Unified Communications Nation

May 27, 2009  6:22 PM

Cisco products: Making life easier on Fox’s 24 and helping Jack Bauer save lives

ElaineHom Elaine Hom Profile: ElaineHom

For seven seasons, Jack Bauer has rid the world of hundreds of terrorists, multiple nuclear bombs, and biological threats on Fox’s hit show 24. He didn’t do it alone — he had a trusty team of support, including Chloe on tech support, and Tony and Bill on tactical support. However, there was another key element to Jack’s success — Cisco WebEx, Cisco TelePresence and Cisco Unified Communications, as well as other Cisco products. Cisco sponsored this season and the past few seasons, and you could even get glimpses of the technology as they played integral parts of the plot lines.

For example, when President Allison Taylor (yet another reason I love this show — seasons ago, they debuted David Palmer as the first black president, and now Allison Taylor as the first woman president, who far out-acts Geena Davis from Commander in Chief) signs an executive pardon for a seemingly trustworthy source, she uses Cisco WebEx to electronically transfer her signature. An impending attack was taking place in DC, and he was the only person near the missiles who could help them, but he had a small window of opportunity. Time was of the essence, and the electronic signature was the best way to save time. Thanks to the product placement from Cisco, and a ringing endorsement from the head FBI agent (“We’ve already…set it up via WebEx, it’ll be able to give us a secure digital signature,” Agent Moss says), she was able to get her signature on the pardon to the source immediately and allow for the mission to take place.

When the acting heads of the group responsible for the day’s terrorist attacks decide to “meet” and discuss the next course of action after their plans had been foiled, they use a fancy UC product to do so, which allowed for roundtable discussion with private messaging and a button that allowed them “raise their hands,” but it also allowed for their anonymity with voice disguisers and a blank avatar per user (A driving part of the plot was that the group responsible for the attacks was unaware of each others’ identities, knowing only that they had the same vested interest in attacking American targets.). The UC product also allowed for document transfer among the members of the call. While Cisco was heavily shown in other scenes, I could not find any trace of a Cisco trademark in this scene — perhaps they don’t want to be associated with terrorists.

Then, in the season finale, a three-screen Cisco TelePresence setup allowed the Attorney General to question the President’s daughter and acting chief-of-staff, Olivia Taylor, about her role in the death of Jonas Hodges, who was suspected of treason and killed while in FBI custody. TelePresence allowed the AG, along with two other Justice Department agents, to interview Olivia with each person on a separate screen, and a safe network to make sure no hackers would get any of Olivia’s testimony. With clear detail in each person’s face, it would be more difficult to lie about a question, as she had three people watching her body language. It also allowed the AG to upload phone records and documents to Olivia, who was stowed away at the White House after the day’s events (including a siege at the White House and a DC biological weapon bomb scare), so she could verify them remotely and securely during the call without leaving the White House or setting up a separate secure line. Of course, it was all for naught, as Olivia later crumbled and fessed up to hiring someone to kill Hodges.

You can see all of these clips and more from past seasons on the Cisco website. Who knows how Cisco TelePresence or Cisco WebEx will aid Jack Bauer during season eight of 24, as he takes on a whole new set of technologically savvy terrorists?

May 20, 2009  6:13 PM

INTEROP: HP, Microsoft expand unifed communications alliance

WPeterson William Peterson Profile: WPeterson

At Interop this morning, HP and Microsoft announced a $180 million expansion of their partnership to jointly develop services and products as well as sell and market those products.

“Together, we are offering the extensive breadth of capabilities of our respective technologies to deliver a truly unified communications and collaboration solution to help our customers improve business productivity,” stated Stephen Elop, president, Microsoft Business Division, Microsoft, in a release on the HP-Microsoft partnership. “This means one click to communicate, one click to conference, one click to collaborate.”

The announcement highlights steps towards closer integration of the two companies’ product lines, such Microsoft Unified Communications qualification for the HP dx9000 TouchSmart Business PC, select smartphones, and new IP deskphones. Possibly more exciting is the integration of HP Halo Telepresence Solutions with OCS, enabling any OCS-compatible PC to join in on a HP teleconference call.

More details on the partnership, from the official release, after the jump.

Continued »

May 4, 2009  5:18 PM

Nortel channels Guns & Roses: Just a little patience

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

The executives of Nortel have been walkin’ the streets at night

Just trying to get this bankruptcy right.

It’s hard to see the future with Cisco and Avaya around

You know they don’t like being stuck in that crowd

Customers think this waiting is lame.

They just don’t have time for this game.

But Nortel needs another month or two

To restructure.

Yeah, restructure.

Just a little more tiiiiime. Yeah.

Indeed, Nortel is asking the courts – and its wary customers – for just a little more patience.

