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April 4, 2012

Last week I headed out to Orlando for Enterprise Connect 2012, which is probably the world’s premier trade show focusing specifically on Unified Communications (UC).  The show was very busy, attended by literally thousands of people: although it is difficult to say how many of them were customers and how many were vendor staff, there was certainly a great deal of buzz and activity.  The main activities were:

  • 2.5 days of exhibits featuring 58 sponsors and 92 other exhibitors
  • 6 vendor keynotes from Cisco, Avaya, Verizon, Microsoft, Siemens and IBM
  • 8 concurrent topic tracks featuring over 50 breakout sessions, most of which were directly related to NextPlane’s value proposition, including:
    • Cloud-based Communications
    • Managing and Securing Converged Networks
    • Social Apps and Networks
    • Strategies for Communication and Collaboration
    • Unified Communications
    • Video

The show has evolved over the last few years from when it used to be called Voicecon and covered the enterprise voice business.  I am convinced that the organizers made the theme transition to UC just in time, since few if any of the talks or exhibits were about PBXs or telephony, they were all about multi-modal communications and collaboration.  The numbers above show that UC has definitely ‘crossed the chasm’ and is now a multi-billion dollar growth business.

My main reason for attending, apart from the obvious, was that I was invited to participate in a panel on “UC Federation: When Will We Get There?”  The other panelists were executives from the big UC platform players, Cisco, Avaya and Microsoft.  It was a great session and there was a lively exchange of views.  All agreed that UC Federation was gaining momentum as a communications technology; the main disagreement was about whether multi-vendor federation was a reality today or not.  You can guess that I argued that it is not, but curiously some of the other panelists put forward the idea that their technology was interoperable with that of other vendors.  I can only attribute this to a degree of marketing ‘spin’, since admitting that they didn’t interoperate would therefore suggest that their technology is proprietary, with all the negative connotations that are implied by that.

Although the current state of federation was in dispute, the future seemed to be rosy, with many of the panelists asserting that seamless collaboration would become a reality as the technology evolved.  The Avaya rep (I think) spoke of a seamless inter-vendor, inter-company collaboration experience where authorization and authentication was invisible to the user.  However, the Microsoft rep as stated that he didn’t see this happening overnight and this comment was quoted in a blog that was posted immediately after the panel session.

What we do at NextPlane is to make inter-vendor federation work, so we know in very specific detail what the challenges are in the realization of this vision.  Therefore, I have to agree with the Microsoft point of view and disagree with the others.  However, it is encouraging to note that the potential of federation as a communications medium has been recognized by the early adopters of UC technology.  A report that appeared during the show on the NoJitter site (which is produced by the same Enterprise Connect team) provided evidence that there are over 9,000 organizations worldwide that are currently capable of UC Federation.  That, along with the whole Enterprise Connect experience, had me feeling pretty good going back to the office, if a little daunted that there is still a lot of work to do.

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