20 December 2010

The Big Lie #2; “Public cloud services save organizations money.”

A few years ago, I rented a washer and dryer for a new apartment.  I paid $42 per month and used them for 18 months, ultimately paying more than the pair would have cost to purchase – in just 18 months! In a possibly more personal example for many readers, the US self-storage industry has 78 square miles of storage space generating revenues of ~$24 billion to store junk worth less than what’s ultimately paid in rent.
Let’s move over to communications and utter the moth-eaten word, “CENTREX.”   You remember, the all-knowing beneficent Telco arranged for you to pay a few pennies a month and voilĂ , the PBX-born headache magically disappeared.  Except a smarter competitor got more features, was more agile, took aspirin for the headache and ultimately owned the depreciated asset for years while the CENTREX continued to pay Ma Bell and in the end got nothing.
At what point would the CENTREX customer have owned the better-featured PBX?  Certainly in less time than the average PBX lifespan of 10-15 years. 
Let’s return to the present where everything old has been repackaged again. 
Before we begin, I want to differentiate the public cloud from a private cloud (or data center deployment).  I believe organizations should own assets and expertise, not rent them.  While I like the architecture that cloud deployments offer, they should be installed in an organization’s own data center.
Also remember that it’s a vendor’s job to pick your pocket.  Like a gold-digging bleach blond, vendors only like customers for their cash; no budget, no love.  And like any good gold-digger, there is always a stream of “events” where big money is needed.  Twenty years ago it was CTI in the contact center, then it was unified messaging, then multimedia contact center and most recently UC, collaboration and video.   On the positive side, given the number of “dialtone and voicemail” RFPs that cross my desk, most organizations are wise to their gold-diggers.
Personally, I believe that the two reasons multimedia failed in the call center came down to value for money and most call centers’ secret desire to train customers not to contact them, ever.  Think about it, 30 minutes on hold and a frustrating dialogue with Paul/Sanjeev is a much richer deterrent for a consumer than a quick text chat with an agent to solve a problem. 
Just today, during a visit to a large retailer, I enquired whether a perishable product was available at the branch closer to my home.  The clerk’s answer was that she didn’t know and didn’t have the phone number to the other branch to find out.  She returned to her Christmas carol induced fugue knowing I wouldn’t bother her again. 
But I digress…
Traditional Telcos are losing landlines faster than some men’s hairlines.  Supplying data and SIP truking just ticks them off; AT and freaking T is the architect of modern communications, it doesn’t “do” PLUMBING.    Adding “value” (read: services or gatekeeping the internet) enables them to save a little face and generate fatter margins.  Because, news flash, just like my washer/dryer, users always pay disproportionally more than they get (Hello, SMS messaging).
Vendors’ nifty diagrams and amortization plans all seem to show hosted solutions being more cost effective than a CPE system in the 5-7 year range (depreciation range).  However, elephant in the room, the average life expectancy of a PBX is between 10-15 years.  Hosting is predicated on the (I believe erroneous) belief that we have entered a new era where communications infrastructure, like PCs, will be replaced in under 5-7 years.  In addition, those payback calculations assume that a customer would be keeping up with every insignificant change over the life of the system.  We all know that’s pretty rare, don’t we, all you happy Definity customers?
Public cloud hosting, CaaS, SaaS or managed services for that matter is simply the creative accounting of shifting money between buckets which ultimately ends up costing users more.  Customers figure they don’t have that nasty PBX to maintain anymore so they can fire Joe, but the hosting provider needs Joe and charges the customer disproportionately more for Joe’s services.   There may be some comfort in receiving a largely unchanging regular bill for communications services, but bill smoothing isn’t savings.
There is also a lie within this lie called multi-tenancy.  The news today is filled with virtualization this and virtualization that, but all that means is that they can stuff the same server counts onto virtualized servers within a blade cage.  Or more simply put, servers are getting smaller and more applications can be run in the same physical space (blade) but each one is a separate instance of the application.  Think of it as duck-taping two laptops together.  They both run Windows and PowerPoint but they are walled gardens.  There may be a minor hardware savings, but that’s not where the big money is today.
True multi-tenancy would really save administration, management and updating time because it’s a single instance with a shared management portal controlling multiple companies’ systems.  Telcos do this all the time; a cell phone isn’t administered on a single dedicated box.  One portal to control many separate customers. 
But multi-tenancy is hard.  Traditional vendors don’t do it.  Cisco doesn’t; Unified Computing System (UCS) is one per customer. When Verizon or BT are seen offering solutions hosted on UCS, picture a locker room with a customer name on each locker. Interactive Intelligence is the same.  Avaya sounds like it can’t catch its breath, h-h-h-h-h-osting?  Alcatel-Lucent gives a French shrug. 
However, Broadsoft can do it. Certain start-ups can do it like LiveOps and InContact in contact center.
As usual, it’s up to end users to pierce the PowerPoint veil because vendors like to turn limitations into must-haves.  This explains why Cisco and Interactive Intelligence talk about the added security of having a dedicated box.  In Cisco’s case this might be understandable; after all, their June 2010 users’ conference (CiscoLive!) was hacked, compromising up to 20% of attendee records.

