Avaya Adoption of Nortel Data Products Increases Competition with Cisco

Avaya, which already is competing with Cisco and others in the enterprise communications space, now appears to want to take on Cisco in the larger enterprise networking market. Avaya announced that as part of its plans to integrate Nortel into its business, it will keep Nortel's data products, including routers and switches. Avaya will have to invest a lot of money in the products if it plans to compete with Cisco, HP ProCurve and others, analysts said.

There wasn't much surprising in Avaya's road map for integrating Nortel Network's enterprise communications technologies with its own.

In a conference call with reporters and analysts Jan. 19 hours after releasing some details about their plans, Avaya officials spoke of the similar market outlook between their company and Nortel, of complementary UC (unified communications) and call center products that could be integrated, and of their desired to use their 10-month-old SIP (Session Initiation Protocol)-based Aura platform as a foundational technology.

They also talked about continuing the development of support of most Nortel products for several more years as they migrate both Avaya and Nortel customers to the new offerings.

"Their approach was very pragmatic," Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with the Yankee Group, said in an interview.

However, what surprised some industry observers was Avaya's decision to keep-and promises to invest in-Nortel's various data products, including its Ethernet switches, routers and wireless networking offerings.

It was an issue that analysts like Kerravala and David Passmore, with Gartner's Burton Group, wondered about as details of Avaya's game plan emerged.

In an interview before the announcement was made, Passmore questioned whether Avaya would want to get back into a market that has been greatly commoditized, offers low margins and is dominated by Cisco Systems.

The question now becomes, what will Avaya want to do with it, Kerravala said. Avaya already is competing with the much larger Cisco in the enterprise telephony business, he said. Bringing on Nortel's data products "puts them in a position to compete with Cisco for a much bigger piece of the pie," Kerravala said.

In announcing the product roadmap, Avaya officials said a strong network is a key to building the type of plug-and-play UC and collaboration solution set they envision. During the press conference, Alan Baratz, senior vice president and president of global communications solutions at Avaya, expanded on that, saying the company not only will keep the Nortel products going, but also will increase investments in many of them.

For example, he pointed to Nortel's wireless business, which relied heavily upon partnerships, Baratz said.

"But we're investing to bring our own products out," he said.

This should set up some interesting scenarios, Kerravala said. If Avaya does plan to compete in the networking space, it's going to need to invest a lot of money to make itself competitive with the likes of Cisco and some of Avaya's current partners, such as Hewlett-Packard's ProCurve business, Juniper Networks and Extreme Networks.

Such a move also could put a strain on those relationships, which wouldn't be unusual given the rapidly changing landscape in the enterprise networking world. For example, HP is planning to buy 3Com for $2.7 billion in a deal that is expected to close in the first half of this year.

However, if Avaya's plans are to have the data products simply support its UC and VOIP (voice over IP) roadmaps, it would make more sense for the company to sell those data products and partner for the networking technology they need, Kerravala said.

The data space is much more than just UC and VOIP, he said, pointing to such technologies as virtualization and cloud computing, areas that are seeing major investments not only by Cisco but by other vendors as well, such as HP and IBM.

"It's not a simple thing," Kerravala said.

Avaya completed its $915 million acquisition of Nortel's Enterprise Solutions business in December. The sale was part of Nortel's strategy after filing for bankruptcy protection to sell of its businesses piecemeal as the best way of protecting its technologies and employees.

Baratz said that the two companies had a similar vision for what the communications future will be, and that the integration announcement reflects that.

"This roadmap brings together the best of Nortel products wit the best of Avaya products," he said.

Avaya officials will talk further of their integration plans at the ITExpo show in Miami, Fla., which runs Jan. 20-22.