Tuesday, March 30, 2010

VoiceCon Recap

I don't usually post about shows I'm not attending, but this is worth doing for a couple of reasons. Last week was busy in telecom, with both this event and CTIA running. While I've never attended VoiceCon, this space has kept me busy in recent times. Anyone following the event will know there was lots of news, especially from the major vendors, and the show was generally very well received.

By now these stories are old news, but those who were there have had time to reflect, and I wanted to share two items that came out today. One is a post from colleague Dave Michels on No Jitter with his thoughts, and the other is a podcast from my broader set of colleagues at UC Strategies. I participate on their weekly podcasts when I can, but there wasn't much point yesterday, as they were sharing their highlights and takeaways of the show.

If all you do is check these out, you'll come away with a solid sense of what took place as well as being very up-to-date on the latest in enterprise communications. There's definitely a lot to keep track of, not just in terms of the technologies, but also what the key players are up to. I was especially glad to hear from Dave's post how strong the cloud/virtualization space has become - no surprise there - and how video has totally eclipsed voice in the big scheme of things. Again, I've been on that track for a while, and this trend is totally validated by the fact that VoiceCon is changing its name now. If you're curious, I'm not going to to give it away - I really want you check out these links, and it won't take long to get the answer there.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Atomico Venture Fund - Implications for Carriers

Last week, Atomico's latest venture fund was launched. If you don't know them, this isn't just any venture fund - it's where Skype's founders are putting their money - along with others - into funding promising European startups.

While many of these startups are focused outside of telecom, they are all Web-based, and in time, I'm sure quite a few will find their way into the ecosystem of service providers. My thinking is that Atomico is the kind of fund that will help re-define the service provider landscape as well as the business operators are actually in.

This is the focus of my latest Service Provider Views column on TMCnet, and I hope you stop by and read the rest of the story.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Living Locally - Learning Globally

By choice, I haven't been travelling much lately and have made a conscious effort to connect more with the local tech community. I've been doing so in a variety of ways the past few months, and it's a nice change from all the networking I do at industry events in the U.S. As big a city as Toronto is, there hasn't been much business here for me, and I'm trying harder to fix that.

One avenue I've recently explored is the York Technology Association. Just like the name says, it's a local networking group, and I attended my first luncheon event today. Some pretty interesting companies here, and as I get more involved with YTA, I'll get better connected.

Another reason for attending was their speaker, who was presenting about cloud computing. I've been writing about this in a few places recently, and I think it's one of the big trends to watch for in our space. The presenter was Phil Morris, CTO of Platform Computing. They've been around for a while and certainly know the space. His talk was too heavy on the technology, but it was a good primer for the audience. There were no new takeaways for me, but it was great to connect with a local player in this space.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Focus.com - My First Brief Published

Blogging has been sporadic the past week or so, but for good reason. I've noted recently that I'm working on some new things, and these are starting to take root now. Some of you are seeing me pop up now and then on Twitter, and it's great that so many of you are welcoming me - or asking what took so long? I'm still trying to normalize myself to this, and I can see already how it's cutting into blogging time, and that's going to take a while to balance out.

Focus.com is another new front that I'm enjoying quite a lot. They have a pretty extensive and engaged community, and it hasn't taken long for me to find topics to comment on. It's a great portal - among other things - and if you follow me, you should hang out more on Focus.com. I'm now a Focus Expert, which means I'll be regularly writing Focus Briefs. These are short analyses of various IT/IP comms topics, and I just published my first brief, which talks about things to consider when looking at hosted services. As with everything on their portal, comments are welcome, and I hope to see you there soon.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tom Howe's Cloud Comms eBook Launched

As part of Tom Howe's Cloud Communication Summit at the ITExpo in January, he organized the creation of an ebook to showcase thought leadership around this topic. He enlisted 16 contributors to write short essays about various aspects of cloud communications, and voila, a book is born.

Tom was nice enough to include me in this group, and I'm helping spread the word that the Cloud Communications Book has been launched now, and is free to download on the site created to support it.

Most you know what Tom brings to the cloud comms/mashup space, and this is a really valuable intiative. By making it free, everyone benefits, and you'll be hard pressed to find a better collection of leading edge thinking anywhere about this topic. It's also a great example of the kind of collaboration that 2.0 technologies enable, and I have no doubt that more good things will follow.

To leave off, I'll pass on a few links, and you can take it from there. I'll start with the post on Tom's website providing the background on this project. Then, as a teaser, an excerpt from my essay, and finally the ebook website, where you can download the publication for yourself.

