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Unified communications begs for application layer know-how

The application layer has become a focal point for IT professionals looking to enable unified communications and collaboration at Interop NYC 2013.

It takes a great deal of network infrastructure to enable unified communications and collaboration, but many IT professionals are now focusing on the application-layer issues of UCC. Case in point, collaboration topics are integrated with application-focused sessions at Interop New York 2013 in the joint Applications and Collaboration track.

John Pironti John Pironti

To get an idea of why collaboration concerns are trending toward the application layer, SearchUnifiedCommunications spoke with Applications and Collaboration co-track chair, John Pironti, a well-known industry speaker who is highly decorated with IT certifications. As president of IP Architects LLC, Pironti consults with enterprises on IT strategies, including security, network infrastructure and application deployment.

Can you explain why this Interop track combines collaboration with applications?

John Pironti: Applications, application performance management and collaboration are all being used formally together now. In a lot of IT, different elements are coming together. They're not as individualized anymore because it's like threading a needle: They're depending on each other to be successful. To make applications successful, we need to have effective collaboration, and to make effective collaboration we need to have good application performance management to make sure the unified communications component -- the video-conferencing tools and Voice over IP -- work well.

With collaboration and applications, we're really moving the bar away from infrastructure and starting to raise the conversation to a higher level. We've moved from thinking about the infrastructure, operating systems and networking gear to the application [layer]. Now … [we need] to make sure we're optimizing our application activities … and our ability to enable applications for effective collaborations capabilities.

Is the UC industry as a whole moving away from network infrastructure to the application layer?

Pironti: I don't think it's a move, necessarily, but an enhancement. Our audience wants to continue speaking about the core infrastructure and not move away from that. But the responsibilities of the individuals are starting to change in IT. The focus of the needs of the IT professional are not just being able to focus on that infrastructure anymore, but to appreciate what's going on in applications and [learning] how to optimize them.

One of the track sessions is about video. How can enterprises support video conferencing without causing their networks to 'blow up'?

Pironti: IT professionals are starting to recognize that the business wants video, and it's a natural evolution of the way we're going to do business. But have we established our [network] environments to be able to handle these [video] capabilities properly? It becomes an application performance management conversation. … [Enterprises need to learn] how to monitor how video will impact infrastructure to ensure the business can still continue -- to make sure those emails can be sent and telephone calls can still be made. [IT should ask], 'How do I prioritize [traffic]? How do I even configure … [the network] to make sure that I am providing the most people the best benefit with the best user experience?' Because with video and voice tools, the user experience is not very good if there's any jitter -- if there's any lost signal, they will quickly abandon the technology.

Another session debates Cisco and Microsoft collaboration. Are these competing UC platforms compatible? Can they interoperate at all?

Pironti: While there are ways to make Microsoft Lync interoperate with Cisco, most of the time, I find third parties give the best user experience … by essentially creating bridges between the two environments.

I think that there's a call for open interoperability from the customers. [They're saying], I want to able to call anybody without thinking 'Do I have the right app? Do I have the right underlying subscription service to the right infrastructure?'

I think Cisco and Microsoft are both trying to navigate the waters of how they do that without reducing their profitability and develop technology in a way that's beneficial to their business interests. We're trying to think about how to get these guys and everybody on the same page. And it's not the first time -- nor will it be the last time -- we'll have this proprietary-versus-open-standards conversation.

When it becomes something the population [wants] … eventually you end up going to an open-[standards]-plus-value-add conversation, [where the vendor] will go up to a standard, like the H.264 standard for video, but bill a whole bunch of [value-added features] that make it better to work with their product versus other products.

Many enterprises are also interested in getting UCC applications onto mobile devices. What are some of the pitfalls of mobile application porting?

Pironti: A lot of people think they can port the code [of a desktop app] and it will just magically work [on a mobile device]. Unfortunately, that's not often the case. A mobile platform has other considerations, such as the display area, the processing power, the memory capabilities and what types of database connectivity or interactivity with systems it can have. [IT has to consider] … a terminal versus a local application and centralized computing versus distributed computing.

When we look at porting, we have to ask, 'Are we just trying to give the same experience everywhere, or are we trying to create something that's unique and beneficial to the mobile platform?' That's a business question at the end of the day. A lot of early applications ported what you saw at your desktop onto the mobile device. But in the last 12 to 24 months, I've seen more organizations create a different experience that relays the same information but presents it in a different way.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Tessa Parmenter, site editor, and follow @TessaParmenter on Twitter.

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