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Posts Tagged ‘unified communications’

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.

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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.

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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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Oracle World 2013 finished up a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on the event. On the Wednesday of the event I spoke at a luncheon hosted by the former Acme Packet Group, which was acquired by Oracle earlier this year. I hadn’t been to Oracle World in a number of years and I wasn’t sure what to expect given the fact that historically Oracle and communications went together about as well as Larry Ellison and Bill Gates.

However, things are changing and everyone is jockeying to move into other markets. That’s why Cisco sells servers and HP sells networking gear. Since Ellison chose to go watch his ship race rather than show up to his own keynote, I have no idea whether he was going to mention communications or not, but make no mistake, Oracle has moved into communications and is here to stay.

Much of the focus of the Acme Packet lunch was on SIP trunking, which was highlighted by a large customer of theirs that had recently migrated the company to all SIP trunks and talked about some of the best practices regarding the migration.

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Despite the numerous advancements in Unified Communications (UC) over the past few years, managing UC remains a challenge for many organizations, particularly large enterprises and service providers. Deployments in these environments can be quite complex, as the number of systems and interdependencies between them can overwhelm even the best and most knowledgeable network manager.

Managing a legacy PBX used to be relatively simple since the system was a vertically integrated solution that masked the complexity from the administrator. Today’s systems are comprised of physical servers, virtual servers, desktops, laptops, IP phones, software-based clients that can run on wired, cellular or Wi-Fi networks and now expand out to the cloud. Because of this diversity, no two UC environments are the same, so building an all-encompassing UC management tool can be just as or more complex as the environment itself. A general rule of thumb I like to use is that solutions to problems should never be more complicated than the original problem – and that’s part of what the UC industry has faced.

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