Unify's Circuit: Looking Toward a Single Pane of Glass
Formally unveiled today, Unify's long-awaited Circuit, nee Project Ansible, creates a closed enterprise social community with real-time communications that some businesses may find compelling.
In one of the most widely anticipated introductions the UC market has seen in a good long while, Unify today launched the product it's been calling Project Ansible for the last year and a half but now officially goes by the name Circuit.
Circuit, nee Project Ansible, has changed a bit in the year and a half since Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise Communications) announced the initiative. Project Ansible, when first introduced, promised to be a communications hub that presented a single pane of glass into the increasingly inconvenient mess of messaging, communications, and social tools that people use at work. Yet Circuit, as it now exists, is more of a closed enterprise social community with comparably robust real-time communications baked directly into it. This could very well be compelling to businesses seeking enterprise social software, particularly those interested in adopting it in a SaaS model and those that have not already made significant investments in IBM Connections, Jive, and other enterprise social platforms.
Read more on Unify's Circuit:
But I think that Circuit will become more interesting to enterprises after its next few enhancements, which should allow it to fulfill the "single pane of glass" promise that people -- or at least I -- find so interesting. So let's take a look at what Circuit offers today, and how it's expected to be enhanced in the near future.
First, some basic facts: Circuit is not UC. It doesn't replace OpenScape UC, Microsoft Lync, or Cisco Jabber. At last week's Unify conference, VP Global Solution Marketing Jan Hickisch offered this description of it: "Circuit improves teamwork by bringing together voice, video, screen share, messaging, and file sharing into a single view."
- Circuit is an enterprise social and communications environment that currently runs separate from UC, email, and other communications software and later will be able to integrate with them.
- Circuit is sold in a traditional SaaS model. There's no server software to buy, install, and maintain. Think Salesforce.com or, in the UC space, AvayaLive Connect.
- Circuit is powered by mostly new, but some old, or rather existing, Unify software. For example, Conversation threads, point-to-point real-time communications, and search are all based on newly developed software. Among the familiar faces in the underlying infrastructure is OpenScape Media Server, which sets up multipoint calls and performs some other functions discussed below. And OpenScape Session Border Controller facilitates inter-company Circuit communications, and will provide communications outside a company's specific Circuit environment.
- Circuit subscriptions cost $14.95 per user per month. As an introductory special, Unify is offering six months of free use.
- Circuit is available for purchase now.
OK, now on to what Circuit is and what it will become.
Now: For PCs and Macs, Circuit runs as a browser-based WebRTC client in Chrome. Screen sharing requires a plugin. For mobiles, Circuit comes in the form of a native iOS app for iPhones and iPods.
Later: Unify plans additional browser support, including a native WebRTC client for Firefox and a plugin for Internet Explorer. For mobiles, Unify is working on a native app for Android. It has no current plans for a native BlackBerry app, though the Android app may be able to run on BlackBerrys, as many others do, and Unify has said it's considering an IE and BlackBerry client.
My thoughts: Circuit is a brilliant use of WebRTC. It's great to see a leading UC solutions developer embracing it in this way, and I think this is a sign of things to come as other UC vendors roll out browser-based clients for their communications solutions.
That said, having only a browser-based interface means that when the client is not connected to the Internet the user has no access to Circuit content -- at least that's what happened with my demo account. So that meant no checking of conversation threads on airplanes or other places where I was unconnected.
Now: Users can search content and contacts within Circuit.
Later: Users will be able to search content and contacts outside of Circuit. This will require connectors and integration with third-party software (more on that below).
Voice and video calling
Now: Current support is for voice and video calling only within the Circuit environment. So for now users can just make Circuit-to-Circuit calls, much like the Lync-to-Lync restriction within Lync Online as it's typically deployed.
Later: Ability to dial out to the PSTN via PBX integration and/or support for carriers' SIP trunking services (more on that shortly).
Additional info: Calls between two Circuit users are set up peer-to-peer while multipoint calls leverage OpenScape Media Server in the Circuit cloud. Technically, there's no maximum number of participants who can be in a multipoint call. Circuit interface displays at most 15 participants in video calls, with the top one to three of them appearing larger than the others.
Now: Circuit does not currently integrate with any PBX system, UC server, or telephony service. With the exception of PSTN dial-in mentioned above, users can set up voice calls only with other Circuit users.
Later: Unify will introduce a "universal telephony connector" that connects Circuit to any other voice platform via SIP and an "advanced telephony connector" that not only integrates Circuit with SIP-based voice systems, but also supports telephony presence (an end user's presence icon in Circuit shows him as busy when he's using his desk phone) and various other call features.
Additional info: Both telephony connectors are powered by... yep, you guessed it: OpenScape Media Server in the Circuit cloud. Circuit is getting a lot of mileage out of that thing!
My thoughts: The advanced telephony connector will only work with Unify voice systems. So telephony presence and other advanced voice services will only work when Circuit is deployed alongside OpenScape. This is great for OpenScape customers, but it will limit the degree to which companies with Avaya, Cisco, and other telephony systems are able to integrate Circuit into their overall communications and collaboration environment.
Now: Audio conference participants can dial in to a Circuit meeting from the PSTN. This is powered by conference bridge software in the OpenScape Media Server hosted in the Circuit cloud. Dial-in numbers for the US, UK, and Germany are currently available.
Later: Audio conferencing dial-in numbers for other countries.
Now: None, except for aforementioned PSTN dial-in for audio-only participants.
Later: Ability to add non-Circuit users to a Circuit Conversation. A Circuit user will be able to send out a URL to a specific Conversation thread. Clicking on it, the guest will be able to see the thread, participate in WebRTC-driven voice and video calls, share screens, view/upload/download files, and otherwise act as a Circuit user. When the call is over, the guest loses access to Circuit.
Now: Users at one business subscribing to Circuit can start Conversations, view presence, launch voice and video sessions, and otherwise interact with users at another business subscribing to Circuit. Administrators at either company can block this feature.
Later: Individual Circuit users will be able to block cross-tenant communications sessions.
Additional info: Cross-tenant communications was described to me as a "hidden feature" in the current version of Circuit. Users can enter the Circuit ID of users at other companies, but the Circuit UI doesn't explicitly indicate that this is possible. In later versions of Circuit, this feature will become more obvious.
Next page: Click to the next page to find out how Circuit handles video and IM integration, and more