Cisco C-Scape - Day 1

Well,there's not much to post about yet, but I've been here for a couple of short receptions. The full Cisco C-Scape event really starts later today. I realize it's now Tuesday for most of you, but it's still late Monday night here in Las Vegas.

I got here early afternoon, and have been catching up on deliverables and email most all afternoon. Things have been fairly quiet on the analyst front, but that's going to change very quickly. Until then, thought I'd pass along a few photos from this afternoon. The real work starts bright and early at 7am, PST!

What do they do with this thing, once the conference is over?

Nice lounge here. I keep thinking about Dire Straights looking at this...."that ain't woikin', that's the way you do it, your money for nuthin...."

Had an interesting visit at the Flip kiosks. This represents Cisco's first true consumer offering, which is a bit of a departure for them. The Flip is a pretty neat product, and I got a taste of all the various flavors they have on tap. I especially liked the underwater model, which was on dispaly here with a waterproof case. It may seem trivial, but with summer here, I can definititely see the appeal. Cisco may have a way to go catch up to Apple in the cool cachet department, but I think they're doing a pretty good job here.

Cisco Has a Message for Carriers - the Future is Video, not Telephony

Cisco made a lot of noise this week announcing the CRS-3 router, and I took part in the webinar briefing. I'm not an expert on routers, but I got some pretty strong takeaways about the bigger picture implications for carriers. In short, their future is about video and the Internet, not telephony. It sounds like strong medicine, and what you'd expect to hear from Cisco, but I happen to agree.

I've put my thoughts together on this for my latest Service Provider Views column, which runs on TMCnet. It's running now, and you can read it here.

You don't have to look far for coverage of Cisco's announcement in the press and blogs, and I'll just steer you to one from here in Canada - - where I contributed some commentary. Just as the carriers face a lot of risk adapting to new technologies and changing customer preferences, Cisco has its own set of challenges, some self-created, and others stemming from general market conditions.

Nobody has a free ride here, so it's an interesting story that goes way beyond the current state of router technology. I'm sure I'll be revisiting this theme soon, but would love to hear your thoughts any time.

Aastra MX-ONE's Canadian Push Continues

Last month, I attended a briefing for Aastra's launch of MX-ONE in Canada. I know it seems strange that a Canadian vendor is just now bringing this solution to the home market, but things are a bit different up here. We don't get a lot of firsts, but we're still #1 in hockey, and hey, Canada won more gold medals than anybody in Vancouver - nothing wrong with that.

Anyhow, I don't have much news for you, but earlier this week I came back to visit Aastra for part 2. This time I got a full demo of MX-ONE, which is their enterprise class offering. As with all the telecom vendors, MX-ONE is much more than an IP PBX. It's full of all the requisite features to support Unified Communications and contact center applications. They showed me lots of multimedia examples, including wireless handoffs, calendaring integration and presence.

Not being an IT guy, this was nice to see, but I found the go-to-market, value proposition conversations more interesting. Probably the most important takeaway here builds on what we heard at the analyst briefing. Namely, their close working relationship with HP, and how MX-ONE offers a versatile and complete alternative to Cisco, as well as Avaya/Nortel. Those are really the major players that Aastra is up against, especially in terms of building their channels. Of course, there is Mitel, Shoretel, etc., but for MX-ONE in particular, they're aiming pretty high.

While the technology appears to be solid, and I'm sure the pricing is attractive, Aastra's biggest challenge will likely be brand recognition. I've long contended Aastra is the best kept secret in this space, and seems typical in so many ways of successful Canadian companies that don't get much attention elsewhere. This is especially strange for Aastra considering they are a profitable public company, rapidly closing in on $1 billion in sales. I don't know how you keep this under the radar much longer, but I don't need that external validation to know that Aastra has a good thing going here.

Just a couple of photos from my visit...

Cisco - Q2 Collaboration Review

Today was the first time I've attended one of Cisco's Collaboration Reviews via telepresence. Telephone or WebEx sessions are the norm, and while they're usually pretty good, TP is the next best thing to being there. Before getting your hopes up too high, this wasn't a full-blown TP session (and I've been on plenty of those). It was just me and their AR liaision, Andrea Berry at Cisco Canada's HQ in downtown Toronto. While this was a global event, with 22 analysts participating, it looks like I was the lone Canadian analyst - lucky me. So, I can say with pretty good confidence that this may well be the first news you've heard about today.

