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Flying Close to the Sun
Education may not be as broad these days as it used to be, but there are probably some who still remember the story of the father and son, Daidalos and Icarus. The former fashioned wings from wax and feathers, and warned his son not to fly too close to the sun. The boy did anyway, and the wax melted with predictable consequences. It pays to listen sometimes, and there's a modern Daidalos who's giving us both insights and warnings on UC. The website is www.ist-daidalos.org, and the information there is freely available. The organization has five key concepts in its approach, and they're all relevant.
Concept one is MARQS, which is mobility management, resource management, QoS, and security. The basic precept of this concept is that there must be a uniform means of securing these basic service attributes across the range of networks the user will operate in, both in-house and public. The interesting thing here is the notion that universality of access is fundamental to true unification of communications. That suggests that enterprise UC strategies not only have to be linked to WAN capabilities, they have to be linked in such a way as to cover users in all the credible service areas.
The second Daidalos concept is VID, or virtual ID. This is I think their critical core, in fact. VID separates the user as a logical entity that links to a real person (or, in theory, a role) and the devices that user might elect to have or use at any given time. For all the work that has been done on the notion of virtualizing users and creating device independence, this is an area where service tools at all levels seem to be pretty darn anemic.
The third of the key concepts is USP, for Ubiquitous, Seamless, and Pervasive. The idea here is that communications not only has to support multiple devices independent of the logical entity, it has to provide for their use interchangeably and also to support switching dynamically from one to another. Further, and very significantly, Daidalos wants support for both personal and "embedded" devices, meaning custom electronics that is neither a cellphone nor a computer. One could envision such devices as including a video receptor in a car, for example, or a pager.
Concept number four is SIB, which stands for Seamless Integration of Broadcast. This is another area where Daidalos jumps way ahead of current thinking, because it means broadcast in the true sense, including TV or other content. The goal here is pretty clear; you must embrace one-to-many relationships in any form of personal communications, but particularly in collaboration.
The final concept is Federation, which means that a Daidalos community has to provide the means of internal cooperation and settlement to allow every player to participate under the terms of the collective and support experiences in a cooperative way. Note that this doesn't mean that you're forcing payment under any given model; just that you support any rational and mutually agreed model.
This is no dry set of standards; Daidalos has running code, demonstrations, etc. I've seen one, in fact, and it may well be the most impressive example of UC that has been shown anywhere. It shows the most complex of all "universal" communications applications, which is having multimedia streams (broadcast and interactive) follow a user as they move from a fixed location to a vehicle, and from vehicle to another fixed location, using a mobile device during the transitions.
At one level, this sort of thing seems so futuristic and beyond current practices that it's tempting to dismiss it as a parlor trick. That would be a mistake. The biggest problem with UC, according to virtually all the research, is that it's a concept looking for a justification. There are a lot of enterprises "considering" UC, and those same enterprises have probably been considering it for years. If we want UC to do more than create work for people who survey and write reports, we've got to get the "considering" buyer into a committing status.
No truly useful tool is useful only in limited and largely unpredictable situations. Would you buy a hammer that sometimes turned to rubber, or a wrench that sometimes fit and other times didn't? What Daidalos is about is creating a framework where UC can be what UC is not now and has never been, despite its name-UNIVERSAL.
If you look at the five core concepts of Daidalos, you find a lot of familiar stuff. Sure, people have talked about the concept of a unified presence. Sure they've talked about federation and coordination across network boundaries-public and private. We've had broadcast discussions too, and hand-off. But what has been lacking is the recognition that none of this stuff is optional because without it you aren't universal at all.
Every time a user encounters a restriction on the use of any unified communications system, they encounter a barrier to its justification. A limited approach limits costs and complexity, to be sure, but it also limits benefits. The market is clearly signaling us all that the problem with UC is not "getting started" as much as it's getting determined to start. That means building a business case, and building a good one means showing that with UC you can do everything that you'd expect to do.
There are thousands of pages of documentation on this project, workshops and demonstrations and so forth. Most people have never seen any of it, even those in the UC space. Anyone who looks into it will find it's probably more based on research and experimentation than almost anything commercially available. Even the global architecture diagram is full of insights into the UC issues, to the point where those considering a UC system or deployment should take a look to test their providers' insights into future requirements.
How is it, for all the value that Daidalos clearly represents, it's such an unknown? Conceptually, it's the hottest thing in unified communications, and maybe that's the answer. Vendors are afraid of flying too close to the sun.