The other big reason not to go with public hosting is vendor lock-in.  Never underestimate the difficulty in repatriating and rebuilding the data given to the hoster during the initial setup and ongoing usage.   Most organizations will slowly move to hosting to see if it’s right, but even the slowest rollout may not be enough.  After all, the same forces that left customers with 7 different PBXs would likely see future regime changes wanting to leave their own imperator on their IT kingdom – the executive version of rearranging the furniture (and they ALL do it, don’t they rank and file?).
So, are there any reasons to embrace the public cloud?  The answer is a qualified, yes.
First, it’s critical that any organization seeking a hosted solution via a hosting service needs to know who the underlying technology is.  Are you buying Cisco UCS, Broadsoft or Genesys?  Each has their own plusses and minuses.
Quick setup and tear-down of users.  In a LiveOps whitepaper written by Sheila McGee-Smith, one case study talks about a user who has a relatively stable pool of agents during most of the year but experiences a huge swing during the end of the year.  This customer is an HR outsourcer and I suspect they are referring to the period of open enrollments that happen at the end of each year.  However this would also be the case in certain retail environments where Christmas causes a huge uptick in contact center needs.  While this makes perfect sense in some contact center scenarios, if an organization’s rank and file staffing needs swing this wildly, there’s a bigger problem afoot (unless you run a tax preparation service). You can read the full whitepaper here but be warned, LiveOps is one of those companies that views any casual interest as a prospect, so you must register to view it (of course you can make up fake information like I do).
Corporate indolence.  If an organization is slap-dash about keeping systems up to date or staffing up to snuff and has suffered negatively because of this laziness, by all means outsource the problem as a work-around to organizational limitations.  (Yes, Northern Telecom Meridian, Lucent Definity and Rolm 9751 customers, I’m talking to you.) 
Corporate frustration.  Another user in the above mentioned LiveOps whitepaper spoke of the myriad of systems collected over time either from supplier course changes or acquisitions and the difficulty in managing and updating the interconnected systems.  However their moving to the cloud changes the dynamic from too many vendors to, “is this the correct vendor” for the next XX-years?  (The same question had they united under a single CPE vendor).
Communications isn’t our core competency.  Unless you’re a small business with limited resources, this is just weak.  It’s the difference between knowing something and knowing how to Google the knowledge.  One offers direct control, the other is speculative. Can a librarian change a light bulb or must an electrician be called?  
But just as there are reasons to consider the cloud, there are reasons not to.
·         It will cost less.  Scroll up.
·         It’s more secure.  Ask Cisco or any other hacked organization.
·         It severely limits an organization’s ability to change.  Hosting is the bedmate of vendor lock. 
It’s my opinion that end users should PaaS on CaaS and SaaS unless there’s a very specific reason to do so.  Otherwise, I have a WaaSher and dryer I’d be happy to provide.

05 October 2010

IP’s Three Big Lies: "Our solution is 'open' and that matters."