Once again, kudos to Tom and co-editor Pam Shapiro for bringing a great idea to life and making it so accessible for everyone. If only the rest of the world worked this way. Maybe that will be their next project...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I've Joined the Twitterati

As the Brits used to chide the Yanks about always showing up late for the war, I've taken a small, but social step into Twitterland. I have no desire to broadcast my day to day - or minute to minute - happenings, nor do I care to hear about anyone else's.

However... I do concede that a lot of interesting and timely information flows this way now, so it's pretty hard to ignore. It sure makes blogging seem painfully slow and tedious, but that's not going to sway me. I'm a writer at heart, and for anyone like me, this 140 character thing isn't very interesting. However, it's efficient, and a great way to get a quick scan about what's going on out there.

Even after just a few days using it, I can see how easily addictive tweeting can be, and how quickly it has changed people's behaviors. That's the scary part, but it also tells me that it serves a need, and the business models will soon follow. We just can't seem to get and stay connected fast enough, but am not really sure to what end. The more our lives and interactions become virtual, the easier it will be to forget there's a real world going on right in front of us. And if you're not ADD yet, a steady diet of this stuff will absolutely get you there.

Enough cave-man talk - back to work. And, yes, feel free to follow me now on Twitter. I don't have 10,000 followers yet, so it's relatively lonely, but am sure that will change in time - and chances are pretty good I'll want to follow you. See you there!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring News - I'm a Focus Expert

Technically, Spring is a week away, but I've been in renewal mode for a while now. We all evolve at different times and speeds, and this is the first of several posts I have coming about the new things I'm up to.

As the weather gets warmer and the Bruins and Celtics both lose relevance with each passing/passive defeat, things come into sharper focus. To finish the thought, my sports focus is now almost entirely on the Red Sox, who are having a good spring training, and a promising season ahead. Not only has Ortiz finally hit a HR, and Casey Kelly looks like the second coming of Roger Clemens, but RSN - Red Sox Nation - has quietly scored a coup that will be sweet payback for the Yankees luring Johnny Damon away. He may be on the Tigers now, but we have long memories, especially when things like this happen.

In case you missed it, renowned Irish tenor Ronan Tynon - who sings God Bless America at Yankee games - has been abruptly cut loose by NYY, and yup, he's singing for the Red Sox now. It's an incredible story, and comes just in time for St. Patrick's Day, and will make the season opener against the defending-WS-champion-but-aging Yankees extra special. Sure wish I could be there!

Now that I've completely switched gears, let's return to the main focus - Focus. I have been affiliated with Focus for some time, and we are now working more closely together. If you don't know them, Focus runs a family of widely-followed portals, a few of which fall into my everyday sphere.

As of today, I have been added to their roster of Focus Experts, and you'll be hearing from me regularly, particularly about VoIP, SMB communications and marketing strategies. Their portal is well worth exploring, and it's hard to visit and not find a topic you want to jump in on and add your thoughts. I hope to see you there soon, and if I can't answer your question, I'm sure someone there can.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Cisco Has a Message for Carriers - the Future is Video, not Telephony

Cisco made a lot of noise this week announcing the CRS-3 router, and I took part in the webinar briefing. I'm not an expert on routers, but I got some pretty strong takeaways about the bigger picture implications for carriers. In short, their future is about video and the Internet, not telephony. It sounds like strong medicine, and what you'd expect to hear from Cisco, but I happen to agree.

I've put my thoughts together on this for my latest Service Provider Views column, which runs on TMCnet. It's running now, and you can read it here.

You don't have to look far for coverage of Cisco's announcement in the press and blogs, and I'll just steer you to one from here in Canada - ITBusiness.ca - where I contributed some commentary. Just as the carriers face a lot of risk adapting to new technologies and changing customer preferences, Cisco has its own set of challenges, some self-created, and others stemming from general market conditions.

Nobody has a free ride here, so it's an interesting story that goes way beyond the current state of router technology. I'm sure I'll be revisiting this theme soon, but would love to hear your thoughts any time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Calliflower Bundled with Samsung PCs - Why Not?

You have to mix things up every now and then, and always be open to trying new things. There was a great example of this in Canada yesterday when two previously unconnected companies announced a pretty neat promotion. Fresh off the feel-good buzz of the Olympics, we have Ottawa-based Iotum teaming up with Samsung Canada to offer a limited time bundle.

Between now and April 30, buyers of Samsung notebooks and netbooks get one year of free service with Iotum's conferencing solution, Calliflower. As the announcement explains, resellers get a commission for Calliflower sign ups, so there's something in this for everybody.

