Avaya, Skype Partner on UC Initiative

Avaya and Skype will integrate their communications offerings to enable easier collaboration between Avaya and Skype users via video, voice, IM and presence.

Two weeks after unveiling an aggressive initiative to push into the video communications realm, Avaya is announcing a partnership with voice-over-IP vendor Skype.

The two companies are integrating their IP-based communications offerings, a move that will widen Avaya's UC (unified communications) efforts and give Skype, which has a strong user base among consumers and about 400 million users worldwide, another avenue into the business world.

In a conference call with analysts and journalists Sept. 29, Alan Baratz, Avaya senior vice president and president of Avaya Global Communications Solutions, said the partnership-a combination of marketing and technology development-will address business customers' demands for easier ways to expand their use of Skype in the enterprise.

It responds to requests by businesses "for the ability to leverage Skype as a first-tier communications vehicle in their environment," Baratz said.

Avaya on Sept. 15 unveiled its Avaya Flare Experience, a video communications effort that includes the Avaya Desktop Video Device, an Android-based touch-screen tablet that will compete with Cisco Systems' Cius offering.

The fruits of the partnership essentially will roll out in two phases, the first of which, in October, will involve the integration of voice technologies from the two companies. Avaya's U.S. customers will get access to Skype Connect, which brings Skype calling capabilities to IP-based business communications systems, according to Avaya. The integration is done through a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) communications channel.

The second phase, set for the second half of 2011, will bring integration of Avaya and Skype video and other communications modes, such as telepresence and instant messaging.

The program will initially target U.S.-based companies-small and midsize businesses and enterprises-though the offerings could roll out to other countries later, said David Gurle, general manager and vice president of Skype Enterprise.

The integration will enable Avaya Aura and Skype users to interact through multiple communications modes, including presence, IM, voice and video. Eventually, Baratz said, communications between Avaya and Skype users should be as seamless as Avaya-to-Avaya or Skype-to-Skype calls. Avaya will also provide management products to enable IT administrators to manage their Skype environments. However, users will need to get Skype Connect accounts to take advantage of those technologies.

The partnership comes at a time of rapid change in the industry as vendors pursue UC strategies through acquisitions and partnerships. Cisco Systems is making a strong push to enhance its video collaboration capabilities, with in-house technologies and through its acquisition of telepresence vendor Tandberg.

Video communications vendor Polycom is partnering with a host of vendors, including Hewlett-Packard and Siemens Enterprise Communications, and has hired former Cisco executives as CEO and CTO. And Logitech a year ago bought LifeSize Communications to get a foothold in the video communications field, while Google in May bought Global IP Solutions in what industry observers saw as a move to challenge Skype in the VOIP market.

Avaya and Skype say the alliance is not exclusive, meaning the companies can also partner with other vendors. Rumors have been circulating in the industry about a possible VOIP agreement between Facebook and Skype.

There also has been speculation that Cisco may be interested in buying Skype.

Video will play a major part in the growth of a collaboration industry that Cisco officials have said could grow to $30 billion, as businesses look for ways to reduce costs-including expensive travel budgets-and increase employee productivity.

Given the demand, interoperability will be important. Baratz and Gurle both said the joint products Avaya and Skype bring to market will interoperate with UC systems from other vendors, including Cisco, HP, Microsoft, Polycom and LifeSize.

However, neither Baratz nor Gurle committed their companies to joining the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum, which was formed in May by vendors including HP, Microsoft, Polycom and Juniper Networks. Baratz said Avaya has concerns about the operating model for the group, while Gurle said Skype is still deciding whether to join.