Last Thursday we had the first virtual w3c webrtc wg interim meeting. Once we sorted out a few technical details it went quite well!
Meeting Home Page:
Siemens Enterprise Communications has launched a new cloud communications solution. Leveraging SIP, open standards and its highly scalable softswitch-based OpenScape suite, it is looking to provide partners and customers with more flexible deployment options. The cloud solution includes virtualized, multi-tenant versions of Siemens’ OpenScape Voice, OpenScape UC and OpenScape Web Collaboration software, hosted in four geo-redundant data centers. The service features top-notch availability, survivability, governance and data privacy features, including:
- Highest availability, TIA-942 class data center, voice redundancy, secure endpoints
- Edge survivability option, local trunking, IPSec VPN, local firewalls, SBC and media server
- Multi-tier role-based access management, automated management and provisioning, application-level data center protection
- End-to-end encryption in the cloud, local country data storage, multitenant capability, data protection audits
Cloud-based voice and UC services will be available only through partners, who will handle customer needs assessment, CPE installation, billing, 1st and 2nd level tech support and ongoing equipment maintenance. The service will be first launched in the U.S., Germany and the Netherlands. Initial partners include Black Box in the U.S., mr.net and Telefonbau Schneider in Germany, and Televersal, ICT Trends Group and onecentral in the Netherlands.
The cloud solution is considered optimal for organizations with about 350 to 1,000 users, with a need for highly packaged, tightly integrated solutions. Users can choose from a variety of features and capabilities grouped in Base Packs and Booster Packs. The estimated end-user list pricing ranges between $5 and $30 per seat per month, based on required functionality.
What I like about this announcement:
Siemens has finally launched a cloud solution – something it started exploring about two years ago by demonstrating a proof of concept with Amazon’s EC infrastructure. With the incredible (I think, almost unreasonable) amount of hype surrounding cloud technologies and the cloud business model, it was about time for Siemens to finally bring this effort to fruition. I have to agree that there is a group of customers out there that would indeed appreciate the opportunity to outsource its communications infrastructure to avoid CAPEX, focus on core competencies or gain access to superior technologies and expertise. This customer segment would remain out of reach for Siemens, unless it finds an appropriate role for itself in the hosted/cloud-based communications marketplace.
It should be noted that Siemens has had a multi-tenant voice platform for years and some service providers such as Postrack and Engage have been using it to deliver services to end users just like others use BroadSoft’s or Metaswitch’s platforms. Other vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco and Mitel have also deployed multi-tenant communication managers with service provider partners.
The new approach has significant advantages, however. It gives Siemens continued control over the platform and its capabilities. But more importantly, it empowers partners that cannot or do not wish to manage their own data centers to deliver services using Siemens’ feature-rich and highly scalable platform. Siemens allows partners to use its brand, co-market or white label their cloud services. This is an opportunity for them to gain differentiation as well as new recurring revenue streams. This model provides a fast and economical entry point for small MSPs and VARs to become hosted service providers. It is noteworthy that Siemens announces the new solution along with six partners already lined up.
Issues that Siemens will need to address:
Siemens is not alone in this market. Other telephony vendors are experimenting with new delivery models as well. For example, Mitel offers the Mitel Anywhere service, which it sells directly to business customers. Now it is exploring opportunities with data center providers such as Host.net and Hosting.com, which can host the platform on behalf of small MSPs and VARs. Siemens and other vendors will need to find ways to differentiate or be fast to market with the right partnerships while the market is still nascent and untapped.
More importantly, this new delivery model is still unproven and it is not clear how all market participants in the value chain will reposition themselves for competition in the evolving marketplace. Will the MSPs and VARs be successful in penetrating the CPE customer base? Will the vendors be able to successfully manage their channels to ensure customer satisfaction and optimal benefits from the cloud services? How will carriers be involved to ensure proper bandwidth and QoS management – critical elements for real-time communications services delivered over the WAN? Who will manage the carrier relationship? How will the hosted IP PBX and UC solutions be aligned with SIP trunking and IP VPN services to provide superior benefits to multi-site organizations?
On February 10th, Avaya launched a new on-demand, cloud-based option of its immersive web collaboration platform Avaya web.alive. The platform is available both as a premises-based solution and a SaaS offering, the latter being the focus of the new announcement, along with some new features and capabilities.
This new solution presents a virtual reality, which, in some ways, resembles the virtual event platforms (such as those offered by ON24, InXpo and Unisfair) but uses avatars and game-like tools and experiences, more similar to Second Life. I’ve heard some define the “traditional” (only in the context of this fast-evolving space) virtual platforms as virtual events and the likes of Second Life – as virtual environments. The monikers don’t matter much, but there are some differences, which we intend to tackle in more detail in a forthcoming study.
It’s great that Avaya is offering a free web-based demo. Anyone can try the environment at http://avayalive.com/tryit. It will be beneficial for end users to experience this unique, advanced technology first-hand before considering a full-fledged deployment or even a serious pilot. As an analyst, I was privileged to have several sessions with the Avaya team, but I am hearing that there is almost always someone in there who can help random visitors find their way through the different tools and functionalities.
