InterOp NY - UC Doesn't Register on the Mobility Track

22 Oct 2010

InterOp New York just wrapped up and as usual the bulk of my time was spent in the Wireless and Mobility sessions (the exception being a stop at Marty Parker's session on Interoperability in UC). Given its legacy as a data infrastructure show, there was lots of discussion of Wi-Fi, though that conversation has now devolved to arcane issues of architecture that left me with the feeling I had been watching so many angels dancing on the heads of so many pins.

The one thought that struck me most pointedly was the fact that the term "unified communications" was totally absent on the mobility track. I did bring it up in my session ("Darwin and the Handset: Who Survives"), but outside of that there was nary a mention. Eric Krapf moderates a separate track on VoIP and Unified Communications, and while their sessions were in an adjacent meeting room, there was clearly a high wall between them.

"Voice" did at least get a passing mention in the session "The All Wireless Enterprise: Can Wire be Replaced." The inclusion came about because two of the panelists, Marten Terpstra and Scott Lindsay came from Avaya and HP respectively - albeit from the WLAN parts. They were able to point out that as we are still unable to transmit electric power through the air in a practical fashion, there will be a role for wire (and Power over Ethernet) so long as desk sets and reliability are still part of the picture.

The counter to that came from Joe Epstein, Senior Director of Technology at WLAN switch maker Meru Networks (and one of the brightest guys you'll ever meet) who said simply, if I need to make a call, I'll grab my cell. Given that Meru's original value proposition was based on their unique scheduling mechanism that could optimize voice over the WLAN, I guess that says something.

The idea that screams through all of this is that mobility has taken on a life of its own, and among the thought leaders, UC is not even on the radar. That means the idea of "UC integrating mobility" is like the idea of the guppy swallowing the whale.

When it comes to enterprise networking, the issue of who comes out on top may hinge on another idea that got significant airtime, the consumerization of IT. Mobility is clearly the front lines of the consumerization battle, a battle that really took shape around the idea of users dumping their stodgy BlackBerries and bringing their iPhones (or Androids) to work.

Having grown up in the command and control mentality of traditional IT, (hey, I did "3270 networks!") and having had to deal with countless issues surrounding network security and support, I was predisposed to trash the consumerization idea. However, even at InterOp where you would think such position would be part of the religion, there was a growing realization that some degree of coalescence to user requests is inevitable if IT is going to survive.

Given the recognition that some degree of consumerization is inevitable, there was much discussion in the mobility sessions about how we could best support this growing population of mobile device types. Mobile device management systems like those from Good Technologies, Sybase, and MobileIron are starting to provide those BlackBerry-like management capabilities for iPhones and Androids (no one is really talking about Windows, WebOS, Symbian or any of the other options), however, some changes in policy, user responsibilities, or the requirement to define different tiers of support for different platforms will likely be needed in the short-term to bridge the gap.

While this consumerization movement may seem irrelevant to UC, nothing could be farther from the truth. Quite frankly, no one is begging for UC. That thought should send chills down the spines of the UC proponents, because if they are going to get users excited about UC for user productivity (UC-U) they have a major marketing job in front of them. UC for business productivity (UC-B) is not so directly impacted by user preferences and the case for it could be made in pure ROI terms - though we had better be able to support the user's preferred mobile device as part of the solution.


UC solutions have tried to incorporate mobility with little to show in the way of success - "call forwarding" remains the number one mobile integration solution by my reckoning. One of my favorite observations regarding the move from IP PBXs to software-based UC solutions is "Cisco is king of the hill - unfortunately it's the wrong hill!"

When we look at the overall focus in networking an extension of that analogy might be, "we're focused on conquering the foothills, and we should be gearing up for an Everest expedition." In our rapidly evolving ecosystem success may well hinge on perspective. While the idea of unified communications may be leading edge in our little world, it's not the centerpiece as far as the user is concerned. UC vendors may have to reevaluate their strategies to get in step with the big trends before they start calling UC the "New ISDN."


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