We’ve all heard about the classic “three big lies.”  I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.  The check’s in the mail. I won’t…umm, well, never mind.  Enterprise communications has its own set of lies that vendors feel if they repeat often enough will become true and meaningful.  But like visitors to Jonestown, smart customers should BYOB.
“Open” is a polymorphic term which, like “good pizza,” or “UC,” has no common definition.  Vendors tout their openness with revival tent fever; unfortunately with each latching on to their own interpretation of open, the message is meaningless drivel.  Some clearly believe repetition breeds truth.
Some define “open” as enabling their software to run on third-party hardware –Microsoft Windows is open by this definition, Apple is not.  Looking at the two largest global PBX-makers, both Avaya and Cisco can run their core PBX software stacks on HP, IBM or Dell servers.  Of course, given the bad blood between HP and Cisco these days, I suspect that combo exists largely on paper. 
At the other end of the spectrum we have ShoreTel, growing as fast as the US deficit, running their PBX on completely proprietary ShoreGear switches to largely unconcerned customers. We also have Cisco, who along with Cher, is turning back time with the relatively new ($200 million revenues) Unified Computing System (UCS).  Cisco has transformed their server farms into a more gentleman farmer sized farm running purpose-built blade servers.  “Been there, done that” appears to be Cisco’s open hardware marketing message.
Another definition of “open” surrounds the myriad of industry standard interfaces supported and the SDKs customers can use to build their own connection to a homegrown widget or mashup.  While there is some water being carried here, it’s small, SIPpy cup small.  SIP is supposed to save the world from icky proprietary interfaces.  The only problem is that like other sippy cup users, it is still VERY immature.  SIP’s 30-odd features are a party favor when compared to the 700+ feature sets offered by PBX vendors.  So customers buy SIP phones and then flip the switch on the bottom to Cisco’s SCCP (skinny) or Siemens (CorNet IP) proprietary signaling.  Yes, customers can buy generic cheap generic SIP phones but it’s like buying a keyboard with most of the keys missing.  The reason to buy SIP phones is not for what they do, but what we hope they can do in the future.  And no, this won’t be your last desk phone unless your business plans to banish (largely useless) conference calls (I’d never get any work done without “speaker” and “mute” buttons).
Other standards can be just as bogus. 
For Avaya, with their multi-thousand member Developer Connect program, to shout “open” leaves a taste like chewing tin foil. Heck, many of Avaya’s own applications are treated as “foreign” and have to run through the Application Enablement Services protocol converter to make them speak Avaya-ese.  Not to single Avaya out, every vendor has these types of programs to one degree or another.  In fact as they go, DevConnect is one of the more cut and dried.  Cisco’s program appears to carry the message, “Be happy we’re giving you access.” Someone more generous than I (and working in marketing) might liken partner programs to the application stores run my Apple and Android.
Industry standards versus de-facto standards
It’s a story as old as the hills; the market leaders dictate the standards. De-facto standards bearers Cisco and Avaya can largely dictate their own standards because they control so much of the market for third-party adjuncts it makes monetary sense to build the connection.  Market laggards are left with industry standards because their market opportunity is not great enough to warrant customized development (and market laggards need to connect to Verint too).
Openness doesn’t matter to customers.  Really. 
Say a 10,000-person enterprise wanted to buy a communications system with a fairly standard application set including PBX, messaging, contact center, a bit of conferencing and the traditional third-party add-ons.  Depending on your location, your top choices will be Cisco, Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, NEC or Siemens.  You’re not going to shortlist ShoreTel, Miracall, Interactive Intelligence or Mitel (especially if you’re not English speaking) but you might if you had 300 users.
It’s like buying a house.  People who need 10 bedrooms aren’t worried about getting a single bathroom.  Likewise, the efficiency flat buyer doesn’t want or need a Baccarat chandelier.  
Any prominent vendor within the size/complexity range needed will generally have what those customers want – it’s called market segmentation. Vendors have built multi-billion dollar businesses to cater to specific market requirements.  And that has nothing to do with openness, but their success fulfilling needs. That ability comes in part from the human desire to believe the unbelievable over facts; how else can Cisco’s early rise in the communications market be explained? Ditto for Microsoft’s dreaded entry?
Wanting what you won’t give
Some customers, typically the largest and most complex, want the proverbial keys to the kingdom.  They want all code and features revealed to serve their own purposes.  I’m here to tell you, that’s not going to happen any time soon, UCIF or no UCIF.  It is counter to the revenue generation model used in business and should come as no surprise to the very businesses desiring the transparency.  They are called “trade secrets” and in the words of any 6-year-old, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
To those customers I challenge, before you expect communications vendor to open their kimono, start publishing actuarial tables used to determine insurance rates or the recipe for Coke (and not New Coke) or tell us what’s really in bologna (Halloween seems appropriate).
At the end of the day, “openness” is a shared delusion between suppliers and their customers.  In every business, there is a lot of “bologna” to go around and no one knows for sure what’s in it. 
Next time:  Big Lie #2; XaaS is more feature rich and less expensive than CPE

