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Technology is evolving faster than ever, and those willing to continually learn new skills will have a leg up on those that don’t invest in themselves.Today’s companies have difficulty acquiring the right talent, as evidenced by ManpowerGroup’s 2023 Talent Shortage Survey, where 77 percent of organizations stated that it’s challenging to find skilled workers. As a result, 71 percent of these organizations are focusing on upskilling the current workforce to meet their digital transformation needs. I’ve been covering IT trends for a long time, and talent evolution is something businesses have always had to deal with. But innovation is happening so much faster today, creating an accelerated need for skills transitions. Cisco is among the leading tech companies making significant strides to address the skills gap, particularly in the cybersecurity and network automation sectors. Recognizing that there’s no universal solution, Cisco has adopted a comprehensive approach that spans the entirety of the learning spectrum. “This means that no matter where someone comes in—whether they’re tech curious, trying to enter the job market, or whether they’re in the job market already—we’re making this entire learning continuum available to keep up with new technologies,” said Par Merat, VP of Cisco Learning and Certifications, during a recent analyst update on bridging the skills gap. Cisco’s approach is multifaceted. The company works with education partners, including its learning partner ecosystem and academies. Notably, in the U.S., Cisco’s outreach extends to an impressive 45 percent of community colleges. There’s also a direct-to-learner model, allowing individuals to engage with and access their resources. Moreover, Cisco has partnered with learning as a service (LaaS) providers like Coursera and has forged ties with government agencies. Cisco enhances this learning approach with certifications, ensuring individuals can acquire the necessary skills.
Cisco Networking Academy: The LinchpinSpearheading Cisco’s vision for an inclusive digital future is the Cisco Networking Academy. Since its inception in 1997, it has impacted over 20 million individuals. “NetAcad” functions as a conduit between learning and job readiness. Cisco has set an ambitious goal to provide digital and cybersecurity skills training to 25 million people over the next 10 years as part of the Networking Academy program. “We prepare individuals for careers in areas of networking, cybersecurity, and other IT roles,” said Laura Quintana, VP and General Manager of the Cisco Networking Academy. “We support countries worldwide and help them accelerate their digital agendas by addressing the skills gap. When measuring student outcomes, 3.57 million people have attributed their participation in the academy to obtaining a new job.” Ensuring the program remains cutting-edge, the academy integrates technologies that blend traditional learning with immersive experiences, such as gamified modules, interactive sessions, and artificial intelligence (AI). One of the academy’s standout programs is the junior cybersecurity analyst pathway, offering 120 hours of in-depth training in cybersecurity.
Certifications: The Cisco Stamp of QualityOnce an individual secures a job in the tech field, the learning process doesn’t stop there. Cisco also provides accessible and certification-based training to empower professionals in their careers. Over the past three decades, the company has issued more than 4.3 million certifications. A distinguishing feature is Cisco’s recognition as industry, rather than product, certifications. These certifications have received accreditations from renowned bodies like the American National Standards (ANSI) and the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST). Cisco continually revises and adapts its certification content, reflecting the evolving job market, a recent example being the introduction of multicloud certifications.
Cisco U: The Pinnacle of Digital TrainingCisco introduced a new platform called Cisco U, emphasizing a modernized approach to digital training. The inception of this platform was a collaborative effort with the Cisco community, aiming to strike a balance between proficiency and efficiency in learning. The platform is anchored around three foundational tenets: guidance, community, and depth. Cisco U stands out for its use of AI and machine learning (ML) to recommend specific learning paths by offering assessments that guide individuals. This ensures people access only the most relevant content for the skills they’re trying to acquire. The platform delves deep into Cisco-specific topics while also branching out to cover newer, interdisciplinary areas. Community engagement is an essential aspect of Cisco U. Previously, the community discussions were separate from learning resources, causing a disconnect. Now, Cisco U brings these discussions directly into the learning experience. It’s a new integrated approach that fosters “vibrant conversations, tips, and informal mentoring,” Merat said.
