Previous month:
September 2007
Next month:
November 2007

Posts from October 2007

It's the (app) platform, stupid!

"Phone systems" are dead. PBXs are dead. IP-PBXs are dead.

Well, okay, not really... people will still be buying "PBXs" for quite some time. Just as there are certain communities out there who still buy horse-drawn wagons. But the reality is this:

"Phone systems", PBXs and IP-PBXs without easy application programming interfaces (APIs) are a dead branch on the evolutionary tree.

The future of communication belongs to mashups. To quick and easy ways to interconnect disparate systems. To integration of communication systems with business processes and other applications. In a world where voice is no longer always the primary mode of communication, we have to stop thinking about "phone systems" and take a larger look at how "communication" in general fits into our infrastructure. More than just how we use the system, we have to look at how we can get data in and out of the communication system. To borrow from the 1992 Clinton campaign:

It's the platform, stupid!

As you look at communication choices, the question is really about who has the "best" APIs... whose system is easiest to integrate with.... who lets you get data out of their system easily - and also lets the data back in... who lets you control the communication experience through an external application (and does so securely, naturally).

There's a good number of players out there who "get it", and either have or are in the process of developing a strong ecosystem of application partners, but let's take a quick spin down the list of some of them:

  • Microsoft - Duh! Everything about Office Communication Server and all the other components is all a platform play. The goal is integration of communication into the rest of your IT infrastructure (which they would of course like to have you run entirely on Microsoft products).
  • IBM - They don't usually get as much mention as Microsoft, but IBM's been back there making Sametime a communication platform play similar to OCS (only it has been out there for several years). With their latest move to OEM components from Siemens to make their Universal Telephony Server to allow interconnection with many different IP-PBXs, they very clearly see the value in integration.
  • Digium/Asterisk - The name Asterisk also refers to the "*" wildcard character which in UNIX-land basically means it will match on everything. Asterisk has always been about being a platform for telephony/communication from its very beginnings.
  • Skype - With its "Extras" gallery and the developer program they have been working to promote, Skype is trying to be an applications platform and currently does have many applications now available (use the "Do More" link to get to the Extras Gallery).
  • Oracle - They don't get as much coverage, but I would watch what the folks at Oracle are doing, because they are building communication solutions that move around Oracle's database solutions.
  • Social networking sites - Facebook and MySpace don't immediately come to mind as "communication" choices, but the reality is that they are becoming that - and they both understand the need and value in an API ecosystem. How well they will execute remains to the be seen.
  • The IP-PBX vendors... to a degree - I hesitate on this one a bit. Some of the vendors get this. Avaya has been running around with their SOA toolkit. Siemens has been doing a good bit of work in this space (so much so that IBM OEM'd product from them). Cisco has been running around buying up companies. But at least to me it seems to be somewhat half-hearted. For the others I've listed, communication is a platform, while for the vendors it seems to be something else they need to do. It's a different mindset which, I think, reflects the IT focus of the ones I've listed previously.

There are certainly others out there ... and more will undoubtedly enter the space in the time ahead. The key question I think we all in general need to be asking:

How well does your communication system provide a platform for applications? (or for integration with applications?)

P.S. And yes, my new employer is one of those who understands this... although ironically I wrote the draft of this entry about 3 weeks ago before I'd even heard of them... but more on that later today. :-)

A heck of week to choose to go dark! (Microsoft, MySpace/Skype, iPhone... )

Boy, did I choose the wrong week to go dark! Way too many amazing things going on out there this week... here is a quick view of some of the disruptions with relevant links:

All in all a rather busy week! (And it's not over yet...)

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

ETel, disrupted... O'Reilly cancels ETel! (But the ETel Program Committee is looking at what could be done instead...)

O'Reilly just cancelled ETel for 2008. Yes, indeed, it's sadly true as shown here:

Due to changed circumstances since ETel 2008 was announced, we have decided not to move forward with the conference this year.

It is somewhat ironic that part of the ETel 2008 graphic was this:

Obviously O'Reilly did.

Those of us on the ETel Program Committee were just informed of the decision yesterday. We are admittedly still in a bit of shock. This year's program had over 100 submissions and we were very much looking forward to what was shaping up to be an excellent conference this year. Great mixture of technical sessions, thought-provoking sessions and so much more.

