Principal Consultant, Collaboration / Multimedia / Video / AV
Director of Emerging Technology
Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance
A View From The Road Volume 8, Number 2 -2014 Enterprise Connect
As this year’s Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando comes to a close I frankly find myself stunned. I’ve always felt myself to be something of a cynic – with my favorite explanation being that the optimist sees the glass half full, the pessimist sees it half empty and the cynic sees a glass manufactured twice as big as was necessary. It seems this year the organizers of this conference have pitched a tent in my back yard. The years of rose-colored-glasses were chucked-aside, as the comments from Fred Knight and team were shockingly blunt – calling out industry leaders for failing to provide solutions that actually fit the “unified” description of Unified Communications.
“Please don’t tell me about user democratization when your technology just doesn’t work together” Mr. Knight told the opening panel of leaders from Cisco, Microsoft, Mitel, NEC, Unify and Avaya – and that was one of the milder statements from this group. As I listened to the panelists I was stunned how all of them tacitly admitted that all of the solutions on the market to date have essentially been failures – unable to unify anything other than products within their own portfolios and rarely working with the ease and/or quality that enterprise users demand. This emboldened position – that some of the emperors have no clothes – was refreshingly visible throughout the conference, in both the words of speakers and attendees - commenting on social media and Enterprise Connect’s own smartphone app chat feature. (I’ll include some of those comments throughout this conference wrap-up.)
No matter if you love or hate Cisco, everyone agreed they were the star of this conference. Rowan Trollope’s Keynote address on Tuesday just outshined every other presentation and announcement. If you’ve been to Cisco keynote / demos before then understand this was nothing like any of the past.
Rowan just blew-away the audience in a number of ways. Firstly, he introduced Cisco’s new SX-10 videoconference endpoint. At a street price (in his words) of $1.5K US it is a standards-based, simple appliance complete with a PTZ camera, meant to mount on top of or stand under any standard flat panel. Instead of bringing on the Cisco demo guy he unboxed one from scratch, plugged in the needed two cables (HDMI to display, network with POE), attached it to the display, powered it on and started using it. He grabbed the included remote control, said he hated using it, then showed a smartphone app it comes with that found the unit by itself (part of a suite of features Cisco calls Intelligent Proximity) and initiated the call from that. In the face of this demo and product at this price I can’t imagine even the staunchest “software only for video” person continuing to advocate for any of the recent webcam based room systems that have recently hit the market.
Amazingly, he didn’t stop there. He demonstrated some beautiful and feature rich new video systems, detailed how going forward ease of use will be his primary concern and then explained how Cisco is dropping the price of all video systems more than 40%. And then, if the SX10 itself wasn’t enough to kill the recently introduced Google Chromebox for Meetings he brought Google’s Rajen Sheth to the stage to demonstrate WebEx running natively on a Google Chromebook. (With WebEx enabled TelePresence already rolling out, this means that every Chromebook is natively interoperable with the entire range of Cisco room endpoints. Yes, that thud you heard Tuesday was the collapsing of the Chromebox for Meetings business plan and the hopes that Vidyo had for selling their H2O services.) Cisco’s bold “boardroom to browser” vision and this aggressive keynote set the bar very high for the rest of the conference. The other keynotes were ridiculed in contrast. In fairness, Cisco’s fantastic performance didn’t take anything away from attendee’s disappointment with their lack of vision or progress on the infrastructure side of video. A number of firms that are run by former Tandberg/Cisco employees have embarrassingly outshined Cisco here. Everyone hoped Rowan would address that as well as he did on the endpoint side, but it didn’t happen (in public or private.) There’s still much work for them to do.
As for the other keynotes. Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy (who went next) was criticized on the social platforms for “trying to tell a story of simplicity using overly complex slides,” for “dwelling too much on stories of Sochi successes”, and then ridiculed for bringing on The Cake Boss to discuss cupcakes. Microsoft’s Gurdeep Singh Pall - who recently rejoined their Lync/Skype team – also gave a widely criticized presentation that was nearly identical to the keynote he presented at the Microsoft Lync Conference a few weeks earlier. He told a story that reflects how communication is used today (to an audience that already knew); bragged about how Lync is in over 60% of enterprises; promised (again) that Lync / Skype will work together really, really soon; restated that “Unified Communications” should become “Universal Communications”; and in the most bizarre moment, said that we should point people to Skype when Microsoft Lync is criticized for not being compatible / open with iOS or Android (ignoring the fact that Microsoft pulled all Skype compatibility APIs from the market in January.) All the comments I saw and heard were unfavorable, having expected some more actual substance from the presentation. The best comment on twitter was “……I want a cupcake…” pointing out that even Avaya’s somewhat disappointing effort was better than this.
