Principal Consultant, Collaboration / Multimedia / Video / AV
Director of Emerging Technology
Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance
A View From The Road Volume 7, Number 2 -2013 Enterprise Connect
In the words of the pop star Prince, Everybody Come Party Like It’s 1999! Greetings from Orlando and the 2013 Enterprise Connect conference. If you recall, this is the conference formerly known as VoiceCon – where there were so many exhibitors fixated on video that they had to change the name. This year’s conference has totally shocked a quite a few of us in the industry because of the prevalence of so many things that are throwbacks to years past.
However, before I get into the details, I’m honored to be authoring this show wrap-up with industry analyst David Maldow. You get the best of both of our insights and observations below.
UC and Interoperability
The topic of interoperability came up over and over again at this year’s conference. After all, what hasn't been said about UC at this point? The concept is not that complicated. It is ridiculous that we have dozens of apps on our devices, (often including multiple VC apps, email, text, phone, etc.) each with its own incomplete contact list. The current workflow is completely backwards as we first must choose HOW we want to talk to someone, and then we can select WHO we want to talk to. UC just reverses that workflow by making one master contact list that controls everything. Select the person you want to talk to in the master list, and depending on their availability, choose whether you want to do video, audio, text, etc. It isn't rocket science, and it is a much more natural and intuitive way for people to manage their communications than the current paradigm. So why is it still not here?
The opening general session was titled – “Is UC Moving Toward a New Plateau or Towards a Cliff.” It was well attended and more interesting than expected.
There was lots of lively discussion, and a number of notable moments. One of them was when the GM of Lync Marketing at Microsoft was directly asked about interoperability and responded with details of Lync's impressive adoption and federation in the last year. The fact that thousands of Lync users can talk to each other without any interoperability issues is not the answer the audience was really looking for. It was one of those Prince moments, back to the 1990s when Microsoft effectively solved OS compatibility problems by getting the entire world to use Windows. There is something to be said for creating a standard, but there is also something to be said for partnerships.
Another moment was when Cisco’s new GM of their Collaboration Technology group, Rowan Trollope, directly called-out Microsoft Lync as “operating behind a walled garden” and “not believing in an open system” to break-down barriers to adoption.
To be fair, Lync actually is doing a lot of things right when it comes to partnerships, and should be getting a thumbs up for it. Microsoft appears to be working with everyone on Lync integration (or at least allowing everyone to work on their own integrations). Vendors of all shapes and sizes were demoing Lync integration at various stages throughout the exhibit hall. It was to the point where attendees were joking that Lync integration must be an exhibitor requirement, and that next year the coffee machines will be Lync enabled.
All of the panelists at that session generally agreed that UC and collaboration is growing exponentially and will see a “huge rise” this year, despite the fact that the competing visions of collaboration permeated the event.
WebRTC Will Save The World (?)
We attended a number of sessions discussing the coming WebRTC nirvana. It is clearly this year’s harbinger of interoperability (just as SIP was a few years ago.) In fact, the conversations in sessions and on the floor about how WebRTC will be our “savior” could just as easily been said at Telecon conference in the 90’s, substituting H.323 or IP as the buzzwords. Once again, we were humming the old Prince song.
On the first day of the event a “conference within a conference” took place on the topic of WebRTC. Many were surprised about how well attended it was. Certainly the organizers were surprised as the room that was set aside to hold the event was about half as big as needed and needed to be expanded about 30 minutes in. It really shouldn’t have been such a surprise considering it was one of just a few sessions on the calendar and took place before the exhibit floor opened. Furthermore, this is a hot topic and attendees wanted to be informed, despite a significant amount of skepticism as to whether it will amount to much soon.
While we roll our eyes at the idea of another magic fix to all our problems, WebRTC does get a thumbs up for its very real benefits, in particular its potential accessibility. To paraphrase Scott Wharton, CEO of Vidtel, one of the key differences with WebRTC and previous "magic fixes" is that there is no question of whether it will be deployed to the masses. Everyone has a browser and it will be an inherent part of all browsers in the near future. If the other browsers catch up, it will be the only 100% ubiquitously deployed VC technology, allowing every internet user on the planet to instantly join a call with no plug in or configuration. That gets a big thumbs up.
However, universal accessibility is not the same thing as interoperability. One of the conference attendees quipped “why do I really care if I eliminate one browser add-on download but instead need to download new browser?”
WebRTC - if it becomes ubiquitous - is an extremely compelling answer to the "guest invite" question. Ideally, we don't want to join meetings as guests, we want to join using our own collaboration solution of choice - and that requires interoperability. If we have to leave our choice to join a meeting as a WebRTC "Guest" it is clearly not ideal. That is the difference between accessibility and interoperability.
The skepticism comes from the fact that in order for WebRTC to fulfill all of its promise, of a whole bunch of firms who don’t agree on very much of anything would suddenly have to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Most realize that likely will not happen soon. In fact, on the “Leveraging WebRTC for Video Conferencing Panel” Both Vidyo’s Ofer Shapiro and Polycom’s Stuart Monks admitted that their firms will still use proprietary software on their clients for “a considerable time” past the release of WebRTC – and no one blinked. Our industry has to “look itself in the mirror” and finally conclude that if the suppliers truly supported interoperability we would have had it by now.
"Good Enough" Video
After spending about six years exalting Immersive Telepresence - with its life-size, high-definition video and enveloping total experience, a number of very large exhibitors and providers now feel that you can duct-tape a webcam to a wall and call it “Boardroom Videoconferencing.”
In fact, that’s just what Microsoft did in their booth – showing a mock “Boardroom” with the webcam jammed between two displays, which garnered literal, as well as figurative eye-rolls. Even the manufacturer of that webcam privately told us they couldn’t believe the stupidity of letting people think that that is an acceptable solution for a room with that many people and unique needs. A favorite tweet of the show was when someone saw this in action and said “It’s CU-See Me all over again.”