Case Study: How North Dakota Is Bridging the Skills GapNorth Dakota, with its predominantly rural setting, faces significant challenges in technological advancement, workforce transitions, and shifts in agricultural practices. To address these, the state has taken several key steps to promote digital equity among its citizens with the help of “Skills for All,” a Cisco program that offers free online tech courses. Recognizing the importance of comprehensive technological education, North Dakota has integrated Cisco’s educational offerings across all its institutions, ranging from pre-kindergarten all the way to Ph.D. programs. This ensures that students receive a thorough grounding in technology regardless of their academic level. Additionally, there’s a strong push towards promoting remote work and developing skills to stay relevant in the tech landscape. Part of the vision is to expand broadband access throughout the state, ensuring that every citizen can take advantage of modern technologies like cloud connectivity and AI. On the educational front, North Dakota launched an initiative called PK-20W, which stands for pre-kindergarten through Ph.D. and the workforce. The initiative emphasizes the importance of continuous upskilling and reskilling, offering avenues for career progression without the constant requirement of higher formal degrees. This vision has been further cemented by recent legislation that mandates cybersecurity education as a requirement for high school graduation. Cisco plays a crucial role in PK-20W, providing resources and support, which many of the state’s educational institutions have adopted.
Upskilling the Current WorkforceBeyond just education, there’s a pressing need to adapt the current workforce’s skills, especially in the IT sector. As technologies like AI and cloud computing become more central to operations, IT professionals must be adequately trained to handle the challenges they bring. Cisco’s programs have been instrumental in offering structured training to IT staff and ensuring they remain updated in their roles. “The digital landscape is going to continue to move forward, and we’ve got to prepare ourselves to be at the cusp of that technological change,” said Kuldip Mohanty, North Dakota Office of the Governor’s chief information officer. “That’s where the Cisco Networking Academy continues to be our strongest foundation. This collaboration extends beyond technology. It’s about fostering a culture of innovation, learning, and adaptability.” North Dakota’s vision is technological inclusivity, where every citizen is equipped and empowered to navigate the digital age. The partnership with Cisco stands at the heart of this vision, fostering a culture of continuous learning and ensuring that the state has a skilled workforce for the future. The topic of reskilling is something I talk to almost all IT professionals about. There are many ways to keep one’s skills current, but leveraging vendor-driven programs like Cisco offers is an excellent way to ensure the training received is current and in line with present and future technology trends. Technology is evolving faster than ever, and those willing to continually learn new skills will have a leg up on those that don’t invest in themselves.
Providence, a healthcare organization with 51 hospitals and 829 clinics, selected an SD-WAN solution to improve performance and reliability.Over the past decade, the role of the network has changed: What was once viewed as a non-differentiated tactical resource that got very little attention from business leaders is now considered a strategic asset. An interesting data point from ZK Research is that 68% of business leaders consider the network important to business transformation. This is because organizations have become more distributed and dynamic, putting the network at the center of digital transformation strategies.
WAN Evolution is Necessary for Digital TransformationThe network, particularly the WAN, has not evolved in the better part of thirty years. In fact, the architecture most WANs are designed with is essentially the same as when I was an IT pro over two decades ago. This is what’s driving the high amounts of interest in software-defined WANs (SD-WANs). Despite the momentum, finding good case studies of real-world deployments has been challenging. At the VMware Explore 2023, VMware hosted a breakout session with two technical implementation team members from Providence, a healthcare organization with 51 hospitals and 829 clinics in a wide variety of states around the country.
Providence Used SD-WAN to Redesign its NetworkThe case study senior principal network engineer Charlie Hagen and principal network engineer Conor McCutcheon were at the VMware event to discuss “Redesigning a Mission-Critical WAN to Drive Business.” McCutcheon described his organization’s journey. “We provide life-saving care,” he said. “Underpinning all of that healthcare delivery is our network. A patient having a stroke or heart attack does not want to wait for the network to work for them to receive that care.” McCutcheon said that the state of the Providence network was driven by organic growth and expansion over many years. This resulted in a fractured WAN topology with different regional networks that didn’t use a common standard. In my experience, this is, by far, the norm versus the exception, leaving most companies with a messy, unmanageable WAN environment.
