Amazing month for open and cloud collaboration

Clients

In today’s world we have lots of options as consumers for collaborative apps. We’re living in paradise! The various app stores are chock-full of tools we can use. Woot!

There is a nasty problem that has been proliferating however, and that’s the problem of islands of these collaboration tools. We’re living in tropical paradises but we can’t talk to anyone on any other island.

If you have iOS and your friend has Android, you cant use Facetime/iMessage. If you’re not signed up for Google, you can use hangouts…. so the solution is to downloading and installing a lot of apps. Go get Skype to talk to Oprah. Get hangouts to talk to your Google buddies. Get a Mac if you want the privilege of talking to your snob-friends. Get whatever you can and install, sign up, create an account for all of it… then you can talk to anyone… Until there’s another new hot thing.

By the way, if you want them to run in the background, so that you can actually receive calls…youre going to kill your battery/data etc. You can do what I do… ping your collaborative partner on the one network that is pervasive – the phone or SMS – and ask them to launch whatever tool you decide to use right now. Yikes!

So the net-net has been that the collaborative tools we have are getting better, but our actual capability to collaborate with any particular person or business has diminished, and in some cases the solution to this artificial problem is “Federation” which will also cost you… Bluejeans, Nextplane and other exist and make money doing just this.

Why? Because nobody wants to adhere to standards. They want to sail you up to their island on a deluxe 40-foot yach and strand you there in paradise. In a lot of cases that’s the business model. You can only play if you play on my island.

Now the reality is that there are already true open standards to do all this stuff…IM/P, Voice, Video, Sharing etc (XMPP, SIP H.26x and the H. protocols in general) and so long as each of these players support those and accepted the standard way to implement features, we’d all be a whole lot more interoperable than today.

Lets use an example that just works today. Email. I can go out to GoDaddy and get me a handy new domain within 5 minutes and start sending and receiving spam emails to and from anyone globally inside of 15 minutes. You can use whatever client you like, whatever server you like and I can do the same. No federation. Standards. Ubiquitous.

But, alas the yatch has sailed and nobody wants to talk to anyone… and in a confounding twist of irony, we have this problem in “Collaboration”.

So now I have a device – a laptop or tablet or phone – with a copy of at least three different apps on it. (I.T. is thrilled.) I have at least three apps to keep updated, at least three passwords to maintain etc.

Enter WebRTC.

What if there was a way that I could use a single app to do all of this? It turns out that there is indeed a way of doing this. Just as thick applications are “moving to the cloud” and we are using web browsers to run our agile apps, UC should also run in a browser> The issue has been that we needed plugins to support real-time communications.

WebRTC/RTCWeb is a set of standards to deliver Real Time Communications on the web, in browsers. Early on a few companies, most notably Mozilla and Google for browsers as well as Cisco Systems and Siemens championed the cause. Now Microsoft just hopped on board with Internet Explorer as well. What this means for you is that you will be able to start or receive a collaborative session right from your browser. In just the same way your browser can visit multiple sites, you will be able to use the real-time capabilities on multiple sites and applications too.

This allows any Web app or portal to do HD Voice and Video as well as interactive content (maybe whiteboarding as an example) with just a few lines of Javascript code. This has profound effects on our islander friends we were talking about above. For example, lets look at the Skype paradigm as it stood a week or two ago:

SkypeHere you have a buddy list on the left and a video window on the right. The value of Skype is that “Everyone has it” and it does “Voice” or “Video”.

There are around 450M Skype users around the world. Thats a pretty big surface area and one Microsoft touts regularly. In fact a big push behind their paid UC product, Lync, is the ability to bridge the two islands. Buy my stuff and you’ll have the privilege of receiving consumer calls from people with Skype installed. A big carrot for enterprises…

One issue however is that there are at least 1.7 Billion people with browsers and high-speed internet access… and those people are about to get Video and voice natively in the browser…

“But my users don’t have or will not have a modern browser!” I hear you yell.. True… but all the users with Skype installed most certainly will – their browsers practically update themselves.

Worse yet, if Facebook and other sites will soon be able to do HD video natively. This means that this will remove Voice/Video as a common denominator or killer feature. I can video with either and now Skype’s buddy list looks downright anemic next to Facebook’s activity feed and social graph. I can just click my cousin’s name right inside the funny post he made to call him in HD.

So the question you have to ask is “If both Skype and Facebook give me HD Video and Voice, which am I more likely to call from?” R.I.P. Skype.

Unlike Skype, Viber, or WhatsApp, or any other service, my browser can indeed be the calling client for any website. I will be able to place and receive calls from my Facebook account, Google account (theyre already doing this with hangouts), Salesforce.com account, Linkedin account etc..

Nobody’s going to be running thick UC clients in a very few short years, and the lock-in will be gone… as will a lot of those players who simply have a contact list to try differentiate themselves.

Back to your complaint that your enterprise doesn’t or can not run a “modern browser”… your consumers most certainly will be.. so how do you connect?

Problems with Nirvana – solved this last week

A major issue has been that the folks in the IETF could not agree just whose video to use. Google and a group on their side of the fence preferred VP8. VP8 isnt what any of your gear at Work runs. Cisco and others who make telecom gear which uses H.264 preferred that codec – which IS what your gear at Work runs… and as with politics the votes were split down the middle for years… So we had no WebRTC.