There wasn't anything really groundbreaking, and the session was just an hour - and I mean that literally. Cisco makes extensive use of TP internally, and apparently their TP rooms are booked months in advance. So, when your time slot is up, it's up. The screen abruptly went blank on the host in mid-sentence at 1pm on the dot. Gotta keep the train moving I guess.

Most of the talking was done by two key drivers of their collaboration initiatives - Barry O'Sullivan - SVP Voice Technology Group, and Carl Wiese - SVP Global Collaboration Sales. They had a lot to recap from the recent quarter, and here are the main points that I can share:

- they posted 17% year-over-year growth across their collaboration portfolio - UC, contact center, telepresence, IP telephony, WebEx, etc.

- like any vendor in this space, they have been aggressively going after competitors who have struggled, namely Nortel, Siemens and ALU

- while revenues were not disclosed, they cited early successes in their various spaces - 12 customers now using WebEx Mail (all are U.S. and primarily SMB), 450+ are using cloud-based IM, over 3,600 locations using telepresence, and 75 customers using Show and Share

- perhaps the strongest message overall was their move into hosted services - this will now give their customers a choice between premise-based and carrier-based solutions

- highlights were given about 4 recent customer wins - each one showcasing a particular strength of Cisco or attractive market opportunity

- their objective of providing "pervasive video" - both big and small - was briefly discussed, but no updates on the Tandberg deal were given

A couple of these points warrant a bit more detail, so here goes...

Regarding WebEx Mail, that was a highlight for me at their Collaboration Summit last November. They shared one lesson learned with us today, which I found interesting. Their early deployments did not support BlackBerry, and it looks like they underestimated how important this was, even for SMBs. As such, they've had to accelerate BlackBerry integration to keep these deployments moving forward. I asked if they had any indication yet as to whether their email platform has led to faster adoption of other collaboration tools. They liked the question, but didn't have much to say - am guessing it's early days, but I have to think that's the end game here.

The move to hosted has huge implications, and the analysts had lots of questions about this one. I wanted to better understand the role they seek to play, especially in terms of owning the customer and sharing revenues with service providers. They talked about their intent being to get the carrier set up to offer hosted, and then let them run with it. The acronym they used is BOT - "Build, Operate and Transfer". That's the process, and we'll just have to see how it actually unfolds. It's clear they want to have it both ways - deploy on-prem, as well as partner with carriers - with the customer choosing the best path. They wouldn't quantify the market opportunity, but did go so far to say that it "appears real". They're in talks with 10 carriers now, and BT is the one they point to as an announced partner for hosted. There is a lot of potential here for channel conflict, and Cisco is not afraid to tread on new ground. However, I got the sense they are approaching hosted cautiously, and it looked to me like they were choosing their words carefully. Regardless, they're not going to ignore the hosted market, so get used to it, folks.

Two customer wins were of particular interest to me. One was Duke University, where they talked about how they're using telepresence to help extend the classroom experience off campus. I've long felt that distance learning is a huge opportunity, and that IP technologies will play a big role in re-defining higher education.

The other customer win was Molina Healthcare. Aside from this being another great vertical market for collaboration, they cited an interesting outcome from deploying telepresence there. They're finding that people are meeting twice as often, but for half as long. That's a pretty good result, and a great way to validate the value of telepresence.

Finally, I just had to comment on the actual experience of using TP today. Since the topic was collaboration, one would expect the tools for the meeting would properly reflect that. For the most part they did. Even though the screen we used was fairly small - see photos below - both the audio and video quality were very good. However, there was no use of split screens, which would have been effective at times, since Barry and Carl were in different locations. As such, the visuals were very much in a serial manner. One speaker at a time - cut to the next speaker - cut back to the first speaker, etc. I found it a bit like watching a newscast - it's ok, but not that engaging.