WAN Evolution Required a Rethink of the NetworkMcCutcheon said that Providence took these actions:
- Consolidated to a single routing design enterprise-wide
- Standardized on a single routing platform
- Mediated overlapping IP space
- Unified disparate routing domains
- Set enterprise-wide standards
SD-WAN Provides Superior Application Experience“We wanted to deliver the best application experience because our caregivers experience our network through the applications that consume it,” Hagan said. “We wanted the WAN to enable the business to be agile in response to new opportunities and demands, including absorbing bandwidth-intensive needs of new medical equipment rather than being the bottleneck.” Being able to shift the network because of unforeseen events (maybe a global pandemic?) was a critical requirement. Hagan and McCutcheon decided to select an SD-WAN to enable the following advantages:
- Dynamic remediation of impaired circuits through error correction and real-time detection and failover of impaired circuits.
- Abstraction of the transport from the routing to enable integration of additional circuit types like internet connectivity into an enterprise connectivity model without having a separate solution.
- Simplified management of the entire platform from a single pane of glass.
- Standardization of the configuration and design.
Selecting the SD-WAN Solution“Several platform vendors participated and underwent an extensive test plan to ensure that they met our requirements and that we understood their behavior under load and failure conditions,” he said. McCutcheon then shared some criteria they used to select their next SD-WAN solution, including dynamic path selection, zero-touch provisioning, orchestration and automation, link impairment detection and remediation, and interoperability with the legacy network. “So as a result of this extensive testing, and because we’re here at VMware Explore, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that VMware was our selected SD-WAN vendor,” McCutcheon said. “Since we’ve made that selection, we’ve finished the final design of our network integrating SD-WAN and begun to implement.” As a result, McCutcheon said that the Providence WAN is rapidly becoming a strategic asset that enables the organization to be agile when new opportunities and demands arise. Now, Providence can move healthcare out of hospitals and into its network of ambulatory clinics. No transition like this is flawless. In fact, Providence experienced an issue right off the bat. “During our very first cutover, we experienced an unplanned failover event during a morning executive briefing,” Hagan said. “This was a user, not a platform error. But after the event, we were pleased to be able to surprise the executives with the news that we’d had a failover. There was no perceived impact during their call. Since that time, we continue to see the same excellent responsiveness to circuit issues. The VMware SD-WAN platform provides detailed reportable telemetry on the performance of our network.” Providence recently had another incident where they used telemetry within the SD-WAN to isolate an issue. “Because our internet upstream at our data center was the endpoint for multiple tunnels for multiple locations, we were able to identify that only some of those tunnels were impacted by a carrier issue unidirectionally,” McCutcheon said. “In short, we were able to feed that to our upstream provider to identify that there was a peering issue upstream of them. It was all available to us within the orchestrator, and it was enlightening.” Maybe more important, Providence can now use telemetry to hold their carriers accountable and to identify the graded circuit performance despite the lack of impact on caregivers. We throw around terms like mission-critical all the time, which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t really accurate most of the time. But, at healthcare organizations like Providence, those words ring true. They are, quite literally, saving lives. It’s nice to see the thinking that Providence put into their move to an SD-WAN. The willingness to rethink WAN operations and break the status quo is something all companies should consider.
The European Union prompted a change in Microsoft's strategy, opened the door to competition, and exposed significant challenges with the Teams product.Every week, I have many calls and meetings—Zoom, Cisco Webex, Google Meet, Skype (believe it or not), and the dreaded Microsoft Teams. Whenever I get an invite for a Teams call, I wonder what will happen when I click the link. Teams can be unpredictable. Say what you will about the other players, but they just work. Zoom started as a standalone product—and if it didn’t work, the company would’ve gone under. Webex was one of the earliest players, so they know how to make meetings work. Google Meet always feels strange, but it’s generally competent, although essentially a “me too” product. Skype is, well, Skype. It’s nothing fancy—kind of AOL Messenger on steroids—but it works.
Poor User Experience is the Teams ChallengeThe trouble with Teams is that, in an effort to integrate all its products, Microsoft appears to have forgotten about the experience of actually using the individual product. Most people don’t care about integration—or, more correctly, users don’t care about integration if the product itself doesn’t work. The Teams experience, at least for me and many users I have talked to, has not been good. Most times I go to use it, I get stuck in some kind of login issue. On more than one occasion, almost as a throwback to the late 90s or early 2000s, I’ve resorted to just using the dial-in numbers. If I can solve login, I have to change the settings for backgrounds, etc., as I’m getting set to enter a meeting. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and I’m late for a meeting. One of the most significant issues with Teams is guest access. If I host a meeting or call, I’ll use Zoom, so I often join Teams as a guest. The experience as a guest is inconsistent. Some features, like chat, work on some calls and not others. It also creates multiple user IDs, which can create confusion for end users. This is why many organizations use Teams for internal meetings but a product like Zoom for external. Guest access is better in the latest release but it’s still not on par with other vendors.