23 September 2010

To Tablet or not to Tablet: That is the (Business) Question

We’re all captivated by the wave of mobility and collaboration options promised by tablet devices.  Looking at current and coming tablet offers, will they begin to deliver on these dreams?
There are two decisions to be made before tablet-ing – the physical device and application interface.  Avaya has the right idea in (ultimately) separating the tablet hardware from its Flare user experience.  Alternatively, Cisco seems to be following Apple’s example of tight integration between hardware and software. However, the consumer world is less phased by Apple’s frequent refreshes than IT buyers.  Given glacial business tech refresh rates (10 years for a desk phone and 3-4 for a laptop), will too tightly integrated tablets hamstring software innovation to support longer-lived devices?  As a cautionary tale, 2011 is the 10-year anniversary of the Apple iPod; that first model is as sexy as grandma and it’s been left woefully behind in features. This hardware/software dilemma will be explored once the Avaya and Cisco applications are generally available later in the year and if/when their software is jail-broken from their proprietary devices.
From a tablet perspective, the most successful to date is of course the Apple iPad.  What was an indolent company before the iPod, Apple has become the global style and function trendsetter.  Everyone else is a wannabe.  For many, it’s the Geek equivalent of a Chanel purse; tribal iconography manifesting personality traits.  For developers, it’s a portal to what could be; launching fixes to unspoken problems.
But while Apple embraces the consumer, it eschews the enterprise, leaving developers to “date-rape” a reticent device.  Tablets announced by Cisco and Avaya are all business; but so far these offers seem more about these vendors’ rabid desire to keep desktop phone sales cha-chinging along than the needs of customers.  Next week’s rumored announcement of a Blackberry tablet may create a hybrid consumer/business device.
Like all technology, the prefect tablet solution is, like King Arthur’s Avalon, elusive.  There are always tradeoffs between what works, what’s possible and a vendor’s business case.  The elegance of iPad running Android with a USB and without the iron-fist of Steve Jobs, for example. 
Real Estate and Resolution
Screen size is a Goldilocks parable, what’s too big, too small and just right?  Unlike the consumer world where entertainment drives this decision, in business, applications and environment will be the drivers.  The Avaya tablet is big, making “pocketability” impossible and desktops more crowded. Alternatively, the 5” Dell Streak is too small for meaningful transactions in either desktop or mobile settings. The Lenovo X201 tablet is big but it’s also a computer thus combining two devices.  When docked, Cisco’s Cius is an extension of their desk phone design language.
Combined with screen size is resolution – or how much data is displayed without flicking and scrolling. iPad provides an increasingly middle-of-the-road resolution, but the coming “Retina” display technology looks to more than double today’s resolution enabling it to again present the most data on a single screen. This means text-based applications are more easily read and graphically-based apps, like those promised in telemedicine, will look more vibrant and detailed.  Again I dream, what would Avaya’s spiffy Flare interface look like on the smaller, lighter iPad with Retina display or the Lenovo X201 laptop?
Operating Systems
For the most part this is a two-horse race between Apple’s iOS and Android.  While Blackberry will be apparently using a proprietary OS for their tablet, this race will ultimately be won by Android because of its availability on so many devices.  In the cellular world, Android is already outselling iOS/iPhone due to its breadth of offerings. Both Apple’s iOS and Blackberry’s QNX-based OS are essentially a one-trick-ponies running on dedicated devices.  It’s a replay of the device-independent Microsoft Windows versus Mac wars.  It worked for consumer-driven music players; but will it fly in the enterprise and will Blackberry be able to stem its smartphone erosion?
For business, the reason to care is the ability to develop applications.  So far, Android may have a smaller app store but the relative ease of development on Android outstrips Apple for business use.  Android developers also worry less about the kinds of capricious moves by Apple that randomly shut down features they depend on. 
Weight and Battery
Weight and battery life impact mobility. The pack today seems to float around 1-1.5 pounds (.45-.68 kg) with the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Avaya tablet occupying opposite ends of the Weight Watchers scale.  As I’ve said, the Lenovo X201 tablet, like Avaya’s tablet weighs 3-ish pounds but it’s a full-fledged laptop computer.
