do not at this time expect it to become a full-blown web conferencing platform. The origin of CloudAXIS is to facilitate B2B and B2C video conferencing that is easy to use and bridges the islands of users. That said, we will enrich the experience over time.

Q: Does CloudAXIS support static links so that meeting details can remain the same?

A: Yes. Actually, it supports both static links for ease of use and consistency for users or regular meetings where it might make sense. Dynamic creation of unique links is also supported for one time use, to ensure security and other requirements.

Q: If I’m in a Lync environment using video conferencing from PCs and Macs what advantages do I gain with these Polycom announcements?

A: You gain a lot. All of the new capabilities are compatible with Lync 2010 and upcoming 2013. the integration with Lync is native. There is no need for external gateways. Further, Polycom infrastructure raises the video conferencing capabilities for Lync customers to a whole new level with the deepest and broadest support in the industry.

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Overall, it was the Q&A session that I found most enlightening. A number of customers in the telepresence room with me are already planning to implement some of the new solutions. I look forward to speaking with the customers that swapped business cards with me. It will be interesting to follow up with them once they have rolled out their new solutions.

 

ShoreTel Does Not Sell Vapor-ware

13 Nov 2012

Last week, I headed to Orlando to attend ShoreTel’s annual partner conference. I have not missed a ShoreTel Champion Partner Conference since the company began inviting analysts several years ago. These meetings are a great chance to spend a couple of days fully immersed in everything ShoreTel, with excellent access to ShoreTel executives, employees as well as the company’s channel partners, technology partners, and customers. This year, ShoreTel welcomed the consultant community as well, adding yet another dimension of perspective I could draw upon.

ShoreTel has certainly grown up quickly since I first started tracking the company in 2002. ShoreTel Champion Partner Conference 2012 proved it, with a big venue, big stage, big attendance (a record 1,300+) and with all of the high-tech show biz elements common to today’s UC conferences.

In terms of general messaging, I was very pleased to see ShoreTel is sticking to its guns. “Brilliantly Simple” continues to anchor the company’s development, marketing, and delivery strategy. And it should—the focus on simplicity or masking the complexity underneath sophisticated UC solutions has served ShoreTel well. The company has landed on the radar of most industry participants, and reported record revenue of $246.6 million in its fiscal 2012 (ended June 30). ShoreTel is growing by taking share, reporting that 23 percent of its revenues came from net-new customers last year.

After speaking with channel and technology partners as well as the customers at the event, I gather they are most excited and challenged by cloud and mobility. Accordingly ShoreTelSky and ShoreTel Mobility were featured prominently throughout the event. There were a couple of other intriguing talking points that are under NDA and I that need to stay away from here.

One has to appreciate the honesty with which ShoreTel executives and spokespeople presented information and responded to questions –on the main stage, in break-outs, and in sidebar discussions. In presented roadmaps ShoreTel did a fair job of maintaining consistency in outlining what they would deliver, why, and when. The content was measured, assertive, and informative. In general, I liked what I heard.

ShoreTel’s cloud initiatives center upon its acquisition of M5 last March, which is now branded ShoreTelSky. Bringing M5 into the ShoreTel fold is seen as a winning combination for both companies. It diversifies ShoreTel’s markets and revenue streams, while also giving the company a highly competitive solution in the early days of the rapidly intensifying cloud UC space. The M5 organization gets the security and backing of ShoreTel’s greater assets (R&D, customer base, tech and channel partner ecosystem).

ShoreTelSky stands out in the increasingly crowded hosted/cloud UC services space for its capabilities and features that are designed not merely to provide outsourced IP telephony, but to provide a suite of applications that can enhance business by integrating communications into workflows. As a standalone company M5 focused on simplicity and customer satisfaction, and it continues these same areas focus as ShoreTelSky. In a high churn space, ShoreTelSky reports customer retention levels that prove it is doing many things right.

ShoreTel has already made strides to integrate M5 with its greater, CPE-centric portfolio. ShoreTel Mobility was among the first of such ShoreTel solutions to be integrated with ShoreTelSky, arming ShoreTelSky with a unique and robust cloud-based enterprise mobility and fixed-mobile convergence solution that should be attractive to partners and prospective customers alike.