Two other small things. I suspect other locations had multiple screens, whereas we only had one. When the host was addressing me, she was looking to the right, which must have been the screen she was seeing me on. This would look perfectly normal from her end, but Andrea and I only saw her looking right, and not at us. This takes some getting used to, as it wasn't clear that she was talking to me. To us, it looked like she was talking to someone else. Live and learn.

The other small thing was the use of a slide deck during the session. They were really just used in passing reference, and most of our attention was centered on the speakers. That was probably for the best, since the slides were only displayed in the bottom right corner of the screen. Since we had a small TP unit, the slides were really small, and almost impossible to read. I'm sure this would be less of a problem on a full-size system, so I guess this comes with the territory. On the other hand, I would have been just as happy to have no slides, which would give us an unobstructed view of the speaker (see photos below). For any speaker sitting on that side of the screen, the slides block out a good portion of their body. While Anderson Cooper would probably roll with that, Ted Baxter would be freaking out - so, as long as the egos are in check, it's probably not a problem. :-)

Barry O'Sullivan

Carl Wiese

Google + Gizmo5 = More Disruption

Voice continues to be a really interesting space, and while I was attending Cisco's Collaboration Summit this week, a couple of notable developments took place. On the topic of disruption, Cisco is doing its best to upset the apple cart and reinvent itself as a software company. During their summit, we got a steady diet of collaboration, video, cloud services and the new world of work, but never a word about routers. Anyhow, you can review my earlier posts this week for more about that.

Back to Google. I'm going to keep things short and steer you to a nice piece that ran in Wired on Wednesday. It sums up the Google/Gizmo5 story quite well, and give appropriate kudos to uberblogger Andy Abramson, who has been on the right side of deals like this for some time. Many of his clients have had successful exits, and he's been writing about Michael Robertson and his Gizmo venture for ages. Great to see Andy get his due in a publication like this.

More importantly, Google is methodically building on their earlier GrandCentral acquisition (another Andy thread here) to create a bona fide service in Google Voice that should be cause for to concern to anyone in the voice business. In some ways, this could be the first serious challenge to Skype, especially since Gizmo5 is totally SIP-based, and can connect to all the mainstream IM platforms, including Skype - and Skype can't do that. So, this has the potential to become a truly global any-to-any service, and if the quality is there, this can be a big deal.

I say so for two simple reasons. First, between GrandCentral and Gizmo5, Google has move to the head of the line without even spending $100 million. They've been accumulating fiber for years - not likely at great expense - and through the wonders of the Internet and an endless expanse of server farms, they can now compete against any carrier in any part of the world, all of whom are struggling to compete under the weight of complex, expensive communications networks.

Not only that - my second reason - but Google doesn't need to make money with voice - at least right away. Skype needs every penny it can get from subscribers since that's their only real revenue source. Google still makes most of its money from advertising, so they can run Google Voice without much regard for making money, which is a luxury no other operator can afford. Pretty interesting set of circumstances to say the least.

Anyhow, I have three posts to steer you to that cover the ground very nicely. First is the Wired piece I referred to earlier; second is Andy's post - which ran before Wired's story, and finally, Andy's post from today, which notes that the deal is now official. I'd say everyone connected to these posts is pretty happy today.

While I have you, Google/Gizmo5 isn't the only deal going on this week of note. These things always seem to happen while I'm away. A step or two away from the world of Google Voice/Google Talk is Jajah, a company I've followed and written about for a while. Sooner or later you know they'll be a target, and you may have picked up on this from TechCrunch. I don't have anything new to add, but this item doesn't surprise me in the least. They are another disruptor like Google, and following Ribbit's acquisition last year by BT, these companies are truly validating Web 2.0 as a platform for creating, hosting and providing all forms of communications services. This is not good news for incumbents.

Finally, let's not forget Logitech, who have made their second video acquisition of note. Following last year's pickup of SightSpeed, this week they announced their deal for LifeSize, valued at $405 million. This deal pales besides Cisco's dogged attempt for Tandberg, but together, all of this activity points to some serious consolidation coming in the video space. And this brings my post full circle to Cisco. For them, video is every bit as disruptive as voice is for Google, and when players of this size make moves all at the same time, you know big things are coming. It's made for a busy week, and I'm happy to end the week posting about it.