While it's not clear which models of PCs this applies to, or how much the commmission is, or who is actually paying the commissions, you have to like the idea. I've been close to Iotum from the beginning, and they've gone through several iterations, with Calliflower being the most high profile offering. I've used the service and posted about it, and it's pretty good. I'm not a regular user of conferencing solutions, but they definitely have all the 2.0 features you'd expect, and it's a great service for any SMB - not to mention being attractively priced.

I can't think of too many examples where an application or service is being used to induce sales of PCs, but conferencing is pretty universal and should have broad appeal. It's easy to see how peripherals like headsets or software pair up nicely with a PC, but somewhat less so for Calliflower. However, once people try it, they'll see how the desktop interface and overall experience is a big step up from conventional conferencing, especially if people need to collaborate instead of just talk.

Kudos to Iotum for trying something different - and something local. I can see why Samsung is in, as PC sales have been slowing down, and the market is even more crowded/confused with tablets in the mix now. Resellers now have a better reason to promote Samsung PCs, and if it works, Iotum will now have a new roadmap for getting to market, and no doubt they'll look to do the same in the U.S. soon after. Sometimes you don't win by having the best product - although Calliflower is quite good - sometimes you just play the game better - just like our hockey teams did in Vancouver!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Metaswitch Makes a Smart Move

With the recent news around making Kevin DeNuccio their CEO, Metaswitch is starting to execute on their global marketing push. If any of this is news, my last post about Metaswitch will get you up to speed. Have a look at that, and then read the rest of this post.

Today they've announced their first acquisition since then, and it's exactly what you'd expect given their big picture plans. In short, Metaswitch has acquired Richardson, TX-based App Trigger, an established vendor in the service broker space. I wasn't familiar with this company before, but I followed this space fairly closely when there were more players.

As with other IP comms sectors, service brokers have gone through their share of consolidation, and companies I was close to for some time - such as Personeta and Leapstone - are long gone. However, App Trigger remains - until now - and this looks like a good exit for them, and a smart move for Metaswitch.

If you thought the SBC space was misunderstood, it's even more so for service brokers. This is complex network technology for telcos, and being so engineering-heavy, it's no surprise that market adoption has struggled and that these companies have remained small. Bad for them, but good for Metaswitch.

As I understand things, service broker platforms bring value by enabling carriers to bridge the worlds of legacy and IP for both service creation and service delivery. A lot of legacy apps are still widely used and profitable for carriers, but they also need to move into IP, and that's where service broker platforms come into play.

Being a small company, this was a manageable acquisition for Metaswitch, and adds another layer of value right away. As noted in my last post, they're in a great spot to make acquisitions, and this seems to be the right kind of move. There aren't that many service broker players left, and it makes Metaswitch a more complete solution. First, App Trigger has a global footprint, and several Tier 1 customers, giving Metaswitch a new base to sell into.

Even better, though, is the capability this gives them to better service the global market, which is a key part of their growth plan. One of the challenges for global carriers is the wide variance of protocols used to hand off traffic to each other. This applies equally across different types of protocols, as well as addressing varying flavors within one, especially SIP. Perhaps equally important is wireless, which is a key growth area for Metaswitch, and as carriers adopt IMS and migrate to 4G and LTE, wireless service broker capabilities could become a key differentiator.

That's as far as I can take the technical discussion, but I see enough here to conclude that it's a good deal for both parties. Terms were not disclosed, but I can't imagine the cost was all that much, and certainly within Metaswitch's means. So, it's another step forward for the company, and am sure this will put some pressure on the competition to keep pace.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Thomas Howe Shout-Out - CEBP Report Published and Other Vital Updates!

Thomas Howe is definitely one of the good guys in our space, and he's been a good friend and supporter of mine over the years. If you follow either of us, you'll know he's had a few gear changes the past year or so, and I've got a new one for you.

He recently followed my Smart Grid lead and partnered with TMC to run the Cloud/Mashup Summit at the last ITExpo in January. My event duties kept me from seeing his, but I know enough to say it was great, and he's still Mr. Mashup to me. Building on that, I've got two news items for you from this week - well, actually three.

First is the launch of his CEBP Report, which was announced on his blog on Wednesday. It's been produced in partnership with UK-based STL Partners, and it looks you have to have their Subscription Service to get the full report. If you want to get beyond the front page summary, you really should drop Thomas a line or sign up with STL.