All that said, unbiased evaluation raises a couple of points for criticism.

Among my concerns on the M5-ShoreTel integration front is the current lack of support for ShoreTel desktop IP phones with the ShoreTelSky service. As of now, ShoreTelSky is primarily offered with Cisco IP sets. ShoreTel conferencing is another likely near-term target for integration, however no clear timelines have been provided as to how (e.g., scaling, partitioning, virtualizing the conferencing software) and when the integration would be brought to market. Among the value propositions of cloud technologies is the speed of development and roll out of new capabilities. Although only a part of ShoreTel for approximately eight months, it can be perceived that the use of proprietary technology in the M5 infrastructure may be a contributing factor to integration issues.

In the overall content at the conference, ShoreTel spokespeople did an excellent job of clearly and honestly stating ShoreTel’s positioning in the market and its near-term initiatives. However, this is also where a dilemma comes in. The honest, yet incomplete responses to questions regarding the virtualization of ShoreTel call control, development of programs empowering and compensating traditional ShoreTel channels to resell ShoreTelSky services, and expanding ShoreTelSky to international markets show there is still a lot of work ahead and that the company does not yet have all of the answers.

Making promises on undelivered capabilities is often called vapor-ware. ShoreTel does not sell vapor-ware. This must be the explanation for why certain questions, while responded to honestly, were not responded to completely. ShoreTel does not want to break any promises it makes.

I firmly believe that ShoreTel will deliver the capabilities it promises and will do so by meeting any publicly announced target dates. The company has a strong history of fulfilling such commitments. We’ll have to wait while ShoreTel hones its developments, its messaging, and positioning in these areas. Keep an eye on ShoreTel over the next several quarters and next several system releases.  

Did Polycom Change the World?

10 Oct 2012

On October 8th a select group of industry and financial analysts spent the morning at NASDAQ in New York City’s Times Square, where Polycom CEO Andy Miller rang the bell to open NASDAQ trading. The ring of the bell launched Polycom Strategy Day.

Leading up to the event Polycom generated a lot of buzz in the UC&C industry by teasing the market with messages that it would make history and its planned announcements would change the world.

The week before Polycom’s event, my colleagues and I fielded a multitude of discussion requests from Polycom tech and channel partners, and Polycom competitors wanting to gain insight as well as provide us with their perspectives.

We’ve had multiple requests to provide some feedback ASAP after Monday’s event. A lot of details are still to come from Polycom as the new offerings are rolled out through 1H 2013, and it will also take time to digest the breadth of the innovations. As a result, I’m decided to provide a quick, high level summary of my impressions from a competitive perspective.

The announcements were summarily rolled into the company’s “Wave 7” initiative. Aptly code-named, the enhancements and new developments were far sweeping, like a wave sweeping across the company’s portfolio. Dozens of new or enhanced products were unveiled.

Broadly, the initiatives primarily focus on enhancing the user experience through a variety of next generation endpoints, expanding RealPresence deployment flexibility to include: virtualization and cloud; facilitating, increasing penetration into the mid-market; and enabling secure, seamless inter-company and B2C rich-media collaboration capabilities.

Select Highlights:

  • SVC – Polycom announced its support for open standards-based scalable video coding on its RMX and 800s platforms and newest endpoints. The company has submitted its SVC implementation to the UCIF so that other members can leverage it for development and interoperability. The SVC support adds to existing AVC support, giving the Products more flexibility in mixed/hybrid environments.
  • B2B/B2C – CloudAXIS Suite, which leverages Polycom’s RealPresence architecture, enables users of different and disparate videoconferencing services and systems (Skype, Lync, Sametime, Facebook, LinkedIn, GoogleTalk, etc.) to securely and reliably federate in order to share presence information with each other and to communicate via voice and video from a zero footprint browser-based client.
  • Virtualization – In Collaboration Server 800s Virtual Edition, Polycom has enabled its RMX software to run on industry standard x86 server hardware. The "soft MCU" 800s platform is supported by the same RealPresence and other Polycom collaboration products (endpoints, management, streaming, recording, etc.) as the hardware-based RMX and can interoperate with the hadrware-based RMX for clustering, load balancing, and more.
  • Cloud – CloudAXIS Suite and the 800s platform mark a new direction for Polycom in regards to cloud. The company is positioning these products for private enterprise clouds and as the infrastructure with which service provider partners can offer their own cloud-based videoconferencing services.