We are not privy as to exactly why O'Reilly made the decision and on many levels it doesn't really matter. As far as O'Reilly is concerned, ETel is now dead for 2008.

Personally, I think it is a loss to our industry. I think it is also, frankly, a loss to O'Reilly. But I'll get into that perhaps in another post next week.

Right now, we on the ETel Program Committee are starting to look at what's next. I think for many of us ETel served a purpose in helping connect people who were looking at the bleeding edge of communication that just can't be found at any of the other shows. There are a lot of folks passionate about ETel... and quite a community has grown up around it. Many folks told me it was THE show they liked to attend most.

We've got a number of ideas about how to replace ETel... and we'll definitely be looking for feedback after we have a chance over the next week or so to put together a couple of proposals for folks to kick around.

For those of you who are passionate about ETel and what it came to mean, stay tuned.... (we'll need you soon!)

Technorati Tags: , ,

Going dark for the calm before the storm... (aka "light blogging ahead")

Life takes very interesting turns. Yesterday afternoon I faxed off my acceptance of an offer from a company I'd really never heard of that turns out to be doing some extremely fascinating things. They found me through this blog. We've talked. I've visited. I start on Monday, October 22nd. I'll be actually in a role very similar to what I was doing before, but with more of a direct focus on social media, at least initially. I will still be working remotely from Vermont and will be traveling to similar conferences as in the past. It's exciting and I'm very much looking forward to getting started. Great people. Great company. Profitable. Strong developer community. Been around for a while. In the right space, in my opinion.

For now, though, that's all I'm going to say. More on (or near) the 22nd. :-)

Until then, I'm expecting to be blogging less here and on my other blogs. I'm traveling to a PR/Communications conference next Monday and Tuesday to do a "Podcasting 101" workshop and so I'll probably be blogging about that. There's a hundred things I want to blog about! My queue of articles to write is probably the longest it has ever been. I have about 10 Blue Box Special Editions recorded and awaiting post-production and 2 video podcast episodes to release. There are so many amazing things going on right now in all the areas I write about.......

But there's also the reality that I need to use this calm before the storm to: 1) spend some time with my family, who have admittedly been a bit short-changed in recent weeks; and 2) deal with a whole range of really more mundane issues. You know, things like getting new files set up... getting my office re-organized after the older equipment has been moved out... addressing some household projects that were dropped when the layoff occurred. A whole realm of things like that. And I know that once the 22nd rolls around I'll be doing my usual "pedal-to-the-floor" mode with much less time for such matters - so I need to seize this moment. I don't expect to be writing much. We'll see.

Finally I have to say a HUGE "Thank You!" to everyone out there who offered assistance in ways both big and small. Thank you for your kind words in blog posts and in emails. Receiving those was a wonderful lift, especially on days full of doubts. Thank you for the contacts... for the introductions made... for the links... it was all an incredible demonstration to me of the power of the friendships, the social networks and the communities we wind up being a part of. In the process I have met some truly amazing people at a wide range of companies. It was a fascinating exercise in transparency that did in fact get me to the delightful position of having multiple options to choose from and being able to have a choice. Certainly a wonderful spot to be in - and for that I have to thank so many of you out there. Thank you!

The power of the (social) network is certainly amazingly strong.

Now it's time to go dark for a bit... please do understand if I'm not answering email quite as promptly or responding to IMs or blog posts. I'll be back soon... stay tuned.

P.S. Thank you!

Technorati Tags:

The audacity of Asterisk - why the 3Com/Digium partnership fundamentally changes the game in SMB telephony