The EU and UnbundlingOnce inside Teams, things work all right. Yet the experience, compared to Zoom or Webex, is severely lacking. But there may be hope on the horizon—in the unlikely guise of EU regulators. You may have read that the EU has prompted Microsoft to unbundle Teams. One news article I read about the unbundling said Teams was considered the crown jewel of the Office 365 suite. I’m not sure about that, but it’s apparent that Microsoft is unhappy about unbundling. From a business standpoint, no one would be happy about this. Government regulators interfering in the way a company operates is generally abhorrent. Looking back, Microsoft wasn’t happy about making it easier to uninstall Explorer after wrangling with the Justice Department in the late ’90s and early 2000s. But they survived allowing non-Microsoft software into its walled garden and grew into a trillion-plus dollar company—despite years of feckless management under Steve Ballmer. For users of Teams in the EU, unbundling could be a good thing if Microsoft approaches it correctly. Thinking about the user experience for Teams itself rather than the overall integration should help the company address the usability issues. The ability to link to a doc from SharePoint is probably not a high priority for people just trying to have a seamless meeting. But those integrations should be relatively easy to maintain. One big step the company could take in improving usability is to acquire a company like Box. One might think that Box and Microsoft OneDrive are overlapping products, but the reality is that Box improves the Microsoft user experience better than Microsoft’s own product. I know many people think I’m anti-Teams but, in reality, I’m anti-bad user experience. I want to like Teams. I really do. I hope that the company will use the unbundling to free it from those shackles everywhere and focus its usability experts on creating a great product that is easy to use and just works.
Microsoft Needs to Prioritize UsabilityI might be shouting into the void, but Microsoft product engineers might want to rethink how they approach Teams. It’s a simple thought: Prioritize the core functionality that users need or want. Then, approach that development from the inside out, like Zoom did. Think about enabling great meetings and messaging. Worry about everything else later. The challenge with Microsoft is that the company appears to prioritize locking customers into license bundles over everything else, including usability. By making the job of procuring the product so frictionless, it can use that audience to push substandard products on corporate workers. This is why so many workers will say something like, “I really don’t like using Teams, but the IT department made the decision.” The danger that unbundling creates is that it removes that lock and creates an opening for better products. Proof of that is how fast Google managed to have Chrome usurp Internet Explorer’s once dominant position. If you’re a customer of Teams in one of the countries where it will be unbundled, do your due diligence and look at Zoom, RingCentral, Webex, 8×8, Avaya, or any of the other many products and use Box as the solution to integrate data across them. You’ll have happier customers and likely save yourself some money.
The solution offers a monitoring system for messaging, instantaneous fraud detection with real-time traffic analysis, and autoblocking features.
- Phishing is where fraudsters send text messages that appear to be from a legitimate company, government organization, or even an employee to trick the person into revealing sensitive information.
- SMSscamming is where people are sent deceiving information, such as winning a lottery or contest, investment scams, no-interest loans, or fake job offers. The goal is to get individuals to send money or personal data.
- Malwaredistribution happens when SMS messages contain links to malware-infected sites or apps. One click of these links can lead to malware being installed on the user’s endpoint and then infecting an entire company.
- Identity theft occurs when messages are used to gather information like social security numbers, home addresses, mother’s maiden name, and other related facts.
- Subscription fraud is when messages are sent and trick the user into subscribing to services. Extended warranties, technical support and investments are examples.