Focusing on solutions involving virtualization, cloud, B2B videoconferencing federation, SVC and mobility, Polycom hit on all of the hot buttons in today’s highly competitive enterprise videoconferencing market.

Polycom’s initiatives signal that the company has taken the lead to move more wholeheartedly toward a software and services model. It is widely recognized that this is where the overall UC&C market has long been headed, so it is a competitive necessity for Polycom. Recently start ups and smaller competitors have maneuvered faster than Polycom in cloud-based videoconferencing enablement, B2B, SVC and virtualization.

Polycom’s actions were imperative to grow its market share and to protect its valuable base of 415,000 installed customers worldwide. While the company did not necessarily surpass all competitors in all areas, it has vastly improved its forward direction and positioning. From a development standpoint, Polycom’s efforts validate initiatives undertaken by Blue Jeans, Vidtel, LifeSize, Radvision and others. However, compared to Polycom none of these rivals have taken on as many advanced areas simultaneously. In fact, the breadth of Polycom’s advanced initiatives currently surpasses the individual efforts of all its rivals, including Cisco.

The new software and services focus will expand the addressable market for Polycom, particularly in the mid-market sector directly eyed by the company as a growth opportunity. Additionally Polycom’s position of enabling partners to provide cloud-based videoconferencing services in fairly unique in the current market wherein a number of startups and vendors have launched services themselves.

So, in light of what we know today...

Did Polycom change the world? Probably not, but without a doubt, the company has shifted the competitive landscape.

Did Polycom make history? Yes, the advancements on display are unprecedented at Polycom.

For more Frost & Sullivan analysis of Polycom’s announcements, please see the associated blog by UC&C Industry Research Director Roopam Jain.

Unified Communications and Green Practices Go Hand-In-Hand

24 Apr 2012

As a Unified Communications (UC) Industry Analyst and full-time teleworker, I don’t know how I let National Telework Week slip by last month without blogging about it. Maybe it’s because 2012 was merely the second year that National Telework Week was observed. But most likely it’s because teleworking is a routine practice for me. Still, teleworking is a big deal. Everyone recognizes the reduced fossil fuel consumption and pollution (3,452 tons of pollutants saved during Telework Week 2012 per Telework Exchange), time savings, work/life balance, and other benefits that teleworking can offer.

Most people would like the flexibility of teleworking at least some of the time. When a WorldatWork Telework Trendlines 2009 survey asked U.S. workers about their interest in working from home, only 21% said they were not at all interested. Survey participants were also asked what portion of their work could be done from home:

  • 29% said they could do less than 20%;
  • 27% said 20-40%;
  • 11% said 40-60%;
  • 9% said 60-80%; and
  • 24% said 80% or more

While I don’t have insider knowledge of this survey, I’m taking a short leap to assume that a majority of the respondents did not believe they have the appropriate tools to effectively work from home.

UC technology facilitates effective teleworking. Frost & Sullivan defines UC as an integrated set of voice, video and data applications, all of which leverage computer- and telephony-based presence information. In a nutshell, UC is about providing users with ubiquitous access to their communications capabilities – meaning that users can work from nearly anywhere and anytime they need. An important aspect of UC is that telecommuters have access to the same communications tool set at home as they have at work, making it less apparent that they are not in the office.

