Unified Communications Nation

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.

April 2, 2009  7:31 PM

VoiceCon 2009: Building success through innovation

Leigha Leigha Cardwell Profile: Leigha

The impact of today’s global economic crisis has wrenched companies into shaping new business models merely to survive, much less thrive. But top-tier UC vendors at the recent spring VoiceCon 2009 show in Orlando are interpreting the recession (or depression) as a unique opportunity to change the old ways of doing things. The dawn of a new day. A time to rely on and trust in innovation to carry us through these dark days.

Tough times coupled with perpetual, driving need is the catalyst that has historically sparked prodigious ideas. And, as in the past, the tumultuous times we’re now experiencing paired with our insatiable thirst for new technology will be the impetus to finding more efficient ways to do what, in otherwise good times, would keep us trekking down the same path, doing things the same way. The way to survive, more over, come out ahead of the competition, is to innovate now.

In every VoiceCon keynote presentation, a single theme threaded its way through — innovation. Kevin Kennedy, president and CEO of Avaya, kicked off the keynote sessions stressing the critical importance of innovation. According to Kennedy, innovation will help us navigate these uncertain times and emerge from these times of turmoil.

Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate VP of unified communications with Microsoft, said in his keynote address that it’s the choices companies make now that will determine their viability when we’ve moved beyond the current recession.

General manager of IBM, Bob Picciano, stated simply, “We can’t afford to do things the way we did before.”

Cisco’s CTO, Padmasree Warrior, went further to say that ideas get stronger when we share them with others and social networks and collaboration are powerful in making connections stronger.

All of the keynote speakers offered sensible, reasonable reasons why companies should invest now in collaborative innovation in some capacity (irrespective of their financial status). Each presented their thoughts on the best ways in which to do so – respective to their agendas, of course.

Whether you innovate through social networking software, collaboration tools, UC technologies, CEBP, otherwise, or all of the above and more, a thoughtful strategy is imperative. Gurdeep Singh Pall rightly said that hope is not a strategy. If you want to keep your company afloat now and gain a healthy degree of competitive dominance in the future, in a sunnier financial climate, heed Pall’s simple, but wise, advice:

• Focus on innovation
• Shift away from old models
• Lay down the foundation for the future

April 1, 2009  2:39 PM

VoiceCon Microsoft keynote: Gurdeep Singh Pall throws desk phone in the trash

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Microsoft corporate vice president for unified communications Gurdeep Singh Pall essentially threw the contemporary desk phone in the proverbial trashcan today during his VoiceCon keynote, arguing that software-based communications is the way of the future.

Pall compared the desk phone to the Brother word processor that started filling landfills across the country in the 1980s and 1990s. Pall was merciless, saying that too many telecom vendors are stuck in the past, still insisting that their customers need to buy a desk phone for every user. His disdain for the desk phone probably stings the ears of many of these same vendors who have partnered with Microsoft on OCS, but apparently Pall thinks everyone needs to hear his message, whether friend or foe.

“Folks, we cannot afford to do the things you did before,” he said.

Pall admitted that some users still need a desk phone, but he said the softphone capabilities available from Microsoft’s Office Communications Server and the Office Communicator client promise to make employees more flexible and productive. He said OCS is a single platform and a single infrastructure, not “five infrastructures with copious amount of duct tape around it.”

Pall ended his address with a memorable image. He asked attendees to imagine that they’ve been given a $300-per-user budget to buy a device for the desktop. He held up two options: A typical desk phone, which he said would cost $300. And then a small notebook computer, which he said you could buy at Walmart for $300. Which one would you buy, he asked. Then he said, “It’s time to get rid of the Brother word processor,” and he tossed the desk phone aside.

April 1, 2009  2:24 PM

VoiceCon keynote: Kraft Foods UC vision includes Avaya and the iPhone

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Kraft Foods sounds like a fun place to work. During his keynote, Tom Behnke, manager of network services, global architecture and strategy for Kraft, gave VoiceCon attendees a glimpse of the future for information workers at his company. He offered details of a unified communications pilot program at Kraft’s Chicago facility.

Behnke’s pilot involves a rethinking of not only communications and collaboration technologies, but also the workspace. Kraft wants to change the collaboration culture among its employees. To do that, it did away with traditional cubicles and office, putting information workers at large work table, where they can sit side by side and face each other.

As far as technology, Behnke brought in Avaya to deliver its voice infrastructure. He also decided to go with a wireless office, so employees could move freely throughout their workspace, building a Cisco wireless LAN infrastructure that was designed by HP/EDS. And he engaged AT&T to come in and build an in-building cellular system so that he could deploy iPhones to every employee.

Behke said his goal was to change the user perception that he was providing them with technology widgets that they had to use. He was trying to create something that would focus on the individual user experience, that would help them the way they do there jobs.

One thing that really jumped out at me. He designed this new environment to be free of MAC addresses. If a user needs to move his work station, he can just get up and walk somewhere else. IT doesn’t need to reassign the employee’s phone and network profile to a new set of ports.

I’ve asked Avaya to give me a one-on-one conversation with Behnke is doing at Kraft. If they come through, I’ll write more extensively about this project for www.SearchUnifiedCommunications.com.

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