Two themes stood out at this year’s spring VoiceCon conference: green computing and delivering on the early promises of unified communications.
Between the unusual step of having former Vice President Al Gore speak to attendees via Cisco Systems’ Telepresence system in the March 19 keynote, and several vendors emphasizing the green features of their wares, the conference really raised awareness of technology’s potential contribution to the environment.
Nortel Networks, for example, introduced the Nortel Energy Efficiency Calculator, which allows users to model energy consumption to analyze the impact of current or planned network infrastructure deployments on energy consumption.
Nortel claimed that its calculator shows that Nortel equipment requires less power than competing Cisco products. “It’s not just green, it’s about saving money. Why pay the Cisco power tax?” asked Net Payne, vice president of North American marketing at Nortel. “The calculator shows real-life data that we save up to 50 percent of power costs over Cisco.”
A nod also goes to VoiceCon’s organizers for the non-technical efforts, including putting out recycle bins for program guides, lanyards and plastic ID holders. I would add another item to that list: recycle bins for the mountain of empty plastic water bottles.
This year vendors had real progress to show to accompany their talk about unified communications, with the launch of a multitude of products aimed at making voice a component of a wide range of productivity-improving applications.
There were major product launches from Microsoft and Nortel through their Innovative Communications Alliance, as well as showings from Avaya, NEC, Mitel Networks and Polycom, and ShoreTel previewed the upcoming Version 8 of its Professional Call Manager software in its booth at VoiceCon.
In addition to making its user interface easier to use, ShoreTel in the upcoming release will add SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) support between the call manager and IP handsets, one-touch video calling and integration with Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Exchange 2007 as well as IBM Lotus Sametime.
ShoreTel was a crowd-pleaser for the second year, with attendees voting ShoreTel best of VoiceCon once again.
Offerings from Motorola and Avaya; big vendors trade barbs
Motorola, for its part, demonstrated three new offerings under its Total Enterprise Access & Mobility moniker: support for voice over Wi-Fi, the extension of PBX services to Motorola smart phones, and the ability to hand off calls from a WLAN (wireless LAN) to a WAN.
Avaya will step up competition with Nortel on the services front by building out an in-house consulting practice focused on the business and technical aspects of UC. If all goes as planned, the Avaya UC Services organization could end up with “a 1,000-person consulting capability globally for end clients and enabling partners,” said Ajay Kapoor, leader of the Unified Communications Practice for Avaya.
To help reduce confusion among customers about what UC is and what business value it delivers, Avaya UC Services will focus on specific worker profiles, how specific types of businesses and their processes work, and how tailored UC offerings can help improve productivity, the company said.
“We’re linking profiles and tying those in with hardcore technical integration across multivendors, including Microsoft, [different] mobile devices, and extending the Avaya product footprint,” Kapoor said.
The tendency to sniping between vendors seemed to reach new heights at VoiceCon, particularly in the keynotes. Cisco took most of the hits, between Avaya’s Lou D’Ambrosio breaking Cisco’s gift of a giant chocolate bar with Cisco’s oversized logo on it and Microsoft’s Gurdeep Singh Pall criticizing Cisco’s single-vendor, vertical approach to UC. All Pall’s talk about the openness of Microsoft’s approach to unified communications seemed rather disingenuous.
“It’s great to hear Microsoft talk about interoperability. I hope they mean it,” quipped IBM’s Lotus General Manager Mike Rhodin in an interview with eWEEK. “Our focus is on the client, not the competition,” he added.
Rhodin couldn’t resist taking the air out of Pall’s balloon. Microsofties demonstrated a partner prototype of a radiology collaboration tool during Pall’s keynote. Rhodin, in his keynote, pointed out that an IBM partner already has such a tool on the market, integrated with Sametime.
“The things Microsoft announced this morning we announced over two years ago. We’ve had our open programming model for two years. Our [presence] federation has been in place a year. Integration with Carestream came out last fall,” Rhodin said in the eWEEK interview.