Battery life will always be hotly debated because longevity depends on the applications run.  That said, I feel the bare-minimum for a mobile device is a user-replaceable battery (sorry Apple) and at least a work shift of battery life.  In truly mobile work environments like hospitals, retail and road warriors, users will not be happy about slapping in new batteries throughout their shift. With the exception of the Avaya tablet possibly burning through three batteries in a shift, most tablets either achieve this today or are close; at least on paper.
Both Avaya and Cisco are pushing hard on the (battery eating) HD video collaboration aspects of their tablets.  Is HD necessary?  Obviously in large telepresence environments it is critical to suspending disbelief to create the “almost there” experience.  While both Cius and Flare look great, on a 7” to 10” display is HD conferencing necessary?  I’m pretty sure that I won’t be swept away by the moment with a 1/20th scale face on a handheld tablet. (HD application sharing, absolutely; my manager’s face, not so much.)  It’s also VERY difficult to fake working when fellow conferencees see the beach in the background.
Connectivity equals mobility, productivity and cost
It’s a given that all tablets will have WiFi which provides mobility either on campus or in WiFi hotspots (like home).  But cellular connectivity to 3G/4G networks offers the most (but far from 100%) mobility. Most tablets so far have settled on the GSM-based data networks prevalent globally.  This leaves CDMA holdouts Verizon and Sprint largely in the tablet cold.  In the US, one of the reasons Verizon’s data service isn’t pilloried like AT&T’s is because there simply haven’t been as many data-hogging devices on it…yet.
But beyond bandwidth is the data plan cost.  Some carriers allow for a single account to be used by several devices simultaneously (tethering), saving considerable costs for those with cell phones, laptops and tablets at their disposal.  Apple/AT&T is not one of them but Blackberry will apparently be forcing tethering on users requiring them to have both a Blackberry smartphone and tablet; risky.  The Avaya tablet’s USB dongle approach allows pass-the-dongle sharing but lacks simultaneousness.  Cius probably requires its own account.  The Samsung Galaxy Tab won’t be sold outside cellular carriers, completely locking in users.
At first glance, both the Avaya and Cisco tablets are fantastically overpriced given most consumer alternatives. But remember the discounts.  If Cius has a list of $1,000, the street price may be $500-$650.  The same is true of Avaya where discounts of 40-50% may also be seen.  The Lenovo X201 combines tablet and laptop very well and at ~$2,000 may be a best-of-both-worlds bargain.
Tablet as cloud portal
A truly useful mobile tablet must combine not only the conferencing and collaboration applications touted by Cisco and Avaya but the myriad of business applications used daily. The best way to deliver these would be natively, but that’s unrealistic.  The tablet may be the avenue for delivering applications via the cloud or virtual desktop (assuming uninterrupted connectivity).  Citrix is available for the iPad which gives access to all applications without reworking them for a new operating system.  Cisco’s solution for customers will surely be to push WebEx. 
A perfect example for virtualized applications is in healthcare.  Ripe for a tablet but chock full of regulations.  Many countries have strict regulations protecting patient data.  In the US, the HIPPA rules promote the use of virtual desktops to eliminate local data storage to reduce exposure from theft.  No need to build Android and iOS versions for Soarian, Cerner and Epic; in fact, many already use virtualized desktops.
However what sounds perfect on paper is often less so in reality.  Virtualized applications have their own issues with cost, latency, and poor graphics. Newer iterations from Citrix and VMware claim to fix many of these issues, but it remains to be seen how they respond in specific use cases.
With all new things, the bleeding edge paves the way for the rest of us.  The business tablet of today isn’t evolving, it’s still being incubated.  And remember, tablets are as much about their hardware as their software.  Evaluated in detail when available, the Avaya Flare interface is pretty darn cool; but the tablet is a fat battery-eater with a dongle (each time I type “dongle” it feels like I have Tourette’s).  Right now, I’d wait for Flare on a Lenovo X201 tablet. It’s the same tubby three-pounds but it’s a real business touchscreen computer with an 8-hour battery that would combine a computer and a desk phone – dongle-lessly!  The Cisco Cius?  It’s sexy, but I’ll wait until my corner office has been repainted and have more time to be wow-ed by the interface.  And that’s the bottom line, if you can’t wait, understand your needs and match them with the best combination of hardware and software available.  Next up, the software and applications.

