Avaya Makes a Bold Move into the Video Collaboration Space
On September 15th, Avaya announced several new products that nicely round up its Unified Communications (UC) applications and endpoints portfolio. The product launch focused mostly on video conferencing and video collaboration. Unlike its arch rival Cisco, Avaya has been lacking strong video capabilities, though it has been working closely with partners such as Polycom to provide end-to-end UC solutions to its business customers.
With its new Avaya Desktop Video Device and enhanced video support through Avaya Aura 6.0, Avaya is now able to deliver more comprehensive video conferencing capabilities on its own. The new Android-based device features a small form factor, touch-screen technology, HD video and audio, bandwidth efficiency, mobility (using WiFi, Bluetooth or 3G/4G via a USB plug-in) and a competitive price in the range of $3,000 to $4,000.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the new video device is the Avaya Flare experience. Avaya Flare is a user-centric UC interface with a spotlight in the middle that highlights ongoing communications sessions (IM, audio or video calling, and so on); on the right hand side – a list of contacts arranged by source – corporate directory, Facebook, etc. – and searchable by name; and on the left-hand side – a list of applications (such as calendar, for example). The Flare interface allows users to conveniently drag contacts into the spotlight and choose a communication mode based on presence status and/or the user’s preference and purpose. With an easy click of a phone icon, for instance, all contacts in the spotlight are immediately joined into a conference call. Other possibilities include video, IM, email, social (networking) and slideshare. Web conferencing is built into Flare as well.
In essence, the Avaya Desktop Video Device is a high-end, SIP-based, multimedia endpoint that enables users to conveniently use a variety of communication modes to communicate and collaborate more effectively. While the price point is certainly high for the average phone user, for users looking for cost-effective video, the Avaya Desktop Video device offers a compelling alternative. Typical users of such videoconferencing endpoints can be found in the legal or healthcare sectors, for example. Dr. Alan Baratz demonstrated a scenario in a healthcare environment where a specialist doctor was contacted via video to properly diagnose a patient. For a busy, multi-tasking and typically mobile executive, this device can prove a highly effective communications and collaboration tool, competing with a Cisco CIUS or an iPad as well as emerging smart deskphones.
The good news for those looking for a smart interface, yet not crazy about video or unable to afford the premium price, is that Avaya plans to introduce the Flare experience on other devices as well. In the near term, Flare will be available on select Avaya 9600 series phones and eventually – on smartphones. Integration with Microsoft Outlook for contact management and ability to control voice, conferencing, IM and presence can turn the SIP deskphone into a smart device providing a single point of access to communication tools currently available on disparate endpoints (e.g. IM and presence on PCs and laptops, voice on phones, and so on).
Furthermore, Avaya one-X Communicator 6.0 will provide ad-hoc video conferencing capabilities to Aura customers looking to use their PC or laptop as their primary interface to multiple, integrated communication and collaboration tools. Presence and IM federation, tight integration with Outlook, Communicator, Microsoft Office, IBM Sametime and Lotus Notes, video interoperability across Avaya’s portfolio and third-party endpoints, and centralized management through Aura, make Avaya’s one-X Communicator UC solution an appealing option for desk-bound knowledge workers and other heavy communications users.
Avaya also announced its Avaya Aura Collaboration Server – a virtualized platform delivering all Avaya Aura 6.0 core capabilities, including the Session Manager, Presence Services, Communication Manager and System Manager, on a single server. This is a cost-effective (list priced at $27K) solution for up to 50 users that allows businesses to leverage Avaya Flare and Avaya videoconferencing while avoiding a large CAPEX commitment.
Avaya also highlighted its professional and managed video services capabilities, which will be key in complex environments and with businesses lacking sufficient in-house expertise to deploy and manage advanced video applications on their own.
Finally, Avaya launched the Avaya web.alive Experience – a cloud/SaaS-based collaboration solution featuring a 3D environment with avatars. Avaya web.alive enables users to collaborate using audio or video conferencing and sharing presentations and other content. Businesses can license a “space” within that environment and then customize it based on their needs. It is also available for on-premises implementations when security and control are key concerns (for instance, in government deployments). While the avatars create the illusion of an immersive experience, their movement on the screen may be distracting to some users. They may wish to use a 2D version and still leverage the full range of collaboration capabilities available on the platform. The web.alive Experience is being touted as particularly effective in marketing and sales scenarios (when presenting to customers and demonstrating the capabilities of specific products or solutions) and in e-learning environments. The platform provides interesting analytics tools that can be used to assess the effectiveness of collaboration and each participant’s contribution to the collaborative process.
Some customers inquired about the possibility of Avaya delivering certain advanced features such as video call park, hold, transfer, and so on in the future. Avaya confirmed that it can eventually enhance the video capabilities using Aura. Avaya was also asked to substantiate its claims of significant hardware cost reduction compared to competitors. It responded that it had benchmarked itself against Polycom and Cisco/Tandberg and came up at a 20% to 30% cost advantage vis-à-vis Polycom and up to 70% cost advantage vis-à-vis Cisco.
During Q&A, Avaya also provided some clarifications around the deployment options for the new video solutions. All new capabilities are available with Aura 6.0; however, previous Aura versions, as well as IP Office, can be front-ended with the Collaboration Server in order to leverage existing infrastructure and take advantage of the new capabilities. Additionally, through Aura, other vendors’ telephony platforms can also be integrated with Avaya’s video solutions. Furthermore, Aura provides bridges between Avaya’s new SIP-based solutions and existing H.323 video systems.
With the new announcements Avaya once again demonstrated its commitment to innovation and continuously enhancing the value of its products and solutions. It’s made some strong claims about the cost efficiencies and productivity benefits of its solutions and it remains to be seen how those become realized in individual customer scenarios. Also, Avaya has traditionally benefited from its more partner-centric approach (vis-à-vis Cisco’s one-stop shop approach), including in the area of video collaboration, and it will be important for Avaya to continue to function effectively in a broader eco-system. While the Aura architecture enables Avaya’s customers to leverage multi-vendor technologies for best results, it is possible some of its former partners may feel threatened by the new move. However, with the growing recognition of the value of videoconferencing in replacing costly travel and helping geographically dispersed teams collaborate more effectively, Avaya has rightfully sought to enhance its video capabilities. The new video solutions are likely to help it broaden its customer reach and add new sources of revenue.