This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter - Recent posts by Zeus Kerravala.

The appeal has nothing to do with VoIP, but has to do with video interoperability.

Earlier today Cisco posted a blog that indicated the company is appealing the European Commission’s approval of the Microsoft/Skype merger to the General Court of the European Union. The blog also indicated that Messagenet, an Italian Service Provider, has joined Cisco in the appeal.

Contrary to what one might think, the appeal has nothing to do with VoIP, but has to do with video interoperability. As Cisco stated in their blog, their goal is to “make video calling as easy and seamless as an email is today. Making a video-to-video call should be as easy as dialing a phone number.”

Frankly, this should be the goal for the entire video industry yet, despite advancements in this area in the last couple of years, we’re still light years away from achieving this. Solving this problem would be greatly beneficial to the entire video industry and would create a “rising tide” that would lift all the boats. Metcalf’s Law states the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected end points. More connected end points means more value. The video industry has many end points but they’re all in independent islands, so the value remains limited.

Now seeing that it’s Cisco making this complaint makes me think of the expression “pot calling the kettle black” as Cisco has been accused over the years of also being closed and proprietary and, while that was true 4-5 years ago, I think Cisco has done a much better job of being interoperable since then. In fact, I think it was Microsoft’s launching of OCS that made Cisco look in a mirror and increase the level of openness and interoperability.

For all Microsoft’s talk about being open and interoperable, Lync is only open and interoperable to a limited extent. And before all you Microsoft loyalists start ripping me in the comments section, I’m basing this not on opinion, but conversations with many other companies not named Cisco or Microsoft. I recently had a conversation with someone from another UC vendor and they were expressing their frustration with Microsoft’s unwillingness to share presence information both ways. I specifically asked about that issue and the comment was something to the effect of “Why don’t you call up your friends in Redmond and see if you can push them into offering two-way presence federation?”

I know Microsoft talks about federating with Yahoo and AIM, but where’s the full interoperability with Siemens, Avaya, ShoreTel, Mitel, etc.? They have some integration with Cisco through CUCILync but that was based more on custom coding and less so on open standards. But by and large, Microsoft just hasn’t been willing to be interoperable with the rest of the UC industry.

Regarding Skype, I first want to say, I love Skype and I use it almost every day. It’s one of the best UC applications available today. It’s easy to use, most of my contacts have it and the quality is outstanding. However, I also know that it’s highly proprietary. I’m sure the quality they achieve is in some way related to the proprietary nature of their solution. Ultimately it would be good if Skype replicated with video what it put in place with SkypeConnect and voice. I know past performance is no indication of the future, but it stands to reason that the combination of Microsoft and Skype would be no more open and standards based than it is today and that ultimately would be bad for the industry.

Now, I’m not trying to paint Cisco the patron saint of interoperability; they have many closed solutions as well but between the three—Cisco, Microsoft, and Skype–they have been the most open. And again, before all the Microsoft apologists lambaste me in the comments section, here is a perspective from someone that works with all three companies and has no vested interest in the individual success of Cisco, Microsoft or Skype. I asked him, on a scale of 1-10, how proprietary were Skype, Microsoft and Cisco, and the response was “I would give Skype an 8 or 9, with 10 being totally proprietary. Microsoft is a 6-7 and Cisco is a 5”.

I also want to point out that if video were to become ubiquitous, network traffic would grow faster than we have ever seen before, and who would benefit by that more than Cisco? To quote someone I interviewed at Cisco who I will leave nameless, “We’re very interested in the growth of video and if we happen to sell some CRS-3s along the way, so be it”.

No matter what their reasons, it’s good to see Cisco pushing the issue and hopefully pushing Skype and Microsoft in the right direction. I don’t expect this to have much impact with the European Commission as video interoperability probably isn’t near the top of their list of concerns, not do I expect them to have a good understanding of all the different versions of openness that are in our industry today. However, it’s good the issue was raised and needs to keep being raised.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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