As of last week the IETF agreed to make both mandatory for browsers. (Read more from Andreas Gal of Mozilla here) This opens the floodgates for WebRTC and also will enable all browsers that support WebRTC to natively talk to Cisco and any other H.264AVC capable gear… your gear at Work! In fact this week Cisco Collaboration CTO, Jonathan Rosenberg demoed a Cisco Project Squared client in Firefox natively receiving a call from a Cisco DX80. You can see a demo of this here. That demo is absolutely huge news for anyone anywhere with a video endpoint or room system. It also means that Cisco has an app in-market already.

That’s how you connect your consumers with their fancy new modern browsers… to the stuff you already have!

As it turns out the H.264 codec inside of Firefox is Cisco’s own codec, compiled and distributed by OpenH264.org. Cisco open sourced their codec, and will pay for the royalties necessary to license the codec should anyone (competitors included) decide to download and use their binary. There really is no excuse to be on an island anymore.

And so, in the face of change, Skype announced that they were implementing a new web-based client.

Servers/Services

Last week I blogged about how Microsoft’s move from Lync to “Skype for Work” was essential for Microsoft to genuinely move to the cloud. That information is as important the information here, so I am inserting it here…

Microsoft announced a move from Lync to Skype for Business. While most believe this is a simple rebrand and some lipstick on the clients, I believe it’s a signal of a whole lot more.

This first round will essentially be a rebranding and UI tweaking exercise to make the two look more similar.

In the coming months I expect that new versions of Skype and Lync start to share codecs, since the existing solution of transcoding at the Lync edge server is simply not scalable. Skype already has Lync’s H.264SVC codec embedded and presumably that will allow a more “native” Skype-Lync video experience. Instead of the edge servers doing signalling AND codec transcoding they can do just signalling – a huge reduction in load. Below is a simplified view of the changes:

OldNew

Doing the same for share, control, participant lists etc – is a much, much bigger hurdle.

“Why should I have to download Skype, or give up my SkypeID in order to click to call my bank? Shouldnt I just click the call button on their website?”

At some point the two clients from Microsoft will have to merge in a single client, and then, much more ominously, a single system…. Why would Microsoft want the complexity and expense of two? Remember Messenger? But merging two systems is much easier said than done… for both Microsoft and customers.

In the age of ubiquitous consumer services like Skype, Facetime, Hangouts etc, everyone can participate there is no notion of setting up islands of capability and having to force users to “federate” those islands so they can talk to each other. Its cloud-scale stuff. Just connect and go.

With Lync, the opposite is the case. Businesses can set up Lync installations and then have to explicitly connect to other systems such as other companies’ Lync implementations. This series of individual systems is deployed by individual companies, or in “cloud” data centers. They’re build on Live Communications Server which was released in 2003. Thats over 10 years ago. They all, individually need to make sure they’re patched, upgraded and secure in order to realize the collaboration dream.

This is not the new-world. The next-gen applications have no such notion. Even as one of the oldest consumer services, you hop on Skype, and you can talk to anyone else on Skype. You’re not running a “Skype server” that you need to connect to everyone else’s server.

A move from an individualized per-company Lync world to something where you have a true cloud service with elastic scale and management is where Microsoft has to go. They have to move from Lync to Skype in order to be competitive.

The announcement  heralds that sort of massive platform change for Lync, and massive change for those who use it. Changing platforms is not easy.

As with WebRTC, Cisco is forging the way with True Cloud UC and ushering in a new UC Era

Cisco have been doubling down and working on true cloud collaboration offers for a while now. They hired Skype’s ex-CTO, Jonathan Rosenberg, who had strong opinions on where the world was going a few years ago. They’ve had the #1 cloud collaboration platform for years, and in fact that platform represents the second largest SAAS platform globally behind Salesforce.

Cisco had already opened it’s multi-workload cloud “Meeting room” platform to even support traditional systems so that you can join a full experience on all the new cool devices and your old Polycom or other room systems… For years already you could also get full UC capabilities (not just a subset) from the cloud with their cloud HCS solutions

Cisco announced the next step in the revolution of Cloud Collaboration last week.. (which you can watch in its entirety online if you are registered)… and demoed their next generation UC Platform based completely on true Next-Gen cloud technology. (See Cisco Collaboration CTO, Jonathan Rosenberg’s session from 1h46m onwards) We really have to reiterate the word Platform. Its built just like most of the other new cloud platforms out there – to be built on top of, and integrated to – a vast difference to the island philosophy.

As part of the announcement, Jonathan also showed how an on-premise Cisco UC infrastructure could be fused with the cloud, so that the calls coming in to an extension in the on-prem system was simultaneously delivered into the next-gen cloud (2h32 of the video), which is another groundbreaking capability and shows an example of how the cloud extends functionality the existing equipment… and its just the beginning. You may have to keep your clunky browser because your enterprise can’t upgrade, but your new and old gear that speaks H.264AVC or straight voice including all Cisco’s hard and soft clients will work just fine in the new world – and talk to all those hipsters with their fancy new browsers.

A huge head start… and you can start playing today, for free

project-squared-620x422

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