  • Personal call handling features within UC clients or dashboards enable users to route inbound calls to any number, and route outbound calls through the corporate exchange so that only their business extension is visible to the far-end party.
  • Rich presence applications enable colleagues located at different locations to determine when is the best time to reach one another, by what means, and when they are not to be disturbed. In effect, rich presence can make workers more reachable regardless of where they are physically located. In addition, rich presence gives supervisors insight into the activities of their teleworking staff members.
  • Click-to-communicate from soft clients can empower users to escalate IM interactions to voice or video sessions on the fly in order to share ideas and rich media content, solve problems and move projects forward even though the team members may never meet in person.
  • Teleworkers can join training sessions conducted via Web conferencing to ensure they are educated on the latest policies and initiatives. Web conferencing can also provide a secure forum for transferring documents and other content, effectively replacing the less secure “in basket” located in the office.
  • Videoconferencing can help distributed co-workers develop tighter bonds and personal relationships with colleagues they may rarely or never see in-person. Visual communications also enhances interactions and makes them more productive through non-verbal cues. Reading body language, gestures and facial expressions can provide valuable insights about a co-worker’s mood or reactions. Users can leverage this information to continuously alter the tone, pace and flow of information as videoconference sessions progress—much like in-person conversations.  

For the privilege of teleworking, employers expect their staff to uphold in-office productivity standards when they work from home. My bet is that if more workers were armed with UC tools many more survey participants would have told Telework Trendlines that they could do substantially more of their work from home. When that happens, the environmental savings from teleworking in general and during National Telework Week, though impressive now, will be much more so in the future.

This article was posted on the PGi Green Blog which focuses on how communications technology can help the environment. 

Enterprise Connect 2012 Revisited

30 Mar 2012

 

Now that Enterprise Connect has come and gone, I’m comparing notes with other attendees and fielding inquiries from colleagues and clients alike about my thoughts on the UC market’s biggest showcase event. A couple of years ago, the then-called VoiceCon event was aptly renamed Enterprise Connect as it became obvious that the enterprise communications market had evolved to become an ecosystem of integrated technologies spanning voice, data/text-based, and video applications of both the communications and business software.

As usual, my Enterprise Connect schedule, as well as those of my colleagues and everyone I met with, was extremely packed. There was so much to see, many new announcements, and yet it seemed, so little time.

The exhibition floor was a flurry of activity, with flashing lights, and boisterous as well as polite spokespeople competing for attention. Crowds gathered at the booths of the usual suspects, while other exhibitors enjoyed a more even flow of visitors.

In no particular order, here’s what stood out to me:

Video applications continued to rank among the hottest topics. Cisco, Avaya, GlowPoint, Vidyo, RADVISION, LifeSize, Polycom, Logitech and others all either unveiled new solutions or showcased their most recently introduced visual communications solutions. Common threads here were enhancing the user experience, improved interoperability as well as reducing the costs and complexity that have traditionally hampered adoption. Customers have raised these same concerns for years. Obviously, developers are listening.

Cloud appears to gain momentum by the day. Avaya, Siemens Enterprise Communications, Sprint, NEC, 8x8, and ShoreTel were highlights among many cloud-centered discussions as these providers articulated their latest initiatives to make UC&C solutions more flexible, reliable, feature-rich and cost-effective options for customers. However, conversations in session tracks and numerous panels served to remind us that real-time applications served up from the cloud still need further development and maturity before many customers are ready to offload their mission-critical services to the cloud.

Demoing the latest UC clients, whether desktop, Web-based or mobile, pervaded the early part of my schedule. Representatives from Aastra, ALU, Cisco, Siemens Enterprise, Avaya and others readily drove me through their respective next-gen interfaces. It soon became clear that UC developers are still in competition to deliver the most intuitive interfaces while packing in the most features. And getting my hands on the latest devices from Logitech, snom, Plantronics, Digium, Jabra, Yealink, Sennheiser, RTX, ClearOne, and others reinforced my belief that endpoints remain pivotal to UC adoption, utilization and ROI, as it is the end point that connects a user to his/her applications and where the user experience begins.  

Now that the value proposition of network convergence is widely understood and proven, business process integration has finally emerged as the next powerful driver for UC&C. Customers can appreciate the elegance of a UC client from which a long list of comms apps can be accessed. However, customers are looking for solutions that deliver real business value that can be measured with metrics that matter to them. UC&C is manifesting itself as a means to streamline and otherwise reduce latency in business processes and workflows—a promise that resonates with any enterprise decision maker or influencer. Nearly all the booths I visited (with Microsoft, Thrupoint, Siemens Enterprise Communications, Avaya, Interactive Intelligence, Cisco, ShoreTel, and Genesys coming to mind) displayed a solution in which communications features (presence/IM, click-to-call/IM/video) were exposed within business applications (e-mail, CRM, ERP, etc), thereby enabling users to remain in their current working environment while collaborating with others.

