Category Archives: Unified Communications

Blog posts on all things related to UC

BYOD, Management and Security

This week’s Economist has a short article on mobile device security. Rightfully so, they recognize the security threat is data loss as opposed to malware. As discussed in previous posts, the BYOD challenge is about management of devices.  Data loss prevention is most effective when it is aware the device exists and is accessing, sitting or transmitting certain information when it should not be.

We have been asked recently about the potential growth in the BYOD space.  It won’t come from malware.  It will come from a proliferation of devices, from the common smartphone to the latest wearable, that is retaining and transmitting information the enterprise simply does not want transmitted. And please remember, data is not just spreadsheet attachments in an email,  more importantly it is video, taken innocently or not in the office, that poses data loss problems.

That is the threat of BYOD.

GPN, GPS and Distributor-as-an-agent

One of the great things about being in distribution is  the ability to deliver products and services that can simultaneously generate excitement and create value for both our customers and our vendors.

Westcon prides itself on its global capabilities.  We truly believe that our ability to deliver on the needs of our local customers and simultaneously meet the requirements of our customer’s global deployments really gets to the heart of what Westcon and Comstor is all about.  We have been delivering this capability for a number of years through our Global Procurement Service (GPS) which eliminates much of the complexity normally associated with global logistics.  These complexities are usually in the areas of global trade, customs and duties, tax recoverability, audit, compliance, global staging and configuration, and the ability to manage complex global projects from a single “global desk”. Comstor’s GPS handles this for the reseller.  This gives our customers a single point of contact, consistent global discounts and pricing, a single global contract with consistent credits and terms, local relationships, in-country fulfillment, and local invoicing in 60+ countries.

What gets really exciting is when you can bond together that capability with creative offerings from world-class vendors and technologies that focus on solving end user global business requirements while empowering local
resellers to leverage our global footprint.

One of the poster-children for global technologies is video conferencing.  Not just to drive down the costs of travel (which is a great) but more importantly, to help accelerate the business growth and effectiveness of end users as they globalize their business processes.  Telepresence technologies produce greater business value not just for those firms that are already global but also as a tool to accelerate the maturation of firms who wish to move from “national” to “global”.
As an organization specifically built and operated to distribute Cisco products and services, Comstor is now working with Cisco to leverage our GPS
capabilities and simultaneously create more value for the reseller.  This is what today’s GPN announcement is all about.

The Comstor-Cisco GPN announcement is based on the concept of “distributor as an agent”, which allows customers to better utilize Cisco partner resources to service their global requirements.  Focusing on the Telepresence technologies,
the GPN program basically empowers the reseller to work with their customer’s
headquarters to centralize design and purchasing decisions for the global solution whilst utilizing Comstor and Cisco’s global reseller partner base for local
delivery of the products and services that make up the global solution.  All parties get the Comstor inherent advantage associated with our GPS capabilities as described above.

As the CTO and CIO for Westcon and Comstor there is nothing more rewarding than knowing Comstor’s systems and processes are being leveraged by vendors such as Cisco to help our reseller partners successfully embrace their customer’s ongoing march towards globalization.  Now Comstor and Cisco have a program that can really give the authorized reseller the ability to act globally and locally at
the same time.  It’s always exciting when every member of the channel can work in synch on creative offerings wherein everyone wins.

Hot, Not Hot, and Be On The Lookout For….

Hot

– Flat network – already discussed in earlier posts, but continues to remain an early, “going to get hotter”, topic. Each of the vendors is, or has, recently made significant announcements about their converged Ethernet/fabric/2-tier/1-tier offerings.  Driven in large part by the need for a data center network with lower latency, optimized for virtualization, the network is the data center, and the data center is the network.

– Data Center to Data Center networking – really a subset of the above, but there are nuances such as WAN Acceleration technologies specifically designed for DC to DC as opposed to DC to Campus. This nuance will become more and more of a marketing issue for those better positioned as opposed to those perhaps not really in that DC-to-DC space.