Apple iPad
Cisco Cius
Avaya Flare*
Dell Streak
Lenovo X201 Tablet
Samsung Galaxy Tab
Touch Screen
1024 x 768
1024 x 600
1366 x 768
800 x 480
(7” & 10” coming)
12.1”1280 x 800
7-inch, 1024 x 600
Operating System
Apple iOS
Android 2.2
Android 2.1
Android 1.6
Windows 7
Android 2.2
(.73 kg)
 (.52 kg)
3.2 lbs
(1.45 kg)
7.7 oz
3 lbs
(1.36 kg)
12.8 oz
(.37 kg)
9 hours; non replaceable
<8 hours est; replaceable
3 Hours
<9 hours; replaceable
8 hours; replaceable
7 hours
1GHz Apple A4 custom
Intel Atom 1.6 GHz
Intel Atom
Qualcomm ARM 1 GHz
Intel i7
·      3.5mm
·      Micro-SIM
·      3 USB 2.0
·      3.5mm
·      GigE/PoE
·    DisplayPort
· USB 2.0
· 3.5mm
·      USB 2.0
·      MicroSD
·      3.5mm
·   GigE
·   3 USB 2.0
·   VGA
·   SD/MMC
·     3.5mm
No (expected in next iteration)
·   Front: HD 720p
·   Back 5MP
· Front: 5MP 720p
·     Front: VGA
·     Back: 5MP
Front: 2MP
·   Front: 1.3 MP
·   Back: 3MP
720p; H.264
720p; H.264
720p; H.264
H.263 / H.264
SIP Support
802.11 abgn
802.11 abgn
802.11 bgn
2.1 + EDR
3.0 + EDR
NA; dongle
Conferencing / collaboration
Yes; TelePresence
Yes; Flare
Depends on app used
Email, IM
Email, IM
SMS, MMS, Email, IM
Depends on app used
Email, SMS
Deskphone Replacement
Yes, optional handset
Yes, optional handset
Could be
Computational device
Yes; proprietary apps
Yes; cloud-based apps
No; limited access, little creation
No; consumer entertainer
Yes; it’s a real laptop; MS Office, etc.
Info presenter  or collaborator
App Store
Apple iTunes/App Store
·      Cisco Apps
·      Partner Apps
·      Android Mkt
· Avaya Apps
·  Partner Apps
·  Android Mkt
·     None
·  Android Mkt
Hard Drive
Up to 64GB
Swappable 32GB (1 MicroSD)
Up to 500GB
·   WiFi: $500-$700
·   3G: $630-$830
$1,000 (est)
$2,000 +$1,750 for Flare
~$2,000 loaded
NA; set by cell carriers. (4Q).

* Avaya doesn’t want their tablet called “Flare” but “Avaya Desktop Video Device for Flare” doesn’t roll off the tongue.