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Video conferencing technology and cloud computing talk on tap at Wainhouse summit

On the eve of the 2010 Wainhouse Research Collaboration Summit, Wainhouse Senior Partner Andrew W. Davis discusses trends in video conferencing technology and cloud-based UC.

Wainhouse Research will host its 10th annual Collaboration Summit at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, Mass., on Tuesday, July 20, 2010, and Wednesday, July 21, 2010. This year's summit focuses primarily on video conferencing, cloud computing and unified communications. spoke with Wainhouse Research Senior Partner Andrew W. Davis.

In the first half of this two-part interview, Davis discusses the relationship between cloud computing and unified communications, as well as trends in video conferencing technology, like the move away from room-based systems to personal video conferencing. In part two, he talks about collaboration technology and the education industry as a rising UC, conferencing and collaboration market.

Tell me a little bit about the this year's Collaboration Summit.

Andrew W. Davis: This week's summit is our 10th annual event. We've held it almost every year in July in Boston; once, we did on the West Coast. The focus is, first of all, on conferencing and collaboration solutions, applications and technologies. There's a higher focus than might otherwise be the case on video conferencing, which, in the conferencing and collaboration space, is perhaps the most technically complex and the most problematic issue for many companies, because it requires more of an investment than audio conferencing. Over the last couple of years, more time has been spent on unified communications, which, of course, is a buzzword that's been touted quite highly by Cisco, Microsoft and a few others.

We'll have several speakers talking about applications and the future of video conferencing, and the entire event is focused on the enterprise rather than on the consumer space. Then, in addition, we have several speakers addressing issues related to cloud computing -- what is cloud computing, how will it impact the conferencing and collaboration space in the future, etc. We'll also have three speakers on Wednesday coming out of the educational space, one of whom is from Wainhouse Research and will be discussing collaborative educational technologies, and two that actually come from the world of education.

We'll come back to education in a bit, but first I'd like to ask you about video conferencing technology. What are some of the trends and developments that you've seen in video conferencing technology -- and in the video conferencing space as a whole this year -- that have pushed it to the forefront?

Davis: I think the video conferencing space has been impacted at two ... levels, and at two very different levels.

At the high end, you've got the whole telepresence phenomenon, which has obviously been touted by Cisco very widely, and Cisco has been joined by companies that make what I would call serious enterprise video conferencing [technology]. There has been tremendous interest in understanding telepresence, and especially in understanding the advantages and disadvantages of telepresence, compared to the last 20 years or so of video conferencing solutions that have been deployed in the enterprise.

On the lower end, the consumer end, we've got multiple things going on, including Skype video, which is now a phenomenon of great familiarity to millions, or perhaps even tens of millions, of people. So people are becoming much more familiar with video and video conferencing, which then translates into the enterprise.

At the same time, enterprises are looking at getting out from underneath the room-based video conferencing system environment. The idea of personal video conferencing in the enterprise has been a very controversial subject in the industry since about 1994, when it was first introduced by Intel, AT&T and others. It seems like every year we think, "This is the year that personal video conferencing is going to take off." There's always a reason to think that. And then, in hindsight, there was always a reason why it wouldn't take off.

So this year, what's the reason it will take off, and what's the reason it won't?

Davis: Well, you have to believe that the big reason it will happen is a tremendous push by Microsoft related to its OCS, or now CS, 14. The companies we've spoken to, the end users, say they are looking at Microsoft's platform as the platform for their future deployment of desktop video conferencing. It changes the dynamics. You have click-to-call. You have instant access to the Active Directory. Many companies run on Microsoft's software, so this integrates easily with what they're already using. And it integrates video into the corporate environment, which is something that's long been missing. ... [Microsoft now has] their hooks into video, and the wide push and acceptance that we've seen for the OCS or CS is the reason to think, "Yes, this is what will drive it to be an actual market."

Now, why won't it happen? Two very important reasons. One is that IT departments are still concerned about the effect of putting hundreds or thousands of enterprise video users onto their enterprise LANs and the possibility that doing so would cause their mission-critical networks to crash.

And on the enterprise user level, there are still a lot of people who are not comfortable with video. They didn't grow up with it, which is what happening with today's high school and college students, and I think many enterprise users look at it as an intrusion. Which, to be fair, it is. There's a difference between getting a call on the phone at your desk and having someone all of a sudden pop up on your monitor, able to see you, and maybe you didn't dress quite so well today. So it can be strange. There's a human familiarity and comfort level [issue] that I think has prevented video conferencing from [gaining] as widespread an adoption as it could have.

If I could, I'd add a third reason, which is related to unified communications. Unified communications and personal video conferencing are two applications for which it is challenging to actually show a return on investment. If you put [video conferencing technology] in a conference room, you can usually tie it to, "I'm going to save on travel and airplane tickets." With desktop video conferencing, the truth is, there are lots of benefits, but it's just harder to quantify them.

You're talking about things like the ability to have a better relationship with your colleagues, to have better and more effective collaboration, to make decisions faster. The list goes on and on. And there are other, personal benefits besides reducing carbon emissions and saving money on plane tickets -- stuff like, I can go to my daughter's recital tomorrow because I'm in Boston and not Chicago -- but it's hard to put that in a spreadsheet with numbers and show it to a CFO and have him believe it. We talk about a lot of these issues during the conference.

This year's Collaboration Summit will also feature a discussion of cloud computing and its relationship to unified communications, conferencing and collaboration. But there are a lot of questions surrounding cloud-based unified communications, including concerns about cloud computing security. How do you see the relationship between cloud computing and unified communications developing?

Davis: First of all, from a unified communications perspective, I would describe unified communications as an embryonic or nascent market, despite all the work of IBM, Microsoft and a few others. I think the penetration of unified communications into the corporate environment is tiny, and I do believe that unified communications, in its larger sense, when you look at all the applications ... I do believe that it, and that cloud-based services, will be accepted, but it may take five or 10 years.

I think companies do not want to deploy and manage [what they see as] these complex infrastructure products. If my business is making drugs, or making automobiles, or airplanes or metal parts, that's my business, and I want to concentrate on that. I don't want to run a complicated environment inside the company to run all of these things. I think there are a lot of advantages to cloud-based applications, and yes, there are some concerns today -- some enterprises are worried about security, and I think some are worried about what happens if the Internet goes down. ...

I think it will require some change of attitude, some change of behavior and some change of work practices. But I do think that services as opposed to products are really where the world will benefit from higher productivity, [as well as in] the ability to have an expert run the environment because that's his job as opposed to [it] being just an employee at a sheet metal company. When it comes to thinking about cloud computing, at an enterprise level, a lot of people are familiar with, so they're somewhat familiar with the concept. On a conferencing and collaboration level, a lot of people are familiar with using audio conferencing or Web conferencing, like Cisco's WebEx ... There is a lot of history of dealing with service providers of a lot of different shapes and colors.

Continued: Wainhouse summit to focus on collaboration, education

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