Last month at VoiceCon, dozens of Nortel customers gathered at a special session entitled “I’m a Nortel customers. What do I do now?” At the session, customers peppered Nortel Enterprise president Joel Hackney with pointed questions about the future of the company. Hackney was candid in many of his responses, but quite often he deferred his answers. He assured customers that in May customers would get more answers, for May was the month that Nortel would file its restructuring plans in Canadian and U.S. courts.

Now we learn that Nortel and its court-appointed bankruptcy monitor, Ernst & Young, are asking the courts for an extension to July 30. Nortel customers will just have to find a little more patience for the ailing vendor, or they may want to do what many Nortel customers did at VoiceCon this year: Get to know the other players on the market.

April 29, 2009  8:41 PM

Swine flu: yet another justification for telepresence investment

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

John E. Burke, principal analyst over at Nemertes Research has an interesting take on the swine flu hysteria.  It’s just another reason why companies should invest in telepresence technologies from Cisco, Tandberg, Polycom, HP et al.

Burke noted in an email from Nemertes that the flu outbreak in Mexico has prompted executives from Japanese companies like Sony and Sharp to cancel trips to their Mexican production facilities. He said telepresence would be a viable way for these executives to keep their face-to-face meetings with Mexican staff.

Vendors have so far focused their business cases for telepresence on the reduction of travel expenses, green initiatives and increased productivity. But clearly telepresence can also factor into business continuity and disaster recovery planning.

Extending that a bit further, desktop video should also get some attention thanks to swine flu. If a pandemic does indeed strike, many people would appreciate the option of working from home while the virus runs its course over the course of weeks or months.

April 27, 2009  5:34 PM

Cloud computing vs. SaaS: What’s the diff?

Leigha Leigha Cardwell Profile: Leigha

We’ve all heard the terms “cloud computing” and “SaaS,” and not unlike the term “unified communications,” there is considerable disparity as to what the terms actually mean respectively – especially when paired side by side. The answer, it seems, depends on who you ask.

Don Van Doren in his blog The Definition Dance Moves from UC to Cloud Computing wrote about a session he attended at the recent VoiceCon show in Orlando that he was bemused in the “Summit on Cloud Computing” session when Eric Krapf asked the panel of network and CPE suppliers, “How does your organization define cloud computing?” AT&T, Avaya, IBM, Verizon and Cisco all had rather generic responses you can find in Don’s blog.

Jason Stamper says there’s really no difference at all between the two terms. He cites Gartner’s definition that defines cloud computing as a style of computing where massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided “as a service” using Internet technologies to multiple external customers.

So, if we accept Gartner’s definition of cloud computing, where does that leave us with SaaS?

According to Praising Gaw, SaaS is software that’s owned, delivered, and managed remotely by one or more providers. It also allows a sharing of application processing and storage resources in a one-to-many environment…on a pay-for-use basis, or as a subscription.

So do the differences between SaaS and cloud computing boil down to size? Cloud computing being “massively scalable” and SaaS falling somewhere below the “massively scalable” benchmark? Or is there even a difference between the two?

What do you think? How do you make sense of the two terms? Do we need two terms or can we pick one and start to make straight the circuitous path of IT terms and acronyms?

April 27, 2009  3:11 PM

Tandberg telepresence now interoperates with Polycom telepresence

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Tandberg announced this morning that its telepresence technology is now interoperable with the telepresence technology of its rival Polycom. The interoperability is delivered as a software upgrade to the Tandberg Telepresence Server.

Tandberg’s server already enables interoperability with non-telepresence Tandberg video endpoints and with Microsoft Office Communications Server. However, until now, the vast majority of immersive telepresence systems on the market have been extremely proprietary. Telepresence systems are generally unable to maintain the immersive, multi-screen, high-definition experience they are known for when a session is transmitted across vendors. In many cases telepesence systems from different vendors can’t communciate with each other at all.

The new interoperability from Tandberg claims to deliver that telepresence quality to sessions between Tandberg and Polycom products. This ineroperability will be especially important to inter-enterprise communications, enabling Tandberg customers to communicate and collaborate with Polycom customers.

There is no word on whether Tandberg will add interoperability with its other major telepresence rival, Cisco, but in this announcement the company said it will “continue to build on its successes by working to develop immersive interoperability with additional telepresence systems – both proprietary and standards-based.”

April 16, 2009  7:17 PM

Mitel trying to protect home turf from Cisco

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Cisco Systems and Bell Canada thought they had won the bidding for a municipal IP telephony contract with Ottawa worth between $4  million and $7 million. But as I mentioned in a story today about a new fixed-mobile convergence offering, Mitel Networks has – at least temporarily – scuttled the deal.

Mitel is headquartered in Ottawa, and no doubt it blanched at the possibility that Cisco would supply IP telephony to the city it calls home (Currently the city government has about 10,000 phones, 7,000 of which are from Mitel).

