Friday, October 7, 2011

Metaswitch Forum - Wrapup and Takeaways

Just some closing thoughts about this year's Metaswitch Forum. Since my last post, we've seen a few more executive keynotes, heard from a customer, attended some breakout sessions, and saw a fantastic headliner keynote from Richard Noble of the Bloodhound Project (more on that in a moment).

If you've been following the Twitter feed (#mforum11), then very little of this will be news, and even if it is, I'm just going to pass on a few things here.

Metaswitch is a very customer-focused company. I thought they did a great job positioning their technology in terms of what matters for carriers and their customers. Thrutu is a good example of this, and their demo showed how the applications that run on this enrich phone calls in powerful ways. While the demo was about a mundane consumer/social experience (two people trying to find each other in real time to meet up for a coffee), it wouldn't take much to show Thrutu adding similar value for an SMB scenario (maybe at the next Forum?). The demo had lots of LBS and GPS horsepower, and in my mind, if it can do this much to make trivial problems easy to solve, imagine what it could do if real business was on the line! Regardless, this is just one way Metaswitch demonstrated how their technology translates into everyday needs. Carriers need to see this for two reasons; first to understand how it works on their network, and second, how it's going to be of value to their customers.

Metaswitch really understands the landscape. Martin Taylor has now taken on the CTO role, and he did a great job explaining the broader context of how OTT - over the top - technologies are disrupting everything - the carrier space, the vendor space, and end user expectations. During the Forum, we got a good sense of the opportunities Metaswitch sees in all this, but at the same time, only the smartest companies will survive. I've always admired the intelligence that comes from their whole management team, and Martin nicely outlined both the threats that come with OTT, as well as where/how the telcos still have leverage to defend their markets. I'll have more to say about that in future posts here and elsewhere.

The customer is always right. Yesterday we heard from Windstream, and it was a great example of what customers see in Metaswitch, and why they stick with them. They're a pretty big customer, and I think it was important to show smaller customers that Metaswitch scales so well, and can handle their future needs. More importantly, their SVP of Network Services - Bill Bellando - provided a holistic picture. He emphasized the underlying architecture as a key strength, which plays well for all the engineers in the room. Just as much, though, he talked about the quality of people at Metaswitch at all levels - management, support and operations.

There's more to driving fast than speed. The best is saved for last for a good reason. At face value, Richard Noble provided enough shock and awe video of supersonic cars - rockets on wheels, really - to satisfy any hardcore F1 or NASCAR fan. Engineers love to solve problems and get excited about testing the limits of performance, and what could be cooler than finding a way for man to drive at 1,000 MPH? Not only break the sound barrier, but outrace a fighter jet - you just have to see the video to believe it (that's why I added the Bloodhound link earlier).

So, what does any of this have to do with telecom, VoIP, UC, mobility, SBCs, etc.? Well, in the immortal words of Steve Gleave at last year's Forum when he talked about the goodie we all got - the USB-enabled pet rock - it does "nothing... absolutely nothing". Hell, why can't that be enough, right? Can't we just enjoy the simple things in life any more? Well, simple is the last word that comes to mind in Richard Noble's world. His talk worked on a few levels, and he had some encouraging messages about how technology can help us learn better, faster and smarter.

However, for the Metaswitch audience, the big takeaway for me was having faith in the human spirit and letting our intellectual curiousity takes us to places we never thought possible. He did a great job showing how the bar for speed racing has been raised many times over the years, and I especially loved hearing the nationalistic jibes to see who could be the fastest - the French, the Brits, the Scots, etc. In my mind, the pursuit of driving 1,000 MPH has everything to do with Metaswitch's raison d'etre, and I think the audience made that connection as well. Just like Richard Noble, Metaswitch likes to solve complex problems and challenge everyday thinking, and when they succeed, so do their customers. Even Ricky Bobby would understand that - there really is more to life to driving fast. Can't wait to see how they top this next year!

That's all for now - back to work. Will just leave you with one photo - it was from the SMB business case session that I moderated on Wednesday. As you can see, it was a full room, and all the other sessions I popped into were full as well. When the sessions are a better draw than the casinos, then you know Metaswitch's customers really wanted to be there. What more can you ask, right?

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