Meet the New Internet, Same as the Old Internet
Will the public, unmanaged Internet become the all-purpose public network of the future--even for real-time traffic?
It's been an article of faith that while the public Internet works fine for real-time communications that don't really have to work much more than OK—say, rate-arbitrage-motivated international voice and video calls via Skype—it'll never be enterprise-grade, can't really be because it's unmanaged. I think this assumption is increasingly going to be questioned, for reasons that started emerging at last week's Enterprise Connect.
Remember a few years ago, when people used to argue that cell phones could never replace enterprise voice systems because cellular phone quality was so bad? I heard in many briefings the claim that, "Cell phones are fine for when you've got no other choice, but when you've got a critical conversation, you find a landline." Maybe that was true then, but it's not true anymore. Good enough isn't just good enough, it's the new normal.
When I made this point in the Locknote session at Enterprise Connect, Zeus Kerravala was quick to point out that cell phone quality is no better than it used to be, and I hastily agreed. The thing is, nobody cares any more. I don't know what people do if they're on an impossibly bad cell phone connection—text? IM? Twitter? Facebook? Skype? But that's the point—there are a lot more options, and all are close at hand because your cell phone is no longer a telephone, as it was a few years ago, it's a computer. And so you work around (some might say route around) the bad voice quality. What you don't do is put the whole interaction on hold (figuratively speaking) until you can get your clutches on a real honest-to-goodness telephone.
I think the pieces are starting to fall into place to allow the same dynamic to occur with real-time communications over the public, unmanaged Internet. Many of those pieces are already very solidly in place: Skype is a fact of life for many if not most businesses; Facebook can serve as a public IM platform for individuals who aren't on the same enterprise system and don't even remember what AIM used to stand for, let alone still use public IM clients.
And then there's our old friend the browser. When I asked, at the close of our Consumerization of IT general session, what technologies our panelists were keeping an eye on from a consumerization perspective, Irwin Lazar of Nemertes Research was quick with his answer: WebRTC. That's an emerging standard for voice-enabling web browsers, so that you don’t need any client, even Skype, to make or receive a call out of a browser. Add video to the process, eventually, and you've got a true multimedia Web, built right on top of the same old Internet we've been using all along.
Some enterprise vendors are already there. Avaya's Brett Shockley used a portion of his Enterprise Connect keynote to talk about Avaya One-Touch Video, which lets a user of Avaya's Aura platform set up a videoconference accessible to non-Aura users via a simple web link that you can email to these participants. NEC demonstrated a similar capability for collaboration on its newest Univerge release. These vendor solutions don't rely on WebRTC, but like WebRTC, they do rely on the Internet.
Of course, doing real-time traffic over the Internet is, in fact, a huge challenge. On No Jitter, Greg Wolf of NetForecast has written about the burdens being put on the public Internet by streaming video and other types of public traffic that are only going to increase in the years ahead.
But as always, the question isn't: Are we going to be able to make it enterprise-grade? The question is: Are we going to be able to make it good enough?