Enterprise Connect 2017 Leaves Us on Cloud Nine

If cloud nine implies a feeling of extreme happiness or euphoria, last week's Enterprise Connect 2017 conference and expo was well on its way to a cumulonimbus state. You couldn't qualify for an analyst pass to the conference unless you had a cloud opinion to share, and you couldn't position your company as a UC leader unless you could tout your cloud offering with a hybrid option.

In truth, the majority of the cloud-speak related to UC (nobody says "unified communications" anymore). Cloud strengths in the UC world revolve around dynamic and agile offerings combined with rapid customer deployment and the business shift from a CapEx to an OpEx model preferred by many but NOT all customers. Other cloud advantages that gained strong interest this year included the ability to scale massively and to bring together content from different sources and applications. This last point feeds directly into the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning future. In this emerging world, the sales person will know that her prospect/customer recently financed the purchase of a new truck when she calls to sell him auto insurance.

As Video track chair, I, of course, was most interested in the video side of cloud -- or, rather, the cloud side of video. Video conferencing is a communications application, and communications has always been a services industry. Few people own their own mobile towers, phone switches, or wide area networks; instead they take advantage of carrier offerings. Using a cloud service for video has all the advantages quoted in the UC world, plus more.

  • Capacity planning for video conferencing is tricky. You have X employees, and you aren't sure how many of them will need video, or how many of them will use video at the same time, or how many calls will need multipoint support. Buy too little infrastructure, and users will be unhappy. Buy too much, and waste your money. A cloud video solution generally provides elastic expansion and support for scale.
  • Using a cloud service for B2B or B2C calls generally means anybody who can reach the service over the Internet can be part of a meeting or conversation. Using a cloud minimizes the need to adjust network and firewall settings.
  • Since cloud video is the main business of the service provider, the service provider will need to keep up with new algorithms, security settings, and protocols. Interoperability issues moving forward will be fewer than with a static CPE infrastructure solution.
  • Using a cloud service reduces the need for in-house, specialized video support and can free up IT resources for more valuable work or for tasks closely related to the core business.

A recent study published by Wainhouse Research based on data from 10 cloud video vendors showed a year-over-year growth rate in minutes of usage above 100%. After speaking to people on the Enterprise Connect expo floor, the natural conclusion is that cloud services are inevitable for video conferencing -- with the many reasons why ranging from the technical (see bullet points above) to the social and cultural (millennials anyone?).

Also apparent, however, is that some customers are still at the stratus or cumulus levels, or stuck in ground-level fog. An Enterprise Connect panel of CTO and CIO professionals from half a dozen large enterprises discussed such topics as recovering from the 2008 economic collapse, replacing TDM PBXs with new solutions, expanding from IM/p to UC, and, I kid you not, upgrading from Windows XP. Innovation and business transformation indeed. Clearly the vendors are far ahead of the customer base.

So, while cloud is inevitable, getting there is going to take much longer than many expect. And video is likely to lead the way.