Archive for July 2013

The Cloud! The Cloud! It’s hard to go anywhere and not hear about the cloud. I see cloud ads in airports, malls, and while driving down highways and listening to morning sports talk radio. And why not? The cloud solves all problems, right? Low cost, high availability – it’s great, right? Well, not if the cloud provider doesn’t have the right processes and in place to ensure the customers are protected. I’ll give you an example.

This week, my wife Christine went into her Comcast Xfinity email through the web client (she only uses the web client) and all of her email prior to July 10th of this year was gone. She’s had this account for over eight years and had thousands of messages between her inbox and sent mail folder. I called Comast’s customer support and explained the problem and, after getting a bunch of ridiculous questions, the “customer service” person explained to me that this happens from time to time. I asked the Comcast person why that happens, and she assured me that it happens to all hosted mail providers, citing Hotmail, MSN and, I believe, Gmail.

Competitive advantage won’t come from service features but rather from the quality of customer service, which starts with provisioning and migrating users.

The Unified Communications industry is currently filled with all kinds of exciting trends. Video, WebRTC, the cloud, BYOD, social media and other trends give folks like myself lots to blog about and discuss. One of the more important areas, though, that gets very little air time is improving the operational processes it takes to actually set up and manage UC, especially for companies offering UC as a Service (UCaaS). This is the tough stuff that can be the difference between a service provider being profitable or not, or having happy customers versus losing them to a competitor.

The onboarding process, in particular, can be overly cumbersome as users and devices need to be provisioned and matched to the variety of UC services. In addition, the provisioning process can include migrating massive amounts of data from legacy systems, which poses its own problems. If it’s not done correctly, customers of UCaaS providers will have a generally poor experience–and let’s be frank here: The quality of service from traditional telcos hasn’t exactly been stellar in the past.

It’s interesting how the tech industry works. In late 2011, Cisco was in the midst of revamping itself, its stock was a shade under $14/share, and its investors calling for CEO John Chambers to resign. Today, as Mike Reno from Loverboy used to sing, “The kid is hot tonight, whoa, so hot tonight.” Indeed, Mr. Chambers is on quite a roll, Cisco stock is a shade under $26/share, investors are happy, the entire network product line has been revamped in the past year, and the company is creating some distance between itself and its network completion.

However, despite the momentum by Cisco, it’s hard to say the company has been firing on all cylinders. One of the cylinders that hasn’t been firing well is security. Last year, in a hot market, Cisco security sales fell 4% year-over-year. Over the past couple of years, companies like Palo Alto Networks, Imperva, and Fortinet have grabbed the media headlines in security and made Cisco security look old. In fact, on past earnings calls, Chambers actually called out security as an area that needed to be fixed and something that would be addressed in the future.

Developer-led or services-led? Microsoft should get an early advantage, but the services strategy by Cisco should create longer, more sustainable value,

Last month I wrote a blog outlining how the line-of-business manager holds the key to winning the Cisco versus Microsoft war. A number of you commented that this was obvious and both companies are already doing it. I’ll agree that this is something both companies are trying to do, but neither is doing a great job. Microsoft is a company with high appeal to IT pros and Cisco to network managers, with high brand familiarity to line of business managers but low appeal beyond this.

When breaking down the tactics of both companies, there are some similarities in their approaches, but there are also some stark differences. The common point between the two companies is the cloud. The cloud has been a game changer in the go-to-market tactics for software vendors, as it has allowed the SaaS providers to sell directly to lines of business with no IT involvement at all.

Earlier this month, F5 announced its ScaleN architecture designed to make it easier for companies to deploy a software defined network and extend virtual networks to the cloud. ScaleN can be thought of as a unified set of virtual and physical infrastructure that has been configured to optimize SDN environments. ScaleN also provides a new feature called iCall, which is an extension of its popular iRules scripting language and gives F5 ADCs the capability of dynamically reconfiguring based on the real-time status of the ADC infrastructure. The iCall technology allows for applications or networks to interface with the ADCs to trigger the reconfiguration.

Looking at this functionality, it’s easy to see that there’s significant overlap with traditional SDN controllers. One of the value propositions of SDNs is that the controllers offer a set of northbound application programming interfaces (APIs) that give applications more control of the network. F5’s iRules has given customers the ability to create custom features to handle network and application events. But iCall brings automation to F5 infrastructure, removing the need for manual intervention. It would seem that much of the value of the SDN controller is being wrapped into the ADC, and why not? The application delivery infrastructure already sits between the network and application tiers, similarly to how many of the SDN controller vendors position their products.

It seems that data centers have been in continual transition now for the past 15 years. In that time, the industry has seen the rise of server virtualization, the growth of on-demand computing, the transition to network fabrics and the introduction of software defined networks. The latest wave is the movement to converged infrastructure, and Extreme Networks is the latest network vendor to ride this wave by partnering with EMC and Lenovo.

The need for converged infrastructure is certainly there. The concept is to bring servers, network and storage together to create a data center where the IT elements become fluid, orchestrated resources capable of ushering in the cloud era. This is why almost every data center vendor, network, storage or server has released or is part of a converged infrastructure solution. These solutions are pre-integrated, pre-tested and pre-configured and can give customers the confidence that the converged solution will actually provide the functionality require to move into the cloud era. This is why almost every data center vendor today, be it network, storage or server, is part of or owns its own converged “stack.”

A unified communications application that actually unifies communications–how novel.

This morning, Siemens Enterprise publicly announced Project Ansible, which the company had previewed at an analyst conference last month in Denver. Ansible is the company’s next generation communications platform and is designed to increase productivity and enhance collaboration through a streamlined, real-time interface. The vision behind Ansible is similar to the vision I outlined in my January 2013 report, “Visual Conversations Redefine Enterprise Collaboration,” which can be found on the front page of

The main thesis of my report–and the Siemens Enterprise vision–is that the collaborative process is broken today because the tools people use to collaborate are disjointed and not unified at all (despite falling under the umbrella of “unified communications”).

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