Interop: Thoughts from Mandalay Bay
I just returned from Interop and a few key thoughts stand out.
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The show continues to be an awkward mix of the gear-focused network vendors and the app-focused software players who want to use the network to run their technologies (although both seem to be increasingly trumped by security vendors, who of course lay claim to both worlds). But if the dichotomy makes anything clear it’s that today, your network is your business—or, to put it another way, you literally can’t run your business without your network. That’s only going to be more true over the coming years, as businesses continue to deploy IP networks, and then run everything they can think of on top of them.
Which sounds to me like opportunity knocking for a company like Cisco. Of course, the networking vendor is looking beyond the low hanging fruit as it continues to make a big push into applications (enterprise and consumer—go figure) and business process integration. To hear John Chambers tell it, for instance, you’d think video conferencing was just invented. I agree with him that we are at an inflection point for video conferencing, spurred by many factors, including the virtual workplace, which imposes a real business need; the move to IP networks, which significantly cut the costs of video conferencing; and the quality and reliability of the technology, ensuring the systems work, every time, for end users. But I don’t agree that telepresence is the holy grail. Telepresence is a nifty solution that will be very valuable for a relative handful of organizations, and complete overkill for almost everyone else.
Meanwhile, Microsoft’s push to support PBXs isn’t exactly surprising. Why? Because they’re there, as Tony Bawcutt, who handles business development for Microsoft’s UCG, told me at the show. Let’s put aside for a minute the fact that this announcement isn’t any different from the one the company made at VoiceCon two months ago. (According to the press release, 12 named companies “have stated their support for the interoperability specification for Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007.” That qualifies as news?) Both announcements come down to the same thing: Microsoft recognizes that companies aren’t ready to ditch their traditional PBXs just yet; Bawcutt didn’t say so, but Microsoft probably also recognizes that most companies aren’t ready to bet their entire communications infrastructure on Redmond’s best yet, either. As one IT manager who oversees his company’s emerging technologies initiatives put it: “I can’t even get Word to work without rebooting my PC at least once a day. They want me to run voice on that, too?”
For those who do buy into Microsoft’s PBX-free world, the question it raises is, “What happens to all those PBX/telephony vendors out there?” We know what Chambers thinks—compete, head to head, by making the network the platform. Bawcutt’s answer: Specialized vertical and horizontal apps that leverage the telephony vendors’ existing expertise in specific industries and job roles. Which sounds good, except that I’m not sure what native expertise those vendors have in specific industries and job roles beyond the contact center… To stay relevant, they will have to fine-tune their focus going forward, and some are better positioned to do that than others.
The show itself felt energized but not crazy—except for the prices the convention center charged for refreshments. $3.50 for a 12-oz bottle of soda? That’s almost as big a rip off as the $27 my hotel wanted to charge me to use the fitness center. Instead, I just shuttled between the convention center and Starbucks several times a day. That counts, right?