The time is now for convergence, and a utopian future of unified communications where devices can meet and mingle over a single network is not far off. At least, those were the messages coming out of Avaya Inc. headquarters last month.
At a company analyst and media conference in Basking Ridge, N.J., Avaya said it is continuing to focus its efforts on IP and demonstrated new converged technologies and solutions to back up its plan to be number one in the convergence market.
To do so, the company is putting more emphasis on improving the messages it gives to customers, a move it hopes will display the clear business benefits of convergence.
“Pricing has equalized with traditional PBXes versus IP telephony,” Michael Thurk, group vice-president of Converged Systems and Applications for Avaya. “The technology is now mature enough to be deployed…and is being deployed.”
Thurk echoed sentiments voiced by Avaya Chairman and CEO Don Peterson, who said that while Avaya has added substantially to its convergence strategy – including VoIP testing tools, installation wizards and IP phones – it will continue to channel its efforts into beefing up not only its voice side, but its also data networking piece of the equation.
According to Fritz Ollum, senior solutions manager, Multiservice Networking Infrastructure for Avaya, the company has historically sold its data products as part of a broader solution, rather than offering standalone products in this area. From an IP perspective, Ollum said Avaya has taken its monolithic PBXes and converted them into media servers and gateways. Collectively with its MultiVantage software that sits on the media servers, Avaya’s offering can connect the interfaces through the PSTN and the IP network, Ollum said. And with no shortage of referral to the FIFA World Cup IP deployment last year, CEO Peterson said Avaya’s IP business is up 81 per cent this year, and is now the third-leading seller of IP telephony systems.
“In the end, we think we will definitely own the convergence marketplace,” Peterson said. “First we will win their minds, then we will win their wallets and then we will win the marketplace.”
Nonetheless, while Avaya believes its Enterprise Class IP Solutions (ECLIPS) portfolio can compete and win the marketplace, some industry experts report otherwise.
“In terms of Avaya and the ECLIPS portfolio, the majority of its revenue is coming from the voice processing side,” said Jerry Murphy, senior vice-president and co-service director for Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group. “They are number one or two (in revenue) on the voice side, and around number seven on the data side. It’s a pragmatic approach; Avaya doesn’t have enough to offer to compete with Cisco on the data side.”
And while companies like Avaya and Cisco are actively promoting their respective IP breakthroughs, Meta’s Murphy said that customers are not asking for the technology; rather, vendors are pushing it.
“Are there compelling business reasons to do it? Not yet,” Murphy said. “It makes sense to have one network, but people already have two and it costs money to converge them, not to mention the backup systems that cost a lot of money (to install.) In the long term it will be cheaper to go with a converged network. The administration and maintenance is cheaper when you think of adds, moves and changes. But the fact is that PBXes work.”
While she said she has seen the benefits of convergence firsthand through increased floor space and low long distance bills, Roberta Fox, president of Markham, Ont.-based Fox Group Consulting said that users don’t understand and don’t presently care about the business advantages.
“[Customers] have existing infrastructure that works and what they do want is something that can do it all, which at this point isn’t available,” Fox said, echoing Murphy’s sentiments.
And while in Basking Ridge convergence is high on the list of priorities for Avaya, at Avaya Canada, President John Cameron places it at a five out of a list of ten.
“There is a lot of interest in convergence in terms of bringing business processes and business applications together, but people are still looking to leverage their existing voice and data investments,” Cameron told Network World Canada.