Second is the refresh of Thomas' webpage. Y'know, I don't know what to call these things any more - it's website, it's a blog, it's a Twitter feed, it's a news portal. Whatever you want to call it, I like it, and it's what I'd expect from a such a sharp guy who is comfortable trying new things. I need to take a page that book, and am on that path now myself. Stay tuned folks. I have a few new initiatives in the oven, and am planning a blog refresh as well. And yes, I'm starting to tweet, and am all ears for finding the best way to have 100,000 followers in 5 days or less! :-)

Finally, going back to Thomas' Cloud Summit, part of his planning included putting an ebook together, which will be made freely available once ready. I love the idea - he invited a variety of thought leaders to prepare short essays about cloud communications. I'm happy to say I was invited, and really enjoyed putting my thoughts together. The contributors are all reviewing the rough draft now, which means it's getting close to being published. It's going to be a must-read for this space, so kudos to Thomas for the brainwave and the wherewithal (along with Pam Shapiro!) to put it all together. Am sure you'll be hearing about this big-time soon enough, and I'll do my part to spread the word.

With that, you now you have the latest on Thomas Howe. I think he's going to have a happy St. Patty's Day - but I doubt we'll be in the same place to enjoy a green brew together. Back to work and thinking about Spring Training...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Aastra MX-ONE's Canadian Push Continues

Last month, I attended a briefing for Aastra's launch of MX-ONE in Canada. I know it seems strange that a Canadian vendor is just now bringing this solution to the home market, but things are a bit different up here. We don't get a lot of firsts, but we're still #1 in hockey, and hey, Canada won more gold medals than anybody in Vancouver - nothing wrong with that.

Anyhow, I don't have much news for you, but earlier this week I came back to visit Aastra for part 2. This time I got a full demo of MX-ONE, which is their enterprise class offering. As with all the telecom vendors, MX-ONE is much more than an IP PBX. It's full of all the requisite features to support Unified Communications and contact center applications. They showed me lots of multimedia examples, including wireless handoffs, calendaring integration and presence.

Not being an IT guy, this was nice to see, but I found the go-to-market, value proposition conversations more interesting. Probably the most important takeaway here builds on what we heard at the analyst briefing. Namely, their close working relationship with HP, and how MX-ONE offers a versatile and complete alternative to Cisco, as well as Avaya/Nortel. Those are really the major players that Aastra is up against, especially in terms of building their channels. Of course, there is Mitel, Shoretel, etc., but for MX-ONE in particular, they're aiming pretty high.

While the technology appears to be solid, and I'm sure the pricing is attractive, Aastra's biggest challenge will likely be brand recognition. I've long contended Aastra is the best kept secret in this space, and seems typical in so many ways of successful Canadian companies that don't get much attention elsewhere. This is especially strange for Aastra considering they are a profitable public company, rapidly closing in on $1 billion in sales. I don't know how you keep this under the radar much longer, but I don't need that external validation to know that Aastra has a good thing going here.

Just a couple of photos from my visit...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How Bloggers and Analysts use Social Media

This week's UC Strategies podcast was about how we're using social media. The "we" in this case pertains to the UC Strategies group, of which I'm a part. For the most part, we're independent analysts/consultants with a focus on Unified Communications, and to varying degrees, we all make use of these tools.

We touched on a few themes here, starting with the tools themselves, especially how some are using Twitter on a regular basis. Since we more or less work on our own, we found these tools quite helpful for staying in touch, doing research and keeping on top of breaking news. I'm still new to Twitter - so call me a laggard on this one - but I am starting to see its value, so look to see more tweets from me soon.

Another theme was about where social media fits in the Unified Communications schema, and how it's becoming part of the business communications landscape. I'm not sure there's a way to monetize this, but we talked about some examples where social media is becoming integrated into the fabric of UC. Pretty interesting topic, and I hope you'll give us a listen. You can access the podcast here, and while you're at it, please spend some time exploring the portal.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mitel Mobile - Shape of Things to Come?

This posting seems fitting in the wake of Canada'a post-Olympic glow. Ottawa-based Mitel recently added an interesting twist to their expanding portfolio of advanced communications offerings.

Just when you thought the UC umbrella was wide enough, they launched Mitel Mobile in late January. I've written about this before, and when vendors start competing with carriers, you know the status quo is a thing of the past.

I'm just adding another perspective in the form of my latest Service Provider Views column on TMCnet. It's based on an interview with Laith Zalzalah of Mitel NetSolutions, and you can read about it here. I'm sure I won't be alone in tracking their progress, and it will be interesting to see if this is a one-off variation, or a new model for other vendors to emulate.