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AI World Conference & Expo · Boston, MA · December 11-13, 2017

Archive for October 2013

This week, Cisco hosted the inaugural Internet of Things World Forum in Barcelona, Spain. The event had a little under 800 attendees, which I thought was a great turnout for a first year event. There was a very diverse set of vendors at the event, ranging from traditional IT companies like Cisco, Oracle and SAP to a number of companies that IT people have likely never heard of, such as Grundfos, QnetiQ and AGT International. As diverse as the companies were, though, they all had one thing in common – the belief that when you live in a world where everything is connected, it significantly changes the way we live, learn and play.

I seriously doubt there is any kind of universal “killer application” for the IoT, rather a set of “deadly” applications with killer-ish qualities in certain verticals. The key verticals that I see adopting IoT are city governments, retail, oil and gas, finance, healthcare, gaming and transportation. All of these verticals have processes with significant amounts of human latency, which could be streamlined or even automated. Additionally, there are a number of new ways to do business through the connection of “things” and the analysis of data.

Juniper Networks made a splash in enterprise networking when it announced its QFabric architecture about two years ago. QFabric was designed to be the foundation for the next-generation data center and offered a single-tier switching fabric. The solution was very innovative and the company was the first mainstream switching vendor to aggressively market the concept of a network fabric.

This week, Juniper unveiled its new MetaFabric architecture, which is a more holistic solution that includes not only switching but also routing, security and the company’s Contrail SDN Controller. The new MetaFabric architecture combines QFabric and the EX family, giving it a single architecture for both switch lines.

The most notable difference between MetaFabric and QFabric, though, is the fact that MetaFabric addresses a much bigger deployment than QFabric. When Juniper rolled out QFabric, the company was addressing the challenges in building a next-generation data center network. MetaFabric is designed to address the challenges of deploying a network within and across multiple data centers.

Cisco held its annual Collaboration Summit this week in Boca Raton, Florida. This year’s event was, in many ways, the coming-out party for the newly appointed GM and SVP for the Collaboration Business Unit, Rowan Trollope. In his opening remarks, Trollope was refreshingly frank about the challenges in the UC industry today and how complexity and a lack of user-friendly solutions have held the industry back from mass adoption. Solving these challenges was the underlying theme of the conference, as the majority of product releases and announcements were focused on extending UC past the traditional corporate walls and making them easier to use.

One of the more interesting products announced was Cisco Expressway, which can be thought of as an edge gateway that makes it possible to extend Cisco UC outside the company boundary securely without the need for VPN concentrators, device level registration, passwords, etc.

Typically, UC is deployed to internal workers, but if someone outside the company network wanted to use Cisco UC applications, they would need to create a VPN tunnel between the remote location and a company location. With Expressway, a Cisco device or application, such as a Jabber client or IP phone, would point to Expressway and handle the secure connection between the outside world and inside network. This is ideal for home workers, small branch offices and B2B connections. No VPNs, no passwords, no device registration – just deploy it and use it.

Cisco should use all the intelligence it has in-network and create an experience that can’t be replicated through consumer-only technology.

This week, Cisco is holding its annual Collaboration Summit in Boca Raton. The analyst summit within the collaboration event kicked off on Tuesday with a seven-person panel led by SVP and GM of Cisco’s Collaboration business unit, Rowan Trollope. I found many of Rowan’s comments refreshing, including statements such as “We need to get out of our way”, and a discussion on how hard Cisco’s products are to use. Frankly, this isn’t just a Cisco problem, as almost every vendor’s products are hard to use.

During his opening comments and many times while answering questions, Trollope must have mentioned user experience at least a dozen times. While this is something that almost all vendors say, the definition of what it means to focus on “user experience” is as broad as the UC ecosystem itself.

Lync-compatible phones give customers more choice and more features, faster than with the optimized devices–and that’s good for the whole Lync ecosystem.

When it comes to choosing a phone for a unified communications (UC) solution, customers normally have a wide choice of endpoints from the manufacturer of the IP-PBX. This model of having the phones and the call server come from the same manufacturer is a longstanding tradition dating way back before my time.

Microsoft, though, has tried to break this model–sort of. When the company first launched Office Communications Server (OCS), it was built on the concept of being an open system where anyone could make phones–and indeed they could, as long as they followed Microsoft’s strict reference design, the most common one being the “Tanjay” phone. A number of vendors made these phones, but the two primary companies were Polycom and LG Nortel. If you look at the pictures below, you’ll see how tightly controlled the specifications were for the phones, allowing very little differentiation between manufacturers.

Doesn’t it seem like the UC industry has been talking about a world of communications-enabled applications for over a decade now? This is where in-house developers and independent software vendors (ISVs) will drop UC features into business applications to create new business processes and the companies that build them get a significant jump on the competition. Almost everyone I talk to agrees this is what should happen and that the value is there if companies were to adopt it. But, as the old saying goes, if “ifs and buts were candies and nuts, we would all have a very merry Christmas.” So far, we haven’t seen the flood of communications-enabled applications under the old Christmas tree for the UC industry. Oh sure, every company can point to a cool app here and there, but it’s certainly not mainstream.

So why is this? Well, in my opinion, it’s too hard to build these things. For all the talk, the communication industry requires high levels of telephony knowledge and some experience with CTI to be able to build these. That means only the communication-savvy developers can do this, limiting the number of companies that even want to attempt to build these types of applications. A good analogy is the early days of the web. Before all these visual tools, the web was built on sites designed by developers that could code in raw HTML. Want to drop a box on the site? Well, go build one. If you want to bold a word, you don’t highlight it and click bold, but rather <b> bold this way </b>. The hardcore developers who worked with HTML day-in-and-day-out could build websites, but mass adoption really didn’t begin until web development got significantly easier.

Yesterday morning in New York and Munich, the company formerly known as Siemens Enterprise Communications unveiled its new logo, tag line and new vision. The new name is “Unify,” and you can see the logo on the website. The tag line for the company is “Harmonize Your Enterprise.” The colors for the company have changed as well. The all-caps blue Siemens logo has been replaced with a much more current logo with the “I” rendered in almost a glowing green color. Siemens Enterprise made some news earlier this year when it sold the networking division, Enterasys, to Extreme networks, meaning Unify will focus exclusively on unified communications and collaboration.

The anchor product of Unfiy is something called “Ansible,” which the company announced earlier this year and goes into beta in early 2014 and general availability by mid-year. Ansible is designed to be a flexible communications “fabric” (or “canvas,” as it’s been called) where users can collaborate better. This may look like one of the many, almost too many, “unified communication” platforms out there, but Ansible is significantly different that most of them.



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