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UC Magic Quadrant warns against single-vendor approach

In its newest Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications, Gartner promotes Avaya to the leaders quadrant, while most of the other players see their positions unchanged. Gartner says vendors may push to be a one-stop UC shop, but it advises users to choose a best-of-breed approach that emphasizes interoperability among multiple vendors.

Interoperability is the magic word for vendors in Gartner's unified communications (UC) Magic Quadrant this year, as market giants accept they have to let third-party developers play in their sandboxes.

"The vendors would like to broaden the footprint they have within their existing customers and expand into new markets, whereas users, in many cases, would like to have the vendors interoperate effectively so they can get a high degree of functionality, and preserve and migrate their existing investments," said quadrant co-author Bern Elliot, a vice president and senior analyst at Gartner.

Unified communications vendors may push to be a one-stop UC shop -- trying to merge telephony, email, instant messaging (IM), conferencing and presence in a single platform -- but Gartner is advising enterprises to shop around for interoperable communications products across the market.

"The features and functions most companies need are found in the best-of-breed products," Elliot said. "What they want is a higher degree of unification … and that's at odds with the vendors who see this as a market control or customer control issue."

Few changes among leaders in 2009 Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications

Gartner publishes Magic Quadrants from time to time on many of the markets it covers. Each one identifies four categories of vendors: Market leaders are vendors that score highly on both of Gartner's general evaluation criteria -- ability to execute and completeness of vision. Companies that score highly only for their ability to execute are classified as challengers, while companies that score highly only for their completeness of vision are classified as visionaries. All other vendors are labeled niche players.

"[Using multiple vendors] does take more effort .... But the benefits are worthwhile because you will end up with more choice and more control over your direction, and more control over your costs."
Bern Elliot
Vice president and senior analystGartner

The report shows few major shifts from last year among UC leaders. In 2008 and 2009, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Systems, IBM, Microsoft and Siemens Enterprise Communications populated the coveted corner.

Nortel Networks, which filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, fell from leader to visionary. New Jersey-based vendor Avaya made the move from the challenger quadrant to the leader quadrant, scoring points in Gartner's completeness-of-vision criteria.

Movement on the grid has stabilized over the last two years as the market has consolidated and vendors' portfolios "are overall becoming more complete and more capable," Elliot said. Consolidation will continue as the auction winner for Nortel's Enterprise Solutions business is announced Sept. 11, with Siemens Enterprise Communications and Avaya noted as two favorites. But Elliot cautioned users against looking at only one leader for UC products.

"[Using multiple vendors] does take more effort," he acknowledged. "But the benefits are worthwhile because you will end up with more choice and more control over your direction, and more control over your costs."

Interoperable communication products a 'clear reality' for vendors big and small

Cisco's strategy begins with "what common platforms, elements and common services" users need, building application development secondary from that, said Ross Daniels, director of unified communications solutions marketing.

The company offers nearly every unified communications application conceivable, but it has opened its platform to work with third-party developers. Daniels said Cisco devotes a quarter of its UC research and development dollars to interoperability. The goal: To make users feel like they are in the Cisco platform, even if they're using another vendor's instant message product.

"Certainly, whenever possible, we'd love people to use Cisco, but the clear reality is that there is a significant installed base of other suppliers' applications across unified communications," he said. "As things have moved to an environment where communication means more than just voice, interoperability has become even more of a premium."

Getting the most for his UC dollar has spurred Tom Lamb, chief technology officer at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, to look for interoperable vendors. Lamb chose most of Cisco's unified communications products -- presence in his softphone, videoconferencing to discuss the effects of budget cuts -- but opted for a different voicemail product that he says works better with his email systems.

"Being a [public] university …. We have to be frugal with the citizens' money. We can't always buy the most expensive Cadillac. We have to buy a good-running Chevrolet," Lamb said. "I'm very much interested in plugging that best-of-breed operation into what our infrastructure can [accommodate]."

Meanwhile, Microsoft has also opened the doors of its unified communications portfolio, recognizing "the customer has a choice," said Moz Hussain, the company's director of product management in unified communications.

"Unified communications doesn't have to stop with the products we deliver. A customer can take that and enrich it to their business needs," Hussain said. "If another vendor has a solution they want to plug into our client experience …. we have the APIs [application programming interfaces] to allow them to do that."

The company's UC portfolio for enterprises covers what users would expect -- voice, email, presence, video conferencing -- to more unconventional products, such as IM bots that can answer frequently asked questions from customers that might otherwise be handled by call center agents. Even though interoperable products are part of Microsoft's strategy, Hussain maintained that for some users, a single Microsoft platform still works when "an integrated experience may outweigh best of breed."

Receiving less favorable spots in the quadrant, Ontario-based Aastra was grouped with the "niche players" for its "telephony bias," said Paulo Francisco, Aastra's joint vice president of global and technology development.

"I'm not sure that's really a bad thing because unified communications is, to a large extent, about bringing together communications, and telephony is a large part of that," Francisco said. "We don't see that as being a negative."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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