VoiceCon may now be Enterprise Connect, but connectivity and networking have not diminished as talking points at the show. Discussions of enterprise SBCs, multi-vendor interop, reliability, next-gen connectivity and enabling cloud solutions have only served to brighten the spotlight for providers delivering the often-overlooked essentials of UC&C architectures. Accordingly NET, ADTRAN, Acme Packet, AudioCodes, HP and others appropriately leveraged Enterprise Connect to announce and showcase their latest and greatest developments.  

There were sessions, demos and discussions on social business, yet it was notably much quieter on this front than it was last year.

Yes, BYOD took a head seat at the table of many discussions. Developers are trying hard to help, and to capitalize. Despite these efforts it is obvious that most enterprises are struggling with the phenomenon, and this raises my last topic.

One of the most valuable things for me was the opportunity to listen and talk to all types of customers. We know that sponsors carefully screen the reference customers that they invite to speak publically. It’s always good to hear the positive things that they say about their chosen technology partners. It’s rare that customers raise strong concerns when asked to evangelize for their provider. This year was notably different in that regard. Customers I interacted with were seemingly more candid than in the past. Perhaps it is because they realize they have options to go elsewhere if needed. Product viability was a concern raised by customers several times, as was help with managing BYOD, moving to the cloud or optimizing their investments in video solutions. I’ve long thought that UC&C requires a much more consultative approach and a more tightly knit customer-developer relationship compared to siloed product deployments. It looks like that has not changed, despite the progression of technology itself. Rather, some of the talking points have shifted.

This is only a partial diary of my time at Enterprise Connect this year. I’m still digesting everything I’ve learned. After I’ve settled back in at my desk for a few days I’ll probably begin to look forward to the hustle and bustle of next year’s show.

Trends in Desktop Videoconferencing

08 Mar 2012

Just before the turn of the New Year my colleague Roopam Jain (@Roopamjain) and I published a research report forecasting the adoption of software-based desktop videoconferencing among enterprise users. Login to read it here: Global Desktop Videoconferencing Market.

For the purposes of this report, Frost & Sullivan defines desktop videoconferencing applications as those that utilize software clients provisioned to PC or Mac computers. Such solutions include desktop videoconferencing applications that are integrated with broader unified communications and Web conferencing software, and purpose-built solutions. Purpose-built desktop videoconferencing applications may leverage client-server architectures (optionally including gateways, MCUs or other infrastructure), or be implemented as software-based solutions.

The scope did not include: Prosumer solutions, such as Skype; hardware-based endpoints such as executive videoconferencing endpoints, personal systems and video-enabled IP phones; or software clients provisioned to smartphones and tablets). All of these endpoints are covered in other Frost & Sullivan studies.

Several dozen developers and service providers, and approximately 200 enterprise decision makers users (many of them as part of our annual UC&C investment decisions survey) contributed to our study.

During the course of our interviews with leading developers a number of trends emerged.

  • Mobile is huge. A majority of customers and prospects are seeking to improve collaboration with mobile staff, to circumvent or reduce infrastructure upgrade requirements, and to augment fixed desktop station equipment via videoconferencing solutions smartphones and tablets as endpoints.

 

  • Scalable Video Coding (SVC) is being positioned as the panacea to reduce the bandwidth costs required to support real-time video communications solutions. However, there is still much work to be done in terms of SVC standards maturity and uniform adoption across different developers.

 

  • HD is expanding the use cases for videoconferencing. Higher resolution not only enhances the user experience, but the crisper/clearer images greatly improve the reliability and accuracy of remote diagnosis, trouble-shooting, demonstrations, and more.    

 

  • There is increased demand for B2B capabilities as companies look to strengthen relationships and improve collaboration with customers and partners, as well as to increase utilization of their videoconferencing technology investments for faster ROI.

 

  • Prosumer solutions (such as Skype, iChat, etc) are helping business users become more comfortable with videoconferencing. These experiences are helping to drive demand for more reliable, scalable and feature-rich solutions in the business place.

