10 Apr 2012
By Doug Woodburn
You know a technology is a damp squib when even the resellers pushing it admit it's a non-starter.
DLP and VDI are among the much-vaunted technologies that have fallen short of expectations, either due to a lack of end-user buy-in or because initial products were too costly or complex.
And now, the promised land that is unified communications can be added to that list. Five or so years after it burst on the scene, UC is still a term that engenders bafflement among end users and a lack of co-operation among the major vendors is making implementations a nightmare for resellers.
Despite the fact that SIP was approved in 2000, we still live in a world where UC systems as a rule do not work together (as nicely parodied in this video).
This sorry state of affairs was recently branded as "ludicrous" by Gartner analyst Ken Agress, who wrote a furious blog on the issue in the wake of last month's Enterprise Connect show following a panel debate featuring execs from the top vendors including Cisco, Avaya and Siemens.
The UC vendors' stubbornness in going it alone is stunting adoption, he argued, particularly as enterprises increasingly look to connect to carrier services or cloud providers that are using UC solutions from a different vendor.
In a potential boon to the channel though, the interoperability will have to be provided by the firms responsible for tying the systems together: ie the VAR or SI, Agress argued.
However, while that may be true, if vendors don't make further headway on open standards, the potential for the channel to lose out longer term is surely far greater.
Even in instances where a vendor has tried to interoperate with its competitors, resellers are left with integration headaches that can jeopardies whole projects.
Take Avaya, whose Aura architecture features a piece of integration software that can bridge between different vendor systems. "A nice piece of software" in one reseller's opinion, but the issue here is support, in that Avaya will only support the specific integrations it has tested. Only in a minority of cases will these match the customer's exact requirements.
The bind is that the vendors refuse to support configurations outside of these pre-set templates. And neither can the VAR, as it's not them who has written the software. The customer is therefore left in limbo and will probably opt to shelve the project.
And quite apart from interoperability issues, UC is failing to resonate with end users.
Just like DLP, the cost and complexity of rolling out a true UC solution - even when it is from a single vendor - isstill viewed as a barrier to adoption by many.
This means that end users are more commonly opting for pilots and proof-of-concepts or just buying voice with the ability to do more when the business case is proved. Customers may see the benefits of IM and presence, but are usually implementing these as standalone applications, rather than bothering to roll out a wider solution.
A market once billed as the land of milk and honey for the comms channel has moved on very little in five years. The extent to which vendors cooperate and the market moves towards a clearer definition what the technology encompasses may well determine where UC is in another five years' time.