– SBC’s – starting to get the recognition of their importance relative to their role in UC. They can be considered the switch/firewall equivalent for VOIP/UC. As companies and the public overall migrate to VOIP and SIP, SBC’s become critical. Expecting steady growth with an inevitable over-hype by the media once they understand the technology in the next few months.

– Cloud failures – the stories will remain hot for a while. In addition to service failure there will be offering failures – established vendors pulling out of initial cloud forays.

Not Hot

– Cloud success stories – this will take a backseat for a while, but cloud successes will definitely continue nonetheless.

Be on the lookout for:

– Virtualization security – as vendors continue to realize the exposure that virtualization presents, more and more messaging and positioning will appear. The exposure is two-fold. First, the obvious – a new layer in the stack introduces new opportunities for bad people to do bad things. But second, perhaps not as obvious, is the governance associated with the potental consolidation of previously physically separate servers/applications/data onto one single physical server. The IT group doing the consolidation may not recognize the compliance risks they are introducing.  And potentially even more interesting, the hypervisor doesn’t have a mechanism to process business rules associated with the company’s compliance or regulatory policies yet.

– POE – probably not the most exciting discussion point, but POE dedicated vendors have technologies coming out that can help support the powering of all the new video demand going on in the network. This is especially important for the growth of outdoor video/signage (think stadiums and traffic). Many of the vendors embed POE, but some of it is “just enough” and really does not provide the flexibility companies will need as they grow their video usage.

– Tablet Videoconferencing – there is definitely the potential for a schism to appear. I think it is already appearing. We could end up with high end videoconferencing rooms and many low-end video conferencing end points being tablets. The issue over video quality is over. Pretty much every device now has HD capabilities. With the growth of tablets, I pads or Android, the consumerization of IT is forging some new paths in video and UC.

LEAP

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that Westcon is a distributor of Networking, UC, Security, and Data Center technologies.  We do about $3.0 billion in revenue per year and distribute solutions to over 70 countries.  We conduct business under two brand names – Westcon and Comstor.  As CTO I am responsible for both the technology that runs the enterprise and also setting the overarching strategic direction of the firm from a technology perspective.  So, I get to work with the stuff we distribute.

There have been a number of posts on our Data Center Consolidation project and our migration to virtualization.  Our journey towards selecting the right platform for us was important on a number of levels.  Obviously we wanted to make the best selection for our enterprise from an ROI perspective.  But we also planned ahead and utilized the decision making process as a framework that we would share with our customers (Resellers, SI’s, Service Providers) to help them in understanding the decision making process of the average mid-size enterprise end-user/buyer. 

The Framework

Substantial technology decisions must always be premised on rational business justification.  The bigger the purchase, the more demand for a coherent, articulate business justification (ie not tech-talk).  The learning process involved in acquiring new technology has to be at two levels – what is the technological benefit and what is the business benefit.  In addition to learning about the technology and the business rationale, there is the need to actually experience the technology in action.  Especially if the technology is on the leading edge, such as Virtualization or Cloud.  And, no technology purchase happens in a vacuum.  Understanding how the new technology can be architected into a heterogeneous environment needs to be part of the process.  Lastly, the larger the decision, the greater the need for a clear plan, with specific milestones, in order to ensure business and technology decisions are synchronized for success.

LEAP – Learn, Experience, Architect, Plan

This high level decision making process became a framework that the channel can use in conversations with their customers.  In order to deliver on this framework, Westcon recognized that an environment was needed to step through the four steps of the process – learn, experience, architect and plan.  To achieve that goal, Westcon will begin launching LEAP Centers around the globe in the coming months.  The first center opens in Brussels, Belgium this week (September 29, 2010) followed by the opening of the Denver, Colorado LEAP Center on October 20, 2010.  Additional sites in Australia, Brazil, Singapore, and South Africa will come online in the future.

