Though we tend to speak of big categories such as unified communications as monolithic wholes, it is no surprise that platforms have different strengths and weaknesses. What perhaps is surprising -- and interesting -- is just how different they are.
At Interop last week in New York City, Miercom CEO Robert Smithers presented early results from tests his firm is running on UC products from 3Com, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft, NEC and Siemens. The panel, Unified Communications: Results from the Test Lab, had a lot of nice things to say about many of the products.
The takeaway was that UC is a very broad category, but that the needs and goals of customers will be very specific. Thus, vendors must carefully consider their product road maps.
After providing a broad definition of the category, Smithers commented that it is possible to be flexible. For instance, UC can be offered in conjunction with legacy time-division multiplexed (TDM) phone systems. In such a scenario, VoIP, considered by many to be the very bedrock of UC, would be added later. This suggests, quite simply, that UC is an expansive category that can be many things to many people.
The theme, which was never overtly stated, continued through Smither's assessment of each product. The stiking thing was the diversity between the products. A look at highlights is interesting in two ways. One, of course, is that there is a great deal of information on each platform. On another level, Miercom's research suggests how heterogeneous the category is. If UC products were slightly different variations of the same mousetrap, what's special or lacking about each wouldn't be focused in so many different areas.
- 3Com's VCX Connect 100 and 200 release 8 is a mesh scenario enabling a gateway to take over if the one quarterbacking the system fails.
- Alcatel-Lucent's OmniTouch Unified Communications release 5.0 is noteworthy for its high scalability.
- Avaya's Communication Manager release 5.1 focuses on easing the migration of legacy customers.
- Cisco's Unified Communications system release 6.0 lacks a strong time division multiplex (TDM) path but offers an excellent migration path.
- Microsoft Office Communication Server 2007 RTM Code needs to incorporate a third-party IP PBX to be effective.
- Siemens OpenScape Unified Communications version 3 features open SOA architecture.
- NEC UM8500 and OW5000 release 3.0.1 offers an excellent client and is very resilient.
The point here isn't to assess winners and losers among the UC products -- indeed, Smithers seems to be a glass-half-full guy who generally lauded all the products. The point is to show that vendors clearly have taken different approaches and have different ideas about the direction of UC.
That's a great thing, which to a great extent stems from the fact that they have different customers with highly differentiated needs. The bottom line is that unified communications will continue to be a fascinating industry segment for years to come.