While this example is from a booth, the trend of discounting the value of the immersive experience, despite common knowledge of its benefits when used appropriately, was common throughout the event. It is just proof of the concept of how a pendulum swings back – with the buzz for higher end Telepresence products now fading away we go to the other extreme with ultra-affordable implementations coming to the forefront. Let’s all hope for a happy medium soon.
Tuesday’s keynote had Rob Lloyd, Cisco’s President of Development and Sales Demonstrating their vision of collaboration and the future. He was trying to show off the new WebEx / Telepresence one button integration when the connections failed. (It wasn’t the only network failure of the venue as you can read in David Danto’s related blog here.)
To Rob and Cisco’s credit they kept going and gave a compelling demo of how the “internet of everything” with sensors and smart devices is changing the way we live - although some uses really seemed to be solutions looking for a problem. For example, it is extremely cool that the solution can use devices buried in the parking lot to find open spaces and GPS to help you find a good one. But honestly, we don't have trouble parking at Best Buy nearly as often as we have problems due to a lack of ubiquitous visual collaboration. On the other hand, the demo did show the ability for in-store staff to quickly connect customers, face to face, with the exact right expert at each point in the sales process. That kind of future vision has powerful potential.
When it was his turn on Wednesday, Microsoft’s Derek Burney took the stage and woke everyone up with his shirt.
(The joke of the event was that the bright colors on his shirt caused the venue’s video cameras to have flare problems – red flare…white flare…silver flare…) Microsoft’s demo showed Lync video actually working on an android and iOS smartphone in real time. The video was choppy and unstable, but those in the audience were excited to see it finally work after so many promises. He did say that Lync-Skype integration was not ready to show yet – that audio would probably be in June and video “sometime thereafter.” It makes it very difficult to analyze and compare Lync when you always have to preface it with a debate around the analysis being based on the available product today vs. the promise of the product of tomorrow…or next week…or next month. He then showed one of the new Lync Room Systems in action.
For those of us familiar with the Smart interactive whiteboards and their Bridgit server it was a very perplexing demo. He was essentially taking an Enterprise Connect Keynote presentation to demonstrate a different firm’s product – one that’s been available for quite some time, yet showing it as if it was a new Microsoft solution available soon.
There were other Lync Room Systems shown at the conference. One example is the new Crestron RL system.
They base their system on a Lync “appliance” as the codec, offering more stability than having a PC at the core. That represents good innovation with some potential future applications (as soon as Microsoft will let that appliance be sold to room integrators for custom designs.) Especially slick is the Crestron touch panel that fully integrates with Exchange for scheduling and presence.
Co-author David Danto was honored to be selected as a panelist for the “Managed Video – What’s Next” session.
In discussing The Dimension Data approach to Managed Video Services, David pointed out that a fundamental change is coming in the industry and in client expectations around a services partner. The model that’s been in use – dating back to managing PictureTel Concorde systems on carts is log dead. Video Managed Services need to include responsibilities for the network, desktop, warranties, dynamic licenses – essentially now becoming end-to-end Collaboration Managed Services – with no “handoff to the IT guys” as we ARE the IT guys. Expect many changes in the landscape in the coming months – including new manufacturers, new collaboration modalities and new Managed Services models.
As for some highlights from the exhibit floor:
Cisco’s announced their new DX650 "Smart Desk Phone" endpoint. It is an Android based unit meant to finally fill the hole that the end-of-life E20 left open.
It has many features including “intelligent proximity” for receiving contacts and transferring calls from mobile devices, supporting second screens, etc.
An interesting new product was shown by Tely labs. They have released a new sub $1K set-top video system (codec, camera, microphones, all-in-one) that represents a very compelling story.
The TelyHD appliance for enterprise is a very cost effective method of adding video collaboration to the many secondary conference rooms in big enterprises and the primary Team or Huddle type rooms at many SMBs. It’s definitely worth looking into. 720P HD from a 5MegaPixel camera won’t win any awards for resolution, but it certainly gets close-to that “good-enough” level that so many firms are shooting for. They are using BlueJeans for compatibility today but are speaking with other large firms about native interoperability plug-ins for their branded systems.
And speaking about BlueJeans, It was also very interesting to hear the vendors in the video space talk about them at this event. The almost 2 year old start-up - a contender for a new company Innovation Award last year - was all but dismissed by the established vendors at that time.
Now, just a year later, seemingly every firm in video was touting a product or service that is or will be “just as good as BlueJeans.” When did the industry actually stop and notice their innovative virtualized MCU model was such a hit to emulate? Never, apparently – only the millions of users who switched to it have done so. This will go down as the year that the industry tacitly acknowledged that DSP based MCUs are toast and software transcoding and switching is the path of the future.
Speaking of software transcoding, there will be two new major players in that space in the near future. There are very few details about these firms and their offerings, and what we do know we can’t say. However, what we can say is if you were on the fence about joining us at InfoComm this year, get off the fence. Come to Orlando in June if you want to see the disruptions in person.
About the Authors
David Danto has over 30 years of experience providing problem solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He now works with Dimension Data as their Principal Consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. David can be reached at David.Danto@Dimensiondata.com or DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at Danto.info. Please reach-out to David if you would like to discuss how he can help your organization solve problems or develop a future-proof collaboration strategy.
David Maldow, Esq. is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate editor at Telepresence Options. David has extensive expertise in testing, evaluating, and explaining telepresence and other visual collaboration / rich media solutions. David is focused on providing third-party independent analysis and opinion of these technologies and helping end users better secure their visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter and Google+.