The panel discussions I attended, heard about and spoke at were just as honestly cynical as the main sessions. WebRTC was (as always) a hugely popular topic, but was finally being called out for its failed promises to date.
For the second year in a row the WebRTC opening mini conference had to have its room’s moveable walls expanded to fit the attendees. (I was skeptical about this last year, but am downright insulted this year. The organizers know there is nothing else on the conference program at this time. To put the session in a room too small to fit all the attendees is either the worst of poor planning or a disingenuous effort to make the topic seem more popular than it is.) The various WebRTC sessions were filled with either firms hawking their products, or analysts (finally) calling out the facts. Distinguished Industry Analyst Dave Michaels said that WebRTC has “failed on all of its promises” such as ubiquity, cost-free, quality, etc. He liked using the term “allegedly free” to describe it. What good is a ubiquitous browser API that doesn’t work with the most commonly used enterprise browsers and requires the agreement of over 300 firms that almost never agree on anything.
In the “Rise and Fall of Conference Room Video” I was on the panel that discussed the recent trends of personal video over room video and low priced room video systems.
Here I am showing the audience why webcams work well when close to the user (like how they could see my expressions on my smartphone) but are terrible ideas for use at a distance in conference rooms (when I switched to the smartphone front camera and they could not see their own facial expressions). It illustrated why the recently introduced webcam based conference room video systems are a poor solution for anything other than rooms that hold one or two people. The only way to have a successful video ecosystem is to blend the various tools needed for each job. This includes top end systems, room systems and personal systems.
There were a few interesting products and announcements at the conference that I found worthy of being called-out.
· Acano showed their MCU / gateway solution transcoding video from multiple different sources simultaneously. Sources including the typically incompatible Lync 2010, H.265 video, browser video, etc.
Acano’s appliance (and Pexip’s Infinity software solution – both firms made-up of ex Tandberg / Cisco employees) are focusing on their ability to act as the glue between Microsoft Lync and Cisco VOIP/Video/Control infrastructure – a best in breed solution many firms desire today.
· Crestron has doubled-down on UC, adding a Cisco based room system to their already announced Microsoft Lync based RL system.
Crestron Smart Space allows enterprises to install integrated videoconference rooms (in the few cases where those are still needed) using a standard GUI. End users no longer have to pay upwards of $10K US for “custom programming” performed by the high school kid many old school AV integrators hire and pay about $60 an hour to. As long as users stick to the approved equipment on Crestron’s website this wasteful spend can finally be a thing of the past.
· The firm I work for (Dimension Data) announced that we will be providing Cisco’s Hosted Cloud Services (HCS) as part of our portfolio of public, private and hybrid cloud services. We support multiple consumption models including both dedicated and multi-tenant usage-based environments. Dimension Data’s UC services for cloud will complement our existing UC services for voice, pervasive video, contact center, instant messaging and presence. You can read the detailed announcement here.
· Logitech showed their new Conference Cam CC3000e. It was a big hit.
It is a high quality PTZ camera based conference system complete with speakerphone and control (but no codec) all terminating in a standard USB connector. Now you can take your PC/Mac application based collaboration software and have it perform much closer to the experience of a full videoconference room. You may not get the monitoring or QoS capabilities of a videoconference appliance, but you gain the ability to have your choice of applications at any time. Skype at 1pm, Jabber at 2pm, Lync at 3pm, etc. At a $1K US list price for the system it works right alongside the Cisco SX10 as products that should convince you that there is never a good reason to put a fixed webcam (meant for desktop use) into a conference room again.
Finally, we have a tie for most interesting image of the conference. I really couldn’t decide so I leave it up to you to let me know which you find to be the winner. Our first contender is BlueJeans - who brought out a real life version of their “Roominator” (see the video here):
This was their way of letting you know good mobile collaboration solutions are like carrying your office on your back. Everybody who saw it wanted one.
The second contender was Microsoft. Well, not actually Microsoft but the person they had hosting their meeting table at the conference.
I think I captured a shot of an unreleased, next generation of the Microsoft Surface in use. It clearly doesn’t have the cool kickstand of the Surface – and there’s no click-on keyboard. In fact, if I didn’t know it was impossible I’d swear that was an Apple iPad in use. But since that has to be impossible I’m sticking with my story that it’s the next generation of the Surface….and you heard it here first!
That’s it for this edition of A View From The Road. I’m on the road again on April 1st, heading to this year’s Interop conference in Las Vegas. My Dimension Data colleagues and I are presenting the Emerging Video and Collaboration Technologies session on Friday April 4th. I promise that it will not be any manufacturer’s sales pitch or product demonstration. We’ll talk about the trends in technology and infrastructure and what we have been recommending to our clients. More details about this panel and my colleagues here.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions. David has over three decades 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.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.