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Industry trade shows can be a lot like going to the shows in Vegas. Some of the same technologies headline year after year. And so it is with some unified communications topics at the Enterprise Connect 2014 conference this month. Certain technologies are being hyped for the second or (insert number here) year in a row. Some have aged beautifully, while others just hang on, like a lukewarm entree at a buffet.
We hear a lot of the same buzzwords, but time isn't standing still in the world of UC. It's just that the technologies and the problems they're intended to solve take time to evolve. To get a better idea of what's commanding attention at Enterprise Connect in Orlando, the SearchUnifiedCommunications editorial team talked to UC specialist Irwin Lazar, senior director and vice president of Nemertes Research, who pops up all over the Enterprise Connect program. From WebRTC to video to mobile UC and call center data analysis, here's what Lazar hasin mind.
What are some of the big UC topics people are talking about this year?
Irwin Lazar: WebRTC is one of the big areas again this year, even though there aren't any products yet, only some WebRTC gateways. Every vendor I've talked to has announced products coming or will make announcements at the show. But the only product I know of is from Genband, a UC platform that competes with Cisco and Microsoft.
And of course there's the Microsoft Lync debate. This will be the third straight year of companies asking lots of questions. They're asking who wins: Polycom, Avaya, Cisco or Microsoft? The discussion for years was about how to integrate [UC products], but vendors aren't that interested in integrating, so we have to pick winners and losers.
What are all of the questions about Lync? Are people confused?
Lazar: They're not confused. Microsoft is very aggressive in going after the Avaya and Cisco installed base. Microsoft tells them, 'You already pay us for a license that includes voice. You use us for IM and Web conferencing. So just use Lync for voice and telephony, and you don't need to pay Avaya and Cisco anymore.' That argument resonates with businesses, but people want to understand Lync calls.
How do you assess Microsoft's position on voice?
Lazar: Microsoft says it's free. Our data shows it's not that simple. You end up having to do things like buy new phones if you want to use desktop phones, or buy gateways or recording tools wrapped around your current telephony system. In Microsoft's case, equipment comes from a bunch of different manufacturers. They don't make anything but the core software. It becomes a challenge for a company to figure out how to manage all of that.
Whether UC components will ever be integrated remains a question after all these years. Any progress with that?
Lazar: There's no motivation for the vendors to integrate. In terms of federation, NextPlane sells it as a service and will focus on B2B federation. There might be a home there if you're going to have solutions that will support a mixed-vendor environment. You see companies like Sonic sell interworking and session management as a product, but it sort of starts to break down because what you want to do is make the user experience integrated. If you're running different, multiple software apps, you can federate on the back end, but it's confusing on the desktop from the end-user perspective.
Is there much movement within contact center space?
Lazar: There's a lot going on with contact center analytics and big data-type applications to help you glean information from your contact center data. One interesting company is Calabrio, which does big data analytics to monitor text chats and pull useful information like keywords, themes of conversations being held.
The video-conferencing space gets a lot of attention. Is desktop video eating away at the room-based video market?
Lazar: There are a lot of low-cost video vendors worth checking out. Google is trying to disrupt the video market with its $1,000 Chromebox room system, as are a number of other vendors, like Blue Jeans Network. CaféX Communications may be the first WebRTC startup to deliver WebRTC video capability that can be easily integrated with other business applications. We're starting to look at whether wider access to desktop video is causing a slowdown in video-room systems. So far it hasn't, but if I'm Cisco, I'm definitely worried.
What about the importance of extending UC to mobile devices?
Lazar: BYOD continues to be a big subject. There's a pretty strong uptick in companies deploying mobile clients but not replacing desktop phones with them because of concerns over quality. Still, whatever you're deploying, you better have a good mobile client. Also, companies have an increasing number of employees using tablets as a primary device -- about 13%.
Last question: Do you think anyone will be discussing the demise of the PSTN [public switched telephone network]?