Rising complexity and democratization of dataThe Red Sox’s marketing operations are expanding, focusing more on outbound fan experiences. One might wonder why a team such as the Red Sox would need outbound marketing, since the ballpark is generally sold out. All teams go through ebbs and flows, and business is booming when the team is winning. But when sports teams go through a rebuilding phase, marketing is critical to ensure fan interest remains high, particularly in a market such as Boston, with so many other successful sports franchises. One of the biggest challenges is that, for marketing, complexity is on the rise. It’s not just in the volume of campaigns but also in the nature of data handling. Gone are the days when data access was limited to structured query language experts and database administrators. Today, the Red Sox is championing the democratization of data. This shift allows multiple internal groups to visualize and experiment with potential scenarios. Generative AI has become a “marketing campaign companion,” enhancing the quality and specificity of their outreach, Brian Shield (pictured), chief technology officer for the Red Sox, explained during a recent panel hosted by Google Cloud at its Next 2023 conference.
Tools and experiences for marketersThe Red Sox have been using GrowthLoop — a cutting-edge marketing platform formerly known as Flywheel Software — for three and a half years. The partnership has provided the team with a 360-degree view of its fans so it can create more targeted marketing campaigns. The focus has shifted from merely understanding the tools and data to uncovering broader opportunities for personalization and alignment with the brand’s identity. Moreover, the Red Sox operates within an advanced Salesforce environment. Given this complexity, one of the team’s primary objectives was to identify solutions that could address the nuances of both the MLB brand and its Salesforce needs. Regarding outbound sales campaigns, the goal has always been to reach the right audience. This extends to various sectors, be it digital products, services or direct engagements with the sales teams.
Key partnerships to drive generative AIAt Next 2023, GrowthLoop, Google Cloud and Typeface, a generative AI platform for enterprise content creation, unveiled a combined solution designed to help marketers use personalized AI throughout their marketing campaigns. By merging AI into one continuous process, the AI Marketing Solution allows marketers to identify specific audience segments and create custom content, ensuring that campaigns start sooner, run more efficiently and maintain a consistent brand message. Salesforce and Google Cloud also teamed up to help businesses use data and AI to improve customer interactions and understand their preferences. They plan to introduce two new tools later this year, enabling immediate data sharing and better predictions based on that data.
Navigating the futureSo, does generative AI measure up to the demands of modern marketing campaigns? According to Shield, “generative AI is not a finished product, but rather an accelerant that brings people closer to the end objective.” While the technology offers immense possibilities, human intuition and decision-making still hold the reins, ensuring campaigns remain on-brand and resonate with the team’s values. The journey toward incorporating AI models is filled with decisions — whether to use Google Cloud’s AI models directly, partner or purchase solutions is still in the initial stages, making it too early to determine a single, definitive solution. MLB, for example, has been actively collaborating with Adobe Inc. on advanced projects and seeking solutions that can be applied across multiple campaign types and platforms. According to Shield, a hybrid approach seems to be the most likely outcome. The primary goal is to centralize intelligence so that all decision-making is consolidated in one place. “Building on a multiyear roadmap is important because things are changing so quickly,” he said. “It’s difficult to define an obvious path forward. But building that roadmap, which ties all this together, is the holy grail.”
The takeawayAs the digital marketing landscape evolves, flexibility and innovation remain at the forefront. Google Cloud, with its open architecture, is leading the way, supported by a growing partner ecosystem. Meanwhile, organizations such as the Red Sox are setting an example for others to follow, where generative AI powers more personalized marketing.
- Zoom AI Companion: Formerly known as Zoom IQ, the company describes this service (pictured) as a generative AI assistant. Zoom will provide it at no additional cost to paid Zoom users. Zoom is attempting to disrupt the market by offering it for free, as other vendors have chosen to tack on a hefty price tag. Google charges $30 per user per month, whereas Microsoft Co-Pilot is a whopping $43 per user per month. Zoom believes that an AI companion should be something available to all users.
- Zoom Revenue Accelerator: Previously branded Zoom IQ for Sales, the company’s conversation intelligence software is being rebadged, with AI features as the lead. Zoom IQ for Sales launched, and according to customers I talked to, it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Zoom has now revamped the product and is relaunching it with new use cases to improve usage.
