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Summary:

A group of companies have formed an alliance aimed at removing all the annoyances around unified communications, dubbed the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum. Notably, the group is made up of Cisco competitors, and does not include the maker of unified communications hardware.

When it comes to unified communications, the biggest challenge to date has been getting products from one company to work with those of another, even if they used similar (or the same) underlying technologies. Whether it was Polycom, Logitech’s LifeSize, Hewlett-Packard or Microsoft — they were all islands of their own. Now, along with Juniper Networks, these companies have created a Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF), an alliance aimed at removing all the annoyances around unified communications. In plain English — they all want their products to work with each other. The group has already attracted members including VoIP companies such as Acme Packet and BroadSoft.

With the unified communications market expected to grow to $14.5 billion by 2015, it makes perfect sense for all these companies to interoperate. The changing nature of work is forcing people to use video and audio conferencing more frequently, along with newer forms of collaboration tools. It becomes tough for companies to work together if their communications gear doesn’t talk to each other. From that perspective, UCIF is a great first step.

I think that if UCIF wants to be successful over the long term, it needs to work with Skype, which in my view is becoming the de facto leader in low-latency, low-cost and easy-to-use collaboration tools. Small and new web companies in particular are shunning expensive gear and using Skype for all their communication needs.

One company that is conspicuous by its absence in this alliance? Cisco Systems. The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant is the big gorilla in this market, thanks to it lavish spending to promote its Telepresence solutions and its recent acquisition of Tandberg. Cisco does and will continue to work as an island because as a company it stands to benefit handsomely by selling its own hardware. So it’s safe to say that the UCIF is a broadside against Cisco.

By Om Malik

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  1. That’s good news. That’s the one advantage of a single company having too much control, other companies will conspire to break their dominance. . . this is a good thing for the end user.

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    1. Well let’s hope so, mostly because I think alliances have a certain way of messing things up.

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      1. Om, yes alliances tend to do that with discouraging frequency. As can forums such as UCIF. In my comments about this UCIF formation (http://tinyurl.com/2g83psm), I talk about the stumbles of similar attempts with earlier standards, certs, and testing groups. UCIF can learn some lessons there.

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  2. [...] Cisco’s Competitors Team Up, Form Unified Communication Interoperability Alliance (gigaom.com) [...]

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  3. This is an interesting commentary, but it puts a spin on the ball that is in no way part of the UCIF position. Speaking as a member of the UCIF Board (I’m the Polycom guy), I want to be very clear about this: UCIF is an open alliance of communication technology vendors of all stripes. That’s “open,” meaning that we see value in the participation of every vendor in this business, not just some. Almost twenty major players are already participating in the UCIF, with more joining continually. The absence of any specific company, while it may make for engaging blogfodder, is most often the result of internal company processes like legal review exceeding the available time.

    Bear in mind that UCIF incorporated only one month ago, and has been able to actively recruit for only two weeks. We’ve gotten an extraordinary amount done in that short time, I think. No company has yet turned down the UCIF’s invitation, and UCIF has already invited most of the major players in the game. To answer one specific question: yes, UCIF has invited Cisco to join, at the choice of contributor level or as a Board member, and that offer is a sincere one. Cisco’s a big and reputable player, as you point out, and they can bring a lot to the world of open cross-platform unified communications via active, positive participation in UCIF

    UCIF exists to better protect customer investment, provide consistent user experiences, and maximize the productivity of businesses by making reliable UC available across platforms, across networks, and across toolsets. Facilitating reliable and robust UC will accelerate the growth of the UC market, and this is one specific benefit to UCIF participants: not by helping any one grab a bigger share of the pie, but by growing the entire pie. That’s the biggest win: for users, vendors, IT organizations, and every part of the ecosystem.

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  4. Interoperability forum is nice, but do you expect video and data (web) conferencing interoperability issues to be solved through a forum like this? These communication modes are very complex. Also how exactly is UCIF going to bring about interoperability – by creating standards, or forcing members to provide APIs or some other way (the UCIF web site is not very clear on this).

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  5. Let me respond to a couple of the earlier comments. To Sanjay’s question, the UCIF has been quite clear that they are not going to get into the standards business. That’s a very good thing. There are other efforts underway (IETF and others) working on standards. UCIF is focused on helping to enable testing and certification. That is an equally important component of getting UC solutions developed and then purchased.

    And I support Jeff’s comments about openness. But perhaps the provocative title of this piece will draw a lot of traffic. :) I wrote an article (http://tinyurl.com/2g83psm) on http://www.ucstrategies.com about some of UCIF’s challenges, including openness and member commitment. It also offers some historical precedents that have lessons for this initiative. There are other articles by independent UC specialists there as well (http://tinyurl.com/29mbztd).

    This is an important step in attaining the full potential of UC. I congratulate those responsible for creating this Forum.

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  6. It would be nice if the UCIF works out the kinks in video conferencing standards. Not that we need standards but specifically there are too many of them and seemingly everyone if following some different drummer. For example, there is “SVC” but Vidyo’s implementation is different from Radvision. And Polycom is sort-of supporting this with “HiProfile”; Tandberg/Cisco not to be heard from. So can this group make sure that the pretty straight forward combination of SIP and H.264 does not become completely balkanized like it seems to be? I hope so. Anyone from the UCIF want to comment on this (Jeff Rodman?). Scott Wharton, CEO Vidtel, Inc.

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  7. Cisco is not the only missing market leader. IBM’s UC group is missing so far. Time will tell if it’s process or politics keeping certain co’s from joining. However, I tend to agree with Mr. Rodman below. The UCIF may not solve all the woes of UC interoperability, but step by step, the UC marketplace should be better for pressure exerted by UCIF towards interoperability. Mr. van Doren is correct that implementing standards can be one step forward, steps back result. Let’s hope not.

    At the end of the day, the goal of the UCIF really is about creating a more extensible and flexible product / service for customers of UC. If so, then the more exciting possibility of integrating UC solutions into line of business enterprise sw app’s will start to happen with greater frequency.

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