After learning that his company was not the winning bidder for the telephony contract, Mitel chairman Terry Matthews tried to sweeten his company’s offer. He sent a letter to the city offering to donate $2 million worth of Mitel IP phones (10,000 phones in all) to the city if it agreed to make Mitel its sole communications vendor “for the next several years.”

After receiving this last-minute offer, the economic affairs committee of Ottawa’s city council voted to suspend negotiations with Cisco and Bell while it explored the legality and feasibility of such an offer.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, Cisco will refrain from commenting on the Ottawa affair until the city completes its procurement process. However, Bell spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis told the paper, “We’re disappointed. We put in a compelling and competitive bid.”

As I recall from my days as a newspaper reporter, the bidding process for municipal procurement tends to be very strict.  There are lots of legal and ethical issues that could come up.  I’ve seen vendors sue municipalities, claiming a bidding process was unfair, after losing out on a contract. Clearly Mitel executives think this move is worth whatever legal headaches that might arise if it means keeping Cisco out of their home town. Plus, Mitel could use a big customer win in North America, where Cisco, Avaya and Nortel dominate.

April 10, 2009  10:44 PM

Psytechnics Experience Manager demo at VoiceCon

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Psytechnics, a company that was spun out of British Telecom, has a cool product called Experience Manager. The product is one of the few I know of that can measure both QoS (quality of service) and QoE (quality of experience) for voice and video applications on the IP network. Many network management vendors are good at detecting jitter, packet loss, etc., for voice and video, but Psytechnics is able to measure how the end user is experiencing these services on an endpoint device.

Here is Tom Casey, a sales engineer with Psychtehnics, demonstrating the operational interface of Experience Manager, recorded last week at VoiceCon Orlando. Sorry for the jittery camera. I drank too much coffee.

April 10, 2009  10:42 PM

The Polycom VVX 1500 business media phone at VoiceCon

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

I shot this video at VoiceCon Orlando last week. Tim Yankey, director of product marketing for Polycom, is doing a demo of the VWX 1500, which the vendor describes as a “business media phone.” At a list price of $1099, this phone is meant to sit on the desks of high level executives. It has high quality video and touchscreen capabilities. And Polycom is touting the openness of the platform, encouraging third-party software developers to build light-weight business apps to run on the phone. Polycom doesn’t claim this phone will replace the PC on the desk. Instead it claims the phone will be a compliment to the PC. The phone is certainly slick, but I wonder if it’s worth the money. Couldn’t you get a lot of the same functionality from a softphone? I guess a CEO might want something like this on his or her desk, but broad deployment of such an expensive phone might be hard to justify.

Please forgive the sideways angle at the beginning of this video. I’ve been using my iPhone too much. I’m used to a camera that’s integrated into an accelerometer.

April 7, 2009  5:54 PM

Nortel employees respond to VoiceCon coverage

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Last week I wrote a story about a special VoiceCon session for Nortel customers, entitled “I’m a Nortel Customer. What do I do now?” It was one of the more widely read articles I’ve written for SearchUnifiedCommunications. Nortel customers are very passionate about the company. They love Nortel’s products. But it’s clear that many of them are disappointed in the leadership of the company. Now it’s clear that some Nortel employees share that disappointment.

I’ve received emails from several Nortel employees since my story was published last week. Given that they are still working for the company, I’ve granted them anonymity. Their comments are below.

This first comment is a direct response to the news that Nortel canceled some severance payments to employees who were laid off before the company entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A customer had asked Joel Hackney, president of Nortel’s enterprise division, why customers should trust a company that reneges on such a commitment. Hackney responded by saying that Nortel had to meet its obligations to customers and suppliers before honoring its commitment to former employees. One Nortel employee had this to say:

I am truly perplexed no one asked how Mr. Hackney justified “reneging on its commitment to those former employees” while he, as one of eight executives, set themselves up with a $7.1M Key Executive Retention Package (KERP) while Nortel is in Chapter 11.

Another long-time Nortel employee wrote to me about her general disappointment in the company’s leadership.  She said her employment with Nortel will end later this year and she fears that her pension and retirement health benefits will be lost. She said she had high hopes for the company when it started mining General Electric’s executive suite for new leaders in 2005, such as Hackney, Chief Procurement Officer Don McKenna and Executive Vice President for Corporate Operations Dennis Carey.

For 4 years these guys met short term targets by cutting costs which usually was done at the expense of shrinking the workforce. They persistently cut R&D which has always been the hallmark of Nortel’s business philosophy.

I never saw a vision nor any leadership from this group.  They came in saying that Nortel played in too many markets and yet never had the courage to cut away or sell business units in order to build upon a fewer number.

They persisted in paying themselves big bonuses and now at this late stage they are still using Nortel resources to ensure themselves a big piece of whatever assets are left via quarterly retention bonuses.

I was proud to work at Nortel. Too bad I didn’t have the foresight to see what was coming.  I might have been able to protect myself a little better.

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