Zoom AI CompanionThe company says that AI Companion will be part of the familiar experience of its entire platform, including Meetings, Team Chat, Phone, Email and Whiteboard. Zoom says additional features are on the way. These are some of the most prominent capabilities the company introduced for AI Companion. Zoom Meetings users can watch highlights and smart chapters of recordings. Summaries and next steps will also be available for people to catch up on a missed meeting. In the meeting, if enabled by the meeting host, attendees can catch up quickly without disrupting the meeting flow by discreetly submitting questions via the in-meeting AI Companion side panel to receive an AI-generated answer on what they missed. After a meeting ends, hosts can get an automated meeting summary they can share. One good use case is easing the issues with meetings across time zones. People on the other side of the world can catch up asynchronously. The company says that by the spring of 2024, Zoom Meetings will be able to provide real-time feedback on people’s presence in meetings and coach on conversational and presentation skills. If you’ve ever used Zoom Team Chat, you know losing the conversation thread is easy. But it’s an important tool to connect teams across time zones. The company says that AI Companion will enable the quick creation of messages based on the context of a chat thread — with the ability to change tone and length. Zoom promises that users will soon be able to catch up on gen AI summaries of long chat threads. And early next year, it will add auto complete for chat sentences and the ability to schedule meetings from a chat. This fall, Zoom Whiteboard users will get help from AI Companion with generating and categorizing ideas. By spring 2024, users can harness their whiteboard content to create images and populate whiteboard templates.
Zoom Revenue AcceleratorRevenue Accelerator is a revamp of the former Zoom IQ offering. The company says it listened to feedback that, despite (or maybe because of) a 400% increase in sales over the first quarter, “Zoom IQ for Sales didn’t reflect the power of the product,” according to Mahesh Ram, head of AI applications and products at Zoom. At first glance, one might wonder why a product with 400% growth would need to be changed. A couple of points here: The 400% number looks good as a percentage; from what I understand, that was off a small number. Also, Zoom does have a loyal customer base that is often willing to try new products, hence the early success with products such as Zoom Phone, Contact Center and, in this case, Zoom IQ. As I pointed out earlier, customers told us the product had some issues and didn’t give the best recommendations. Rebadged as Zoom Revenue Accelerator, the solution uses a more mature AI stack and has several AI-based features, including meeting summaries, chapter summaries, sentiment, engagement, talk/listen ratio and next steps/good questions. Plus, it includes the ability to “smart compose” emails for meeting follow-up. The company plans to expand the offering to include Virtual Coach, Deal Risk Signals and Discover Monthly for sales teams.
- Virtual Coach will help onboard and train sales teams with simulated conversations about new products and methodologies. The tool will include an objective performance assessment that sales can act on for improved messaging consistency.
- Sales teams can use the rules-based Deal Risk Signals to get alerts if a deal doesn’t move in the pipeline as expected.
- Uncovering trends, such as the frequency of competitor mentions on calls, is a core function of Discover Monthly. The feature will summarize the trends monthly (hence the name), providing revenue teams with insights that will help with sales effectiveness.
A full-stack approach to retail edge offers retailers a way to optimize operations and adapt to changes in a post-pandemic world.The edge was a hot topic at the recent VMware Explore user event as it promises to create new experiences by processing data closer to the user. This removes much of the latency when moving data to and from the cloud. While there has been significant interest in the edge, adoption has been slow as organizations educate themselves on the use cases. At Explore, VMware hosted a dedicated session on retail edge, which uses edge computing to transform retail. The retail industry has seen notable changes in recent years, specifically with the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the shift towards digital transformation. Edge computing is among the technologies making a significant impact in the evolution of the retail vertical. By positioning data closer to where it originates rather than in a distant data center, edge computing offers retailers a faster way to harness and analyze data. Improved operational efficiency through better data gathering is one of the biggest advantages of edge computing in retail. Models like “click and collect” (buy online and pick up in-store) simplify the consumer buying process and provide retailers with timely insights. As retail chains grow, they often face challenges linked to the variability in their operations and the lifecycles of their hardware and software. Edge computing can address these challenges by helping retailers automate inventory, enhance loss prevention measures, and create data-informed marketing strategies.