digiumlogo.gifThe SMB VoIP game is changing. Fundamentally. And in a pattern we've seen before in other industries. In the news release out today, Digium and 3Com announced that:
Under the terms of the agreement, 3Com will offer Digium’s award-winning Asterisk Appliance™ to small businesses that need a reliable, easy-to-deploy voice solution based on open standards. 3Com Asterisk will be available through the company’s proven channel of partners worldwide.
Let's think about that for a minute. 3Com will make Digium's Asterisk appliance available through "the company's proven channel of partner's worldwide", which some reports are putting at around 60,000 resellers. Digium just wound up with a large global sales channel. Yet to be seen is whether there will be any channel conflict with existing Digium Partners/VARs, but regardless, Digium just wound up with a way to deploy Asterisk-based solutions globally. It does, however, get one step better (my emphasis added):
“3Com is focused on delivering products and solutions for converged secure networks, in which voice is an application that can be readily integrated with many others,” said Bob Dechant, senior vice president and general manager for 3Com Corporation. “We’ve announced a complete voice strategy and new product offerings for small businesses, including the 3Com Asterisk Appliance. We also offer innovative enterprise-caliber 3Com Global Services for customers who purchase the 3Com Asterisk. We chose to partner with Digium because of the company’s position as the Asterisk leader, its commitment to open standards and the ease-of-use of the appliance.”
Yes, indeed, Digium winds up with a global support organization behind Asterisk. Powerful announcement. Global sales and support - for an open source PBX... According to information from Digium, the "3Com Asterisk", priced at $1,595, will include a 3Com-co-branded interface and easy configuration/provisioning of 3Com SIP phones (as can be done today with Polycom phones). Given last weeks' announcement of the SwitchVox acquisition, I would think that rolling some of that GUI/functionality into the offering would be another logical step longer-term. The implications of this announcement, though, go far beyond the commercial relationship between Digium and 3Com. Those of us who remember Linux in the late 1990s and early 2000s remember that Linux took a trajectory like this:
  1. Techies/geeks/early-adopters started to install Linux into their businesses to solve specific needs. Often it was installed without corporate permission as a DNS server, web, server, etc.
  2. A range of small, specialized vendors started to ship servers with Linux pre-installed. Very often these companies were founded by people within the Linux community (ex. VA Linux, Penguin Computing)
  3. Larger, more mainstream but still lower-tier manufacturers started to ship servers with Linux. (I forget the first one I saw doing this.)
  4. Tier 1 manufacturers (ex. IBM, HP, Dell) started to ship servers with Linux.
Asterisk just moved to step #3 (after already moving through #1 and #2). While 3Com does not have the same market status as Cisco, Avaya and Nortel (or Mitel in SMB), 3Com definitely has a presence out there and to me their endorsement of Asterisk certainly brings a level of credibility to Asterisk-based software and hardware. It's good for Asterisk. It's good for Asterisk-based products and services (including those of Digium's competitors). It's good for open source. Ultimately, in my opinion, it's good for all of us.

Yet to be seen is how good it is for 3Com's own SMB offerings and that will be interesting to see. Right now it seems that they are all about "offering customers choice" between 3Com's own product and the Asterisk-based appliance. Will that last? Will 3Com continue to maintain its own SMB products long-term? Or will it cede that lower-end market to Asterisk and focus on apps that interoperate with Asterisk and/or phones for Asterisk (and 3Com's higher-end offerings)? Interesting questions to consider, particularly in light of 3Com's announcement on Friday that it is being acquired by Bain Capital and Chinese giant Huawei as well as their announcement today of new VCX systems targeted at the SMB market.

Nor is it clear to me how much of a short-term impact there will be on the SMB market. 3Com has been less of a presence in that space in recent years although its clear from their various announcements today that they are intent on playing a larger role in the space. Will Mitel, Avaya, Cisco, etc. lose any sales today as a result of 3Com selling Asterisk? Maybe. Maybe not.

Longer-term, though, I personally view this as a huge validation that open source telephony has a role in the business space. The cracks in the wall of proprietary telephony just got a whole lot larger today. Congrats to Digium and 3Com... and now the question is - who's the next vendor to get on board?

What do you think? Is this a validation of Asterisk? Or a flash in the pan? (Or as one more cynical person put it to me, "a desperate move by 3Com to stay relevant?") What do you see as the short-term and long-term impacts to the SMB market? Should the existing vendors be scared? Or just ignore it?

More coverage:

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

eBay pays $530 million to buy out Skype founders - and writes down value of Skype by $900 million

Not necessarily a great day over at Skype today - per the eBay news release, Niklas Zennstrom stepped down as CEO, eBay paid $533 million to "settle obligations to certain Skype shareholders" and is also taking a $900 million charge to write down the value of Skype. From a Bloomberg article:
``It has not performed as well as we would have hoped in the short term,'' EBay spokesman Hani Durzy said in an interview. Skype was profitable the first half of the year, he said.
Many others out there have already offered their analysis and so I'll point you to them today:

Technorati Tags: ,