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What to Expect from Unified Communications in 2013

Gazing into the crystal ball has become as customary a year-end tradition as lowering the ball in Times Square. Michael Finneran and others have done their prognosticating for what will come to pass in 2013 for the UC industry, while Dave Michels comments on others' predictions. Rather than break out a Ouija board of my own or analyze the debris at the bottom of my teacup, I thought I'd start the new year with quick look at what's reasonably certain to happen within the next 12 months. Looking through notes I've taken throughout 2012, here's a few product-specific things on Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, and others that we can expect to impact us all in the near term.

Avaya Awareness. This is software that monitors end users' communication and collaboration behavior in real time, determines what contacts, emails, documents and other are most relevant in a given situation, and makes sure it's readily available to the end user when he or she is most likely to need it. Avaya started talking about Awareness early last year, with plans to start "rolling it out into a number of different applications over the next 12 to 24 months"...which means we're likely to start seeing Avaya Awareness in the workplace sometime this year.

Alcatel-Lucent OpenTouch Video Store and OpenTouch Cloud. This is ALU Enterprise's cloud-based "YouTube for the enterprise" service that became generally available in 2012. Right now it's more of a portal that lets employees upload and share video content, but UC integration will be "available in future releases." This will apparently let end users with OpenTouch Conversation launch audio, video, and IM sessions directly from the portal, as well as stream video content from the portal to a My IC Phone. Last year, Alcatel-Lucent also introduced OpenTouch Cloud services, as a UCaaS offering. It was supposed to be available in Europe in late 2012 and I'm seeing hints that some companies are either in trials or actually using it. But OpenTouch Cloud remains absent from the Alcatel-Lucent list of enterprise offerings, so I'm thinking we'll be hearing about this later in 2013.

Aastra Cloud. In 2012, Aastra hinted at following up MX-ONE's support for server virtualization with a SaaS business model that has MX-ONE at the core of a cloud-based UC service. It looks like the Aastra Cloud Strategy will begin taking shape in the months ahead, though it's not clear to me that an Aastra UCaaS offering will be available by the end of 2013. But other planned milestones on the MX-ONE roadmap--including support for IPv6 and continued efforts in video collaboration--likely will be.

NEC UNIVERGE Cloud Services. In case the previous entries didn't provide indication enough that cloud services will be big this year, NEC is also expected to jump on the UCaaS bandwagon. NEC UNIVERGE Cloud Services "leverages UNIVERGE 3C, the company's recently announced software-based unified communications and collaboration solution designed to operate in both private and hybrid and public-cloud deployment models." The new UCaaS offering started to be rolled out in 2012, but it seems availability in North America was stretched out to a new target of early 2013.

All sorts of stuff from Siemens Enterprise Communications. In a series of webinars to industry analysts, Siemens Enterprise tipped its hand a bit when it comes to what's on the product roadmap. Milestones to expect in 2013 (and maybe beyond since as far as I know the company didn't commit to release dates) include social CRM integration, new WFO (workforce optimization) packaging, cloud-based disaster recovery; a new user experience with real-time voice transcription and zero-touch configuration, a new video conferencing platform that integrates into companies' existing video infrastructures; new social collaboration software; and HTML5 and WebRTC support. There was also talk of a single product architecture that would unite OpenScape Voice and HiPath 4000 PBXs.

Microsoft Lync 2013. The much anticipated update to Microsoft's UC solution, Lync 2013 is expected to become generally available early this year. Microsoft and its partners do a...great doesn't do it justice; better to say fantastic, stupendous, splendiferous...job at providing details about Lync, and the amount of info it has delivered on the 2013 update is no exception. There's "what's new" blogs, configuration guides, installation tips, hands-on reviews of the "preview" software released in the Fall, and arcana on VDI plug-ins, server failover, and XMPP federation. I wish there was this level of product detail available from all developers of UC solutions and providers of UC services.

IBM Sametime version 8.5.x or 9. IBM also seems to be cooking up the next version of its UC software. There's no official word on when or even if it will be out, though some speculate that it will be announced at the Connect conference later this month and ship by June. IBM customers and partners believe this will be a major update warranting a new version number--so version 9, since the current software rev is 8.5.2. IBM has been more or less mum on what new features will be included, though at least one tweeter has heard that social networking integration, enhanced video conferencing and mobility, and a cloud delivery model will figure prominently in the upcoming Sametime update.

Cisco WebEx Meetings Server. This is the software version of the popular WebEx service--something that enterprises can own and deploy in private data centers as opposed to subscribe to on a monthly basis. As with the ALU entry, this Cisco product was announced early in 2012 and delivered later the same year. In 2013, Cisco plans to integrate WebEx Meetings Server with its UC software, so that end users with the Jabber client can escalate an IM session not just to a voice or video call, but to a WebEx web conferencing session. This should be available in the near term. Further out--maybe in 2013, maybe later--is WebEx Meeting Server support for multi-tenancy, support for hypervisers other than VMware vSphere, and support for SVC-based video conferencing.

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