Consultant, Collaboration / Multimedia / Video / AV
Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance
A View From The Road Volume 7, Number 2
-2013 Enterprise Connect
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
before I get into the details, I’m honored to be authoring this show wrap-up
with industry analyst David
You get the best of both of our insights and observations below.
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
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
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
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.”
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
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
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.
it was his turn on Wednesday, Microsoft’s Derek Burney took the stage and woke everyone
up with his shirt.
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.
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.
were other Lync Room Systems shown at the conference. One example is the new Crestron RL system.
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
David Danto was honored to be selected as a panelist for the “Managed Video –
What’s Next” session.
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
some highlights from the exhibit floor:
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.
many features including “intelligent proximity” for receiving contacts and
transferring calls from mobile devices, supporting second screens, etc.
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.
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.
just a year later, seemingly every firm in video was touting a product or
service that is or will be “just as good
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.
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+.