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Avaya Joins the Stack Wars

VMWorld 2012 this week featured every major computing vendor present to show their wares to over 20,000 attendees. This included the expected list of companies--Dell, Cisco, EMC, Brocade, HP and Avaya. That's right, do a double take, that's Avaya, the former company of Bell heads that makes phone systems and sells call center software. In cause you haven't noticed, though, this is a whole new Avaya. Since Kevin Kennedy became CEO, the company has gone through a significant transformation. In actuality, CEO Lou D'Ambrosio started the transformation of Avaya, but Kennedy has accelerated it.

In addition to the traditional phone stuff that we've come to know and love from Avaya, and Aura, the collaboration software platform, the company added a broad data portfolio through the acquisition of Nortel. It also has a great developer program with DevConnect (kudos to Eric Rossman for the great work here) which was bolstered by ACE (Agile Communication Environment), also added with the Nortel deal. Avaya recently acquired Radvision to add video, and it entered the client computing market with its Avaya Desktop Video Device (with the Flare Experience user interface). And now, at VMWorld, the company launched its data center "stack" called "Collaboration Pod".

The "pod" is a pre-configured, pre-tested, fully integrated turnkey application stack that includes EMC storage, VMWare as the as the virtualization software, Avaya-branded servers, networking and management software as well as an application--either Aura or VMWare View on initial release.

I'm sure some of you are scratching your heads wondering why Avaya chose to enter the computing market and whether they can have success in it. I've thought about this and, while they certainly face an uphill battle gaining traction as a computing vendor, there is an opportunity for them.

The data center market is going through a transition, there's no question about that. Also, I fundamentally believe that market share gains and losses only happen at points of market transition, meaning there is a window of opportunity. Just look at the last five years. Microsoft sells voice, Cisco sells servers, Oracle has its own network products and VMWare is into networking.

Also, this market is becoming a game of who has the best "stack". Oracle probably has the most complete stack as it integrates its own software, hardware, networking, servers and storage together. It's also highly proprietary and closed, but if you want to run Oracle software, that gives IT buyers the best experience.

Cisco has a couple of stack offerings now with vBlock and Flexpod. These solutions offer customers a pre-integrated and pre-configured cloud that can be brought up in only a few days. IBM has a great software stack that sits above the hardware layer, and then there's VMWare.

The approach Avaya is taking is to sell a full solution to customers for a specific set of applications. If one wants to run View or Aura, roll in the Pod, flip it on and away you go. The Aura Pod actually embeds an SBC and voice gateway, so it is everything a customer will need to bring these services up.

I actually think this is the right approach for Avaya. The company doesn't have the footprint that Cisco has, which allows Cisco to sell a more generic application platform; nor does Avaya have the reputation in computing to try and do this through partnerships.

Of the two new Avaya application offerings, the Aura one should have the greater appeal. The combined Nortel/Avaya base of voice customers is huge, and the pre-integrated, pre-configured solution should be an attractive offering for companies looking to migrate to Aura. This is similar to the approach Oracle takes with Extadata and Exalogic. If you want to run those applications, why do the integration work yourself when the vendor has done it for you? Same concept for what Avaya is trying to accomplish in communications.

The View Pod is a bit of a tougher sell since Avaya isn't well branded in desktop computing, but this is one of the few (maybe the only) full turnkey solution for VMWare's View. So, for any customer looking to deploy View, particularly if they're familiar with Avaya, this might prove to be a good option.

Looking at the roadmap, I don't expect that Avaya will turn Pod into a general-purpose compute platform for enterprises to spin up virtual machines on demand--meaning the growth of the product will come from a broader set of applications in areas that Avaya has some strength in. Examples are video infrastructure and call centers.

This was certainly a bold move by Avaya but as Emily Dickinson once said, "Fortune befriends the bold".