Archive for 2013

Dec
11
2013

Sales of telepresence have stagnated not because of lack of demand, but instead of because of lack of innovation.

As a technology, telepresence (TP) has been mainstream for about a decade now. In the mid part of the last decade, TP came to life with a big bang that was comparable to what we saw with Tebow-mania. Like Tebow-mania, the momentum behind TP has cooled off over the past few years, and shipments of the once shining star of the collaboration industry have plateaued over the past few years. In football, Tebow-mania is officially dead; in technology, critics of telepresence have been stating that this era of video is officially over.

So is telepresence really dead?

For the purposes of this blog, when I say “telepresence,” I mean the immersive room experience, in which it appears that I’m sitting across the table from one or more people who in fact are located at a remote, similarly provisioned site. While Cisco has tried to stretch the definition of telepresence by branding a number of products with that tag, most customers think of the following attributes when I say “telepresence”–expensive, three-screen, room-based, life-like experience, and easy to use.

The corporate wide area network (WAN) is a funny thing. Even back in my early days as a network manager in the early 90s, there was talk of finding an alternative to the tried-and-true “hub and spoke” MPLS, frame relay, or other type of network. There’s no question that this type of network, although widely deployed, is inefficient, as it routes all traffic through a single choke point (the hub). Additionally, each branch location at the end of each spoke is at risk of being down if the WAN connection fails.

So why is this model of network design still so popular? Well, as inefficient as it is, it has worked OK with client/server-based applications, as most of these were in the corporate data center, or the hub. The inefficiency I spoke of was more relevant for Internet-based applications as that traffic had to come through a single point, traverse the WAN and then “trombone” back down the same connection.

Given the rise in cloud based applications, the need for WAN change has never been higher, and more and more companies are finally evolving the WAN. One of the more notable trends has been to connect branches with direct Internet access. The direct connection provides faster access to cloud applications and can also be used as an alternative connection to the primary network, creating a hybrid network.

Polycom stands on the precipice of the most significant change in its history. Leav seems well suited to the task at hand so I’m expecting big things from him.

Earlier this week, Polycom announced that Peter A Leav will become the next President and CEO of the company, taking over from interim CEO Kevin Parker. Mr. Parker will remain Chairman of the Board and will help transition Leav into the company.

Bringing in a new leader, particularly from the outside, can be somewhat risky; a new person at the top typically means a change in culture and focus for the company. For instance, under Bob Hagarty, Polycom was a very engineering-focused organization but wasn’t all that strong a sales execution and marketing company. Andy Miller then took over as CEO and the focus shifted and we saw a much more aggressive Polycom, which reflected Miller’s personality. This, coupled with the continued strong engineering, allowed Polycom to pick up share in video over rival Cisco during the Miller tenure.

Telecom and IT departments need to use their senior engineers for more high-value tasks.

About a month ago, I wrote a 1 Comment why telecom and IT departments need to change their support model in order to scale IT. The thesis of this post was that organizations should move to a self-service model where employees could perform many of the run-of-the-mill, mundane tasks that senior engineers are processing today. This includes things like voice mail password resets, setting up speed dials, changing call forwarding numbers and many others.

Since writing the post, I’ve received some feedback from IT managers. These managers indicated that shifting to a self-service model is a great option. Many organizations like the concept, but may not want to shift every administrative task to the user.

As an industry analyst, I get briefed on many, many new products, most of which are positioned to me as “transformative” and “game-changing.” The majority of the products, though, are frankly pretty lame, and the startup fades away after just a few years. However, every once in a while a vendor comes along with a product that makes me sit up and take notice because it solves a significant problem and creates a whole new market.

This was the case with Riverbed. Way in back in 2002, I remember Riverbed executive Eric Wolford (who recently left) came to see me at Yankee Group with PR person Kim Kapustka to show me a new product that can optimize WAN links. Going into the meeting, I was somewhat skeptical and was expecting something akin to another QoS device, for which there were many already on the market. Instead, Eric walked me through how the company actually accelerated the traffic and gave LAN-like performance to WAN-based applications, such as Windows and email. Riverbed created the WAN optimization market, and the company and market took off like a rocket. Before one of you out there posts a comment that states someone like Actona actually created the market because they were first, which might be true, Riverbed was the biggest, loudest vendor in the space and now stands as the market leader in the WAN optimization market.

The tone of the recent partner conference was much different than Avaya events of years past, as we saw a more aggressive, confident Avaya.

This week, Avaya held its annual Executive Partner Forum under the abnormally cloudy skies of Cancun, Mexico. I thought the tone of this event was much different than Avaya events of years past, as we saw a more aggressive, confident Avaya. Historically, Avaya execs spent much of the keynote time trying to legitimize the company and convince the audience that Avaya was financially sound–very defensive in posture. While I understand why they did that, I’ve always felt that when that’s done too much, it actually has a bit of a negative effect, where people wonder why so much explanation is needed.

This year’s event started off with a funny hockey-related montage of “Avaya” versus the competition such as Cisco, Microsoft and ShoreTel, where a number of players were dressed in Avaya uniforms and the other team was made up of the above-mentioned companies. The premise of the video was that it was Avaya versus everyone else and Avaya was going to take its competitive shots and beat them when given the opportunity.

It’s certainly been an exciting month for Extreme Networks. Earlier this month, the company closed the acquisition of Enterasys and announced earnings that Wall Street liked so much that the stock shot up 20% to a five-year high.

And this week the company announced its new Summit X770 top-of-rack (ToR) switch. The X770 is a 1RU switch but has a whopping 104 10 Gig-E ports on it, which makes it the highest-density 1 RU switch that I know of. Alternatively, customers can get 32–40 Gig-E ports from the switch.

Why might anyone need this many ports and that much bandwidth in a single RU switch? Well, the answer is bandwidth, and there’s certainly no shortage of new bandwidth-generating applications in the data center today. Extreme is focusing this particular switch on “Big Data” environments, which is a sound strategy given the momentum behind big data today and the reliance on the network.



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