A full-stack approach to retail edgeVMware’s Edge Compute Stack is designed for retailers—and other organizations—that want to leverage edge computing. This comprehensive solution reduces the need for multiple hardware setups. It supports not just virtual machines (VMs) but also containerized applications. VMware’s platform approach allows retailers to transition within the same infrastructure as their requirements change. Moreover, an extensive network of partners supports the Edge Compute Stack, so retailers aren’t stuck with just one option. “Our platform approach is flexible, and it scales up. So, you could be doing VMs, and then if you want to containerize or roll out a Kubernetes application, the same stack can support all your needs,” said Abhilasha Choudhri, product manager at VMware, during the session. The Edge Cloud Orchestrator is central to the Edge Compute Stack, announced at Explore 2023. Edge Cloud Orchestrator allows organizations to set up, oversee, and secure applications and infrastructure designed for edge computing. It provides consistent hardware management through a unified interface, simplifying operations for retailers, explained Eric Cheung-Young-Sen, solutions architect at VMware, who also participated in the session. Flexibility is a defining feature of the Edge Compute Stack. It can handle edge clusters that range from a single server to multiple servers. This provides the foundational layer atop which additional services can be incorporated, such as secure access service edge (SASE), private 5G, and artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML), enabling retailers to modernize and digitize their stores. Software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) services can also be added for secure connectivity. “If something happens along the way, you can quickly roll back the software; you can leverage the same tools you have in the data center and apply that at the edge. But the learning curve for the IT team in managing all this is not as steep,” said Eric Cheung-Young-Sen.
Embracing retail edge for POS modernizationOne practical use case of the Edge Compute Stack is in retail point of sale (POS) systems. Traditional POS consists of individual devices, each with its own operating system and apps. Managing these can be cumbersome and complex when scaled across numerous retail locations. VMware’s solution decouples the hardware and software, allowing retailers to manage the endpoints from a central location. This method has the dual benefit of extending the lifespan of in-store hardware and reducing potential downtime during upgrades. When implementing the Edge Compute Stack in a retail setting, a typical setup might have a Windows OS running on edge servers, with a thin client running on a POS terminal. POS terminals can communicate directly with the Edge Compute Stack through integrations with various partners. For example, VMware partnered with Dell, which has XR4000 edge servers that are “purpose-built to address the modern demands of retailers,” said Cheung-Young-Sen. In summary, VMware has a long history of working with retailers over the past 25 years, assisting them in updating their infrastructure for digital transformation. By expanding to edge computing, the vendor now offers retailers a way to optimize their operations and adapt to changes in a post-pandemic world. Looking ahead, I would expect VMware to continue to roll out industry-specific use cases and customer examples to help other verticals best understand how to leverage edge. I would expect to see similar sessions in transportation, healthcare, and warehousing at future events.
The company's new handsets target different markets, from professional use in business and healthcare to more rigorous environments.This week Mitel announced its new line of Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) 700 Series handsets that combine functionality, affordability, and robustness to meet the demands of different vertical markets. The 722 handsets are at the heart of the series. Meant for professional use in business and healthcare, the handset features a large display, four-way navigation keys, configurable audio control buttons, an ambient noise filter for loud environments, and a multifunction emergency alarm button. Mitel is also rolling out two handsets, 732 and 742, for more demanding environments like industrial settings. These aren’t just regular phones. While the handsets maintain the core functionalities of the 700 Series—including secure DECT encryption—they’re ruggedized and have additional features like a motion sensor. Rounding out the series is the entry-level 712 handset designed for day-to-day business and office operations. All four new handsets now support USB-C charging and are more user-friendly. The setup is quick and straightforward for users, regardless of their location, be it an office or a hospital. “We’ve had 600 series handsets for quite a while, but the technology has evolved. There are innovations on the hardware side of such handsets, and we incorporate them in the new 700 series to make it a top-level product. This includes a future-proof design, perfectly integrated into the Mitel communication solution,” said James Wong, VP of product management at Mitel. A key benefit of the DECT handsets is their use of a dedicated radio frequency band, which ensures a more reliable data connection without interference when compared to Wi-Fi, which uses an unlicensed spectrum. An added benefit is high-definition (HD) voice, which is essential in business and critical environments like hospitals. This capability enhances voice clarity and allows users to send and prioritize messages. “Compared to traditional Wi-Fi, which generally offers a range of 10 to 15 meters, DECT’s coverage is impressive, extending up to 100 meters. This makes it suitable for expansive spaces such as warehouses and hospitals, where