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Test Your UC Client (In Somebody Else's Environment) Before You Deploy

Having spent the last few days in Las Vegas at Cisco Live, I'm reminded of just how complicated and complex enterprise UC and collaboration environments can be. They rarely, if ever, comprise just a single vendor -- and the tools and capabilities in use are often as varied as the types of slot machines dinging away in the Strip's casinos.

That's to say, while the enterprise IT folks attending this week's conference may have a bias toward Call Manager, Jabber, Spark, WebEx, and sundry other Cisco collaboration apps, chances are they're going to have lots of other cross-vendor integrations and compatibilities with which they need to contend. Not that I had to travel anywhere to understand this. I see it day in and day out as I look over site metrics for No Jitter. Back almost a year ago, in August 2016, No Jitter blogger Brent Kelly, president of KelCor, wrote a post titled, "10 Cisco/Microsoft Hybrid UC Deployment Options." Month after month, the piece remains one of the most-read articles on No Jitter. (Note to Brent: Time for an update?!)

Likewise, the Cisco vs. Microsoft analysis Brent does along with Phil Edholm, president of PKE Consulting, at Enterprise Connect each year is always among the top-attended breakout sessions. This year's iteration, "Cisco vs. Microsoft: Titans Clash on New Terrain?" was no exception, having drawn close to 400 attendees. With the push into the cloud, the increasing reliance on video calling, and the rise of team messaging -- just to mention a few trends -- enterprise IT professionals have their hands full in sorting out what's what and how best to move ahead with their communications and collaboration portfolios. Vendor bias be gone.

Fire Up & Test Away

The experience of World Wide Technology, a Cisco Live exhibitor, reinforces what we've seen among the No Jitter and Enterprise Connect communities. As part of its Advanced Technology Center, WWT has been offering sandbox lab environments that large public and private enterprise organizations can use to test, compare, and validate their collaboration products before unleashing them in production environments, Joe Berger, collaboration practice director at WWT, told me in a briefing. The company has dozens of labs, some segmented by product (a particular CallManager version, say), others aimed at integration (comparing three call management platforms and how they react within an environment, for example), and still others for product comparisons. Indeed, one of the most popular labs is for comparing Microsoft and Cisco UC clients, he said: "Fire up your virtual desktops and run Spark next to Skype for Business and understand what the experience is with both."

The company has seen such interest in its sandbox offerings for collaboration that it extended its offerings into the WWT Collaboration Labs, a multivendor environment for testing and validating enterprise collaboration tools and services. Rather than being limited by the availability of one lab, enterprise organizations can now get access to any labs they need on an on-demand, self-service basis, or by subscription. The goal, Berger said, is to allow quick access to a handful of labs at the same time. In addition, WWT offers a concierge service should clients want help navigating their ways through labs or to provide troubleshooting advice, Berger said.

Keeping Pace

WWT just officially introduced the Collaboration Labs last week ahead of Cisco Live, but has been allowing access for the past six weeks or so. In that time, 210 enterprises have used the lab, said Berger, noting that the target enterprise customer falls in the Fortune 250.

Enterprise customers get access to a portal, from which they can get demonstrations of more than 60 collaboration solutions, including Cisco Spark. A team collaboration comparison lab is high on Berger's "what's next" agenda, he said. "I've tasked my guys to go understand all these tools, and create a lab where we can test out the top three or four," added Berger, mentioning Spark, Microsoft Teams, and Slack as the likely candidates. "There are nuances, and some do some things really well. We want to provide that access for our customers, give them the documentation, and a matrix."

UC management platforms, such as from Voss and Vyopta, are another target, he added. Interest here is picking up, partly due to the move to the cloud as well as the increasing availability of data fueling such systems.

And because we all know picking the right technology and implementing it correctly is only half the battle, WWT will even manage employee training. Adoption, too, is one nasty pain point.

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