Each LEAP center is designed to help the channel (with end-users when desired) learn about new technologies, the business value of the technology, and how the technology actually performs in live, heterogeneous technology environments.  The goal is for Westcon’s customers (Reseller, SI or Service Provider) to truly understand these new technologies and what the proper architectures are for solutions that include these new technologies.  Ultimately the goal of the LEAP center is to create a more informed channel partner who can successfully sell the solutions efficiently and effectively.

Our experiences as an average IT organization showed that our engineer’s “new technology skepticism” was eradicated when they had the chance to work with the equipment real-time.  As an example, in the case of our data center consolidation, the original selling points for our technology configurations were superseded with more important benefits once the team got their hands on the equipment. Appreciation for these new capabilities would not have been accomplished without working with the equipment.  That is a key objective of the LEAP Center.

Your LEAP Center

Each LEAP Center is a fully configured data center, running hardware and software from multiple manufacturers in order to create a more realistic IT environment.  The center contains equipment from vendors that, in some cases, Westcon does not even distribute.  Westcon has full-time engineers dedicated to the running of each LEAP Center.   But make no mistake about it, the LEAP Center is a center for our customers.  We built it for our channel customers.  Our goal is for our customers to be successful in deepening relationships with, and ultimately selling to, their end-users by creating greater value to their customers through the knowledge gained in a LEAP experience.   We want our customers to consider the LEAP center as an important component of their portfolio of sales strategies, tactics and tools.  LEAP Centers will help our customers Learn and Experience the technology, but also be an environment wherein they can bring in their customers to work on specific Architectures and Plans.  In order to do that, Westcon has committed millions of dollars in the development of the LEAP Center.  Ultimately, Westcon believes that this investment for our Resellers, Systems Integrators, and Service Providers will generate profitable success for our customers, their customers, our vendor partners and the channel as a whole.

We look forward to seeing you at one of the LEAP Centers soon!

Email Needs Attention

Recently I spoke at a conference and discussed the need for every organization to manage their email more aggressively.  The driver for this was not the normal IT justification for space or performance, but the more important justification from an information integrity and document retention perspective.

Westcon benefits from solid leadership in our General Counsel.  They are always looking to work with IT on improving the company’s document retention policies and the tools needed for enforcement.  But, it may not be that way in every organization, and based on the reactions of some of the attendees, I think there is an opportunity for us collectively to help improve the situation for our customers.

The point of the presentation was that the argument for retaining emails because “we may need it if a customer calls and asks a question” or “what if there is confusion on a point of negotiation” may appear to be good reasons to keep email, but only for as short a period of time as is legally required.  This is not about covering up information, or being malicious in any way or form.  It is about the use of the existing structured, business process defined, transactional systems (e.g. ERP systems) to keep the historical record of account for the firm as opposed to allowing unstructured, unmonitored and fairly uncontrolled systems such as email to become the historical record of account.  Billions of dollars are spent defining business processes and then incorporating those processes into systems to ensure security, consistency and enforcement.  Companies place a huge emphasis on the editing and management of transactional information to ensure all the data ever needed to determine the details of a customer or supplier transaction are properly recorded and legal and ethical behavior is maintained.  There is an opportunity for all of us to work with our customers to help them begin thinking more about investing similar amounts of attention on email.

A few years ago I worked for a firm wherein a handful of individuals were involved in a price fixing scheme, using email to bypass existing system and negotiate the deals.  These emails became the basis for a set of crippling fines that put the firm into a tailspin.  Management quickly replaced any individual involved in the scheme, but ultimately these folks were caught because of the emails, and are now in jail or at a minimum out of the industry. 

More recently, it appears that poorly worded emails will play a role in the current investigations on Wall Street and I am sure there will be an investigation of all the emails for all the firms involved in the oil rig disaster still playing out in the Gulf of Mexico.  There is no denying email facilitates the speed of business, but when it becomes a tool to bypass existing corporate standard technology or business processes, then there is an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-align business processes and the technologies that support them.  The IT industry has the tools to help make this happen.  The opportunity is not sexy, but it is there in front of our faces.