 

  • Enterprise-grade applications delivered from the cloud hold great promise to lower the barriers of adoption. Reduced risk, upfront cost and ongoing management/maintenance responsibilities offered by cloud-based services alleviate many of the traditional restraints of videoconferencing deployment by enterprises.    

From a demand perspective we determined that the drivers and restraints vary to a certain degree by industry, size and location of the organization as well as its business culture and the demographics of its workforce. Overall, the top drivers for adoption are cost reduction (travel avoidance, carbon offsets, etc) and the need to improve collaboration among distributed staff. The overall primary restraints are the unclear ROI for many types of organizations and the network upgrades required to support real-time video communications.

In our data collection we determined that purpose-built software clients account for only a small portion of the total installed base of desktop videoconferencing software clients. In fact, most business users today and in the future will access desktop videoconferencing as part of their web conferencing or unified communications solution.

Takeaway: desktop videoconferencing is now and will continue to be an important component of broader, tightly integrated communications solutions.

On Avaya, Apple and the BYOD Phenomenon

27 Jan 2012

Avaya announced this week the global availability of Flare Communicator for iPad. The solution makes the Avaya Flare software experience (Avaya Aura UC&C applications) available from iPad. In addition to the Avaya Desktop Video Device (ADVD), iPad is now the second endpoint with such capabilities in Avaya’s lineup. Avaya Flare Communicator is available via download from the Apple Apps Store and can be connected to Avaya Aura infrastructure (on Release 6 and higher) via a $100 client access license.

Although Avaya reports fine traction for ADVD sales (specific shipment numbers are under non-disclosure) the new development is a natural progression for the company as it embraces the “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon that is taking the enterprise communications market by storm.

On the same day this week Apple reported its Q4 2011 results, which delivered its highest ever quarterly revenue and earnings. With respect to iPad, the company beat most industry expectations by selling 15.4 million of the devices in the quarter, more than double the number sold in Q4 2010 and 39% more than Q3 2011. While competitors are making some gains, no one single device maker can hold a candle to iPad’s market share dominance in the burgeoning tablet sector. As a result, enterprise software developers are making their efforts to support the market leading iPad a top objective.

By focusing first on iPad, Avaya appropriately prioritized its support for Flare Communicator on third-party devices. The development gives Avaya a strong dual-pronged approach to accommodate the majority of users who want to utilize tablets as their business communications endpoint.

  • With Flare Communicator for iPad, Avaya appeals to the masses of users wanting the flexibility of utilizing the $500 Apple tablet for both business and personal reasons along with access to native iOS features and the Apple Apps Store.
  • For its part, ADVD is designed from the ground up specifically for tight integration and support for the full range of Avaya’s real-time voice, video and data communications apps (in fact a greater range than yet supported on iPad, such as videoconferencing). Available at a street price of around $2,000, ADVD users can access Android Marketplace apps for download (at the enterprise administrators discretion), and it is also lock-down device with enterprise-grade security, QoS, management, warranty and service support.

Avaya plans to support Windows and Mac next as it works to make the Flare Experience available this year to an even greater range of users and use cases. It is, however, somewhat ironic that no time table is set for Avaya to release Flare Communicator for Android since ADVD is based on Android version 2.2, Froyo. Avaya spokespersons state that the company will wait for Android fragmentation issues to settle out some more in the market, and will likely support third-party Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, devices once that version of the OS has matures, is more widely adopted, and as device front runners become more apparent.

A plethora of UC&C vendors have flocked to deliver support for their enterprise apps on iPad, particularly since iPad 2 was released last year. Among others, examples include: Cisco’s recent WebEx support; videoconferencing clients from Polycom and RADVISION; IBM’s Sametime client. We expect the announcements from UC&C vendors to keep flowing – a fact that will probably take some of the shine and excitement away from Avaya’s accomplishments. Nonetheless, all of this is undoubtedly nothing but good news for Apple, which intends to introduce iPad 3 in several months.  

Frost & Sullivan research estimates that tablets sold primarily for use in business context will reach nearly 17 million devices this year, with that number expected to more than triple by 2015 at over 51 million devices.

The BYOD phenomenon is real and shows no signs of slowing down.

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