For me, who’s never (NEVER) played any computer games or experienced 3D, doesn’t like Sci-Fi (didn’t even fully appreciate Avatar or The Matrix),… (the list goes on, but you get the idea) … this was both a thrilling and somewhat distracting experience. I did not take the time to test the environment before the pre-launch and ventured into it with a male avatar. Of course, I heard little from the presentation in the first few minutes because I was busy changing my gender and choosing my facial features and clothes to wear.
The next challenge was finding my way around the environment and learning how to control my avatar using the mouse and keypad. Eventually, I found myself standing all by myself in front of the speaker with my head spinning in different directions trying to find the best viewpoint. Somehow, using a 3-rd person view, with my avatar still proudly standing in front of the whole crowd, I managed to get my eyesight so low that I was staring upwards into people’s … well, lower backs. Toward the end of the event, though, I was boldly strolling around the environment, magically walking through people and furniture. And shouting. Until I realized it was not a good idea, because others could hear me without me noticing they were there.
I’ll end the story here and just briefly summarize what I liked and what I would wish to see improved going forward.
The things I liked:
- Such virtual environments are fun! It makes you giddy to design your persona (without the help of cosmetic surgery) and watch yourself from a third person point of view (there must be a split-personality tendency in all of us).
- You do get the impression that you are “meeting” with people in a quasi-realistic social environment, unlike the sensation one gets using more “traditional” conferencing tools.
- I liked seeing the pictures of the people I was close by or talking to, in addition to their oversexed avatars.
- I really liked the presentation and collaboration capabilities. I was able to easily share my desktop and saw demonstrations of video feeds and slide presentations.
- I like the fact that there are private rooms and people can have meetings behind closed doors. Only authenticated users have access to these rooms, but they can authenticate others. Once you are inside the room and the door is closed, no one else can hear the conversation OR see into the room.
- Also, a group engaged in a more private conversation in the public area can use a whisper mode, which is not audible to those at a greater distance but does not degrade the quality of the conversation for the main parties.
- Regardless of my “mishaps” facetiously recounted above, the environment is fairly intuitive and does not take a whole lot of learning to be able to navigate through it.
- I have to give credit to the Avaya people, too – they offered help and were prepared to patiently address all kinds of questions.
- From a business point of view, this solution has tremendous advantages as a web-based, on-demand platform. It is easy to deploy and use, even for small businesses, and is quite cost-effective at $49/month for a single account holder and up to 8 people attending at any given time.
- The platform also offers analytics tools that can help businesses assess the value they are receiving from enhanced collaboration.
What I would want to see improved:
- These visual environments can be very distracting. I heard people saying the virtual experience helped them avoid multi-tasking. In fact, I noticed I was more focused on what was taking place on the screen, but was it really the RIGHT thing on the screen I was watching/doing? I found myself checking people out (some were wearing funky outfits), rather than watching the slides. Maybe there should be a way for the speaker or person managing the event to help/force attendees to focus on the presentation screens whenever appropriate? I would not propose a dress code – that would be taking it too far J
- There need to be some additional privacy options. I discussed the private rooms in the section above, but I believe there should be a way to “encapsulate” people who wish to have a more private conversation in the public area. I imagine, visually it could be something like the Avaya Flare spotlight. In a real-life environment, such as in a typical conference facility, people always complain there aren’t enough meeting rooms and end up looking for these two-armchairs-and-a-table isolated areas in the hotel corridors to have a private chat. At a cocktail party, people use facial expressions and body language to keep unwanted parties out of their private conversation. But the virtual environment needs different tools. I am told that users can see who’s within listening area by watching the number next to an ear icon at the bottom of the screen. But people tend to get distracted or too engaged in a conversation to pay attention. So they need to be able to take precautions.
- Changing your voice, gesturing and other functions are only a right-click away. But I would want to see them in a menu bar – similar to a browser or Microsoft Office experience. It’s all about familiar, user-friendly interfaces, right?
- There needs to be an option to mute everybody (for both the organizers and the attendees), except the speaker. It is distracting when people are chatting around you. Is it like real life? Yes, but we always try to improve real life, don’t we?
- You have to hit Escape to be able to use some of the Options and to do other things on your desktop. It becomes bothersome, if you still want to do some multi-tasking.
- If you have a slow DSL or cable connection, the audio can get garbled. (I had the rare luck to have my Internet service switched to a new provider right in the middle of the launch!)
- Training, training, training!! Yes, it is intuitive; yes, younger generations will figure it out quickly and enjoy it. But for effective business use across different generations and types of users, organizations adopting this tool will need to strongly encourage employees to attend demos and brief training sessions. I have been told that Avaya does offer training. I think customers should not underestimate the value of a proper introduction to the new tool and ensure employees become familiar with key features and functionalities to avoid disappointment and misuse.
Go ahead and try it and let me know what you think. But don’t forget to mute yourself (press M on your keyboard) as you enter the environment or else someone can overhear your business conversations, kids shouting or dogs barking.
Are there other similar platforms you like better? Why?