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UC news 2010: Enterprise video conferencing matures, interop falls short

UC pros sought to mature their deployments in 2010 by integrating collaboration tools with enterprise video conferencing and social media. But interoperability remains a problem.

In 2010, unified communications professionals shifted their focus from voice over IP (VoIP)-centric to collaboration-centric deployments.  UC pros no longer considered effective user communication as their primary challenge. Instead, they looked for ways to make people more productive. Enterprises integrated technologies such as enterprise video conferencing and social media into collaboration platforms or vice versa, but many unified communications interoperability issues remain unresolved. In no particular order, here is our take on the top UC news trends of 2010:

More to think about with enterprise video conferencing

Video conferencing vendors still offer up their fair share of generic marketing pitches about the benefits of "rich social context" and "immersive face-to-face collaboration," but this year many UC pros moved beyond the mundane. They instead wanted to see vendors address technological and even cultural nuances of video conferencing and telepresence. Enterprises have discovered that a telepresence meeting or multipoint video conference is no more productive than any other kind of meeting if participants don't have access to collaboration tools

Enterprises also pressed vendors on video conferencing and telepresence interoperability, asking this year for inter-company communications with clients, partners and suppliers. As prices came down while capabilities improved, some enterprises experimented with using the Internet for HD video conferencing

Although it was not a big problem in 2010, industry experts started warning enterprises that the rising adoption of telepresence may soon make those executive suites prime targets for video conferencing security threats. On a logistical level, increased adoption may also lead to more scheduling squabbles, highlighting a need for more advanced calling features and improved telepresence-to-desktop interoperability.

Unified communications interoperability still a challenge

Some vendors claim that Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is the vessel for unified communications interoperability, bringing us much closer to UC nirvana. We're still waiting to reach enlightenment. At this year's VoiceCon -- oops, Enterprise Connect -- UC pros made it clear that SIP compliance doesn't mean unified communications interoperability and vendor lock-in is still a reality. 

Video conferencing and telepresence vendors remain the most visible UC interoperability holdouts, struggling to harmonize different user experiences in addition to interoperability challenges with the technologies themselves. Cisco Systems said it was committing to open standards by making its Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP) publicly available -- so much for SIP. 

Although some UC pros have succeeded in integrating multiple platforms through plug-ins and open APIs, vendors finally moved past the denial phase when a coalition of them announced the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF). Vendors claim the UCIF will foster hardware and software interoperability among various UC products. We'll believe it when we see it.

Interest grows in enterprise social media, adoption uncertain

Enterprise social networking is well-established with outward-facing business units, such as marketing and human resources, which use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to interact with customers, potential clients or job candidates. Enterprise social media as an internal communication and collaboration tool -- via consumer sites or enterprise social software that offers a "Facebook for the enterprise" feel -- got a lot of hype in 2010, but adoption has not quite followed. This year showed us that enterprises are still wrestling with social media governance, compliance and enforcement issues. 

Even as vendors released more enterprise-friendly social media tools with added security and UC integration features, UC pros remained lukewarm to the tools’ value as collaboration plug-ins or platforms. "We are trying to figure out how those apps are being used for business purposes and how many people are just going to Farmville," one IT pro told us.

The future of Avaya-Nortel

Just as the collapse of Nortel Networks remains one of the biggest UC stories of 2009, the fallout that followed became one of the most important UC stories of this year. Avaya, which picked up Nortel's Enterprise Solutions suite off the scrap heap, unveiled its Avaya-Nortel integration roadmap within the first few weeks of 2010. The integration would center on Avaya's new UC platform, Aura, highlighting the market's shift in focus from hardware to software. 

Later in the year, Avaya followed up on that promise by releasing a suite of virtualized UC applications to run on Aura, including a virtual session border controller (SBC). Most recently, Avaya announced updates to Nortel's Agile Communications Environment (ACE) platform, which will breathe some new life into our old friend communications-enabled business processes (CEBP).

New service delivery models: VoIP virtualization and UCaaS

Virtualize a customer relationship management (CRM) application? OK. Virtualize a network switch? Fine. Virtualize real-time communications infrastructure? Whoa, let's not get crazy or anything. That was the old way of thinking. Then VMware upgraded vSphere to support real-time communications, and vendors, such as Mitel, released virtual call control servers toward the end of 2009. This year, we saw UC pros take the plunge and put VoIP virtualization into production

As the year wore on, Avaya released a full suite of virtualized UC applications and infrastructure for its Aura platform, including a virtual SBC, virtual session manager and virtual IP PBX. By the end of the year, major providers began to enter the cloud-based UC as a Service (UCaaS) fray. Although UCaaS has not gained mainstream adoption, market-leading UC vendors and service providers have the means and clout to give cloud-based UC more credibility, which will likely pave the way to greater uptake in 2011. 

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