An underlying theme is the implication for this problem in the world of collaboration.  Email is one of many forms of collaboration, but with any form of electronic collaboration, everything is recordable and quite possibly stored (internally, or in the cloud). As we begin to collaborate across a myriad of devices and mediums, the challenge for the industry will be to ensure that process integrity and sound business process rules hardwired into the customer’s transactional system are not unintentionally compromised or bypassed through the use of alternate technologies.

If, as an example, employee’s are bypassing the ERP system with email because the ERP system won’t “let me do something”, well, then work with your customer to ask why their ERP is wired that way. Help correct the flow in and around the ERP system to properly record what is right, and help the customer highlight that the firm really does not want the employee to “do something the other way”.   Proper process definitions in their SharePoint sites may be needed.  Or a fresh set of eyes on a more formal integration of the customer’s email environment with that company’s document retention policies could help deepen the relationship you have with your customer for years to come.

and, let them know, if their email inbox is too big, it does start to degrade performance too…!

New Zealand

We spent this past week meeting with CxO’s and IT leaders in the country of New Zealand.  As a country, New Zealander’s are considered on the forefront of using technology, and are a good indicator of what technologies will be taking the lead in the industry in the near future.  It also doesn’t hurt that the country is beautiful and the people are wonderful.

In every meeting, the key issues that came up were Cloud Services, Desktop Virtualization and Unified Communications.  The conversation on Cloud Services was focused on the management of the plethora of services that are arising every day, and how to create the most frictionless, integrated portfolio of services in an aggregated fashion.  Many of the folks are expecting  the distributor to play the key role in the distribution of cloud services.   And work in partnership with the resellers, service providers and systems integrators that focus on meeting customer needs.  Specifically, the role of Westcon is to provide services for our customers and not to compete with them to meet the needs of the end-user/enterprise.

In the area of Desktop Virtualization, New Zealand has real examples of real projects underway.  These projects have tangible, measurable, common-sense ROI that shows how the technology is being used to help the end-user enterprise reduce costs and provision desktops more efficiently.  These are not pilots, nor are they technology projects for technology’s sake.  They are desktop projects that meet the needs of the enterprise using the right technical approach.

In the area of Unified Communications, there are similar challenges with regards to getting the most out of the technology investments that have been made, and how can video play a larger role in the UC eco-system.  Not the larger telepresence-like systems, but the smaller desktop, point-to-point solutions.

New Zealand is clearly a country that leverages technology advances to the betterment of its enterprises.  And, in many examples, New Zealand is taking a lead role in how these technologies are being used.  We look forward to seeing more of what comes from this country that can be used as leading examples around the world.

UC & College

This past weekend I visited a college my son is considering attending in the fall.  We have been doing these visits over the past few months like any other parent in this situation.  What struck me, as compared to when I went to college in the early ’80s, is the reliance on technology.  Two examples of Unified Communications that jumped to mind:

1. Safety messages – in the aftermath of tragedies such as Virgina Tech’s, an increasing reliance on text messaging was prevalent in every college visit.  As parents, it is pretty much mandatory that in addition to niceties such as a wireless campus or cable in the dorm room, it is absolutely critical that the college have these types of communication’s infrastructure in place.  UC providers such as Cisco and Avaya are providing more and more of these capabilities, but we now also have firms such as SingleWire who are providing the software to integrate with these solutions to manage the messages more seemlessly.  This appears, from a parent’s perspective, to have become a de facto standard of the campus UC solution. 

2. Convenience messages – I love this one.  At least one of the colleges we visited had networked the washing machines and dryers to display a web page with their status (in use, 5 minutes left, etc.)  and text you when your clothes were “washed” or “dried”.  This kills me.  It is, though, a great example of UC being integrated into the overall business process.   Exactly what we discussed in an earlier post on UC.  And, to my wife and son, it was clearly a competitive advantage for the school that provided this capability as opposed to the other schools that did not.