one DECT base station is typically sufficient to provide comprehensive coverage,” said Mats Perjons, product marketing manager, Mitel. Integrating DECT into enterprise networks is becoming increasingly common, especially in European countries like Germany for example, where the country has extremely strict privacy regulations. Due to security and reliability, DECT is crucial in vertical environments like healthcare and retail. Technological advancements have evolved DECT models to provide a better user experience. In some scenarios, DECT handsets serve a purpose beyond traditional communication by combining the features of a stationary desk phone with the portability of a smartphone. Take the healthcare setting : If there’s an emergency, an alert is sent from an alarm or messaging server, to relevant personnel, such as critical care nurses or respiratory therapists. The alert displays on the relevant personnel's DECT device(s), and they can accept or decline the call based on their availability. The handset can show the priority of the alert to minimize alarm fatigue by providing both different ring signals and changing the background color depending on the priority. Once the alert is received, the user can accept or decline the call based on availability. From a financial standpoint, DECT phones are cost-effective, especially compared to traditional smartphones. Their blend of efficiency, security, and adaptability makes them a valuable tool for professionals across various sectors. Many industry watchers have called for the death of DECT for years as Wi-Fi handsets or personal mobile devices were considered a viable replacement. However, these devices do not have the same reliability or ruggedness of DECT handsets and the devices continue to live on and, in some markets, grow. As mentioned earlier, the dedicated frequency band provides much more reliable performance than Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Also, the battery life is superior to traditional consumer devices, with a more extended range. There is an opportunity for partners and customers in North America to take another look at opportunities for DECT, as Wi-Fi networks typically are crowded, unreliable, and vulnerable to interference. For Mitel, when the company announced its UCaaS partnership with RingCentral, it stated it would focus on continuing to drive innovation into UC, which includes desk phones and handsets. The company has always been one of the leaders in both breadth and depth of endpoints, and the newly announced DECT handsets fill a need that most other vendors do not address.
How this international grower reaped the benefits of SD-WAN, from optimized bandwidth usage to the integration of 5G-enabled robots.VMware Explore was held last week in Las Vegas. While much of the show was focused on the company's bread and butter – virtualization – and multi-cloud, there were several networking sessions. VMware has built a strong network portfolio, particularly in the WAN, via the 2017 acquisition of VeloCloud. One of the more interesting SD-WAN sessions was a case study with Nature Fresh Farms. The agriculture company operates a technologically advanced system of greenhouses in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. In its different facilities, Nature Fresh Farms grows bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and organic strawberries. The independent produce grower uses the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) to collect data from each location, which helps monitor sunlight reflection on the greenhouses and the health of 2.3 million plants, so the company is generating 1.8 gigabytes of data each week. About five years ago, Nature Fresh Farms operated three individual plants, including two in close proximity with each other in Canada. Significant segmentation between the plants resulted in disjointed operations and a lack of communication among the plants. The grower initially implemented a corporate grade virtual private network (VPN) to address the connectivity challenges. The implementation was a typical hub and spoke design, which connects all branch offices and users through a central location. This is the most straightforward configuration but is sluggish and inefficient as all data is backhauled through a central location. This type of configuration is not ideal from a security perspective as VPNs provide open access to the entire network. This leaves them vulnerable to security threats quickly propagating across the network, requiring constant maintenance and updates. Nature Fresh Farms then turned to VMware’s software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) solution called SD-Access, which is point-and-click software that can be run on various operating systems (OSes) like PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. During a proof of concept for SD-Access, the grower set up a new sales office connection in hours, showcasing the solution’s efficiency. “A lot of our customers wanted a lightweight, middle-ground solution, and that’s where SD-Access comes in. It focuses on optimizing network traffic. This solution uses a single WAN connection and then finds the best path for all the applications that you’re using,” said John Turner, director of SASE customer marketing at VMware. SD-Access consists of several key components which are the:
- Client: The software that runs on any OS.
- Client Connector: Acts as a bridge between users and the resources they need, but it can also function as a VPN concentrator.
- Headless Client: This is software that does not require a user interface, making it ideal for IoT devices where there are limited configuration capabilities.
- Orchestrator: Helps manage configurations without being in the direct connection path.
- Relay: Assists in path discovery between clients and their desired resources, even if there’s no direct connection.