The 2011 Tragic Quadrant for Unified Communications


Last week Gartner came out with its latest Magic Quadrant for UC. So how do things look in the cutting edge field of unified communications?

Well, it appears that everyone is either a leader or niche player.

The vendors deemed worthy enough to float on the upper-right leaders quad: Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, and Siemens Enterprise Communications.

Most of the others, designated as niche players by the ever politically correct Gartner (as opposed to “non-leaders,” “losers,” or “followers”?) in the lower-left quad, include some usual suspects like ShoreTel, Interactive Intelligence, TeleWare, Toshiba, and Aastra Technologies; but there were a couple of newbies this time: Digium and Huawei Technologies.

Between quadrants challengers (NEC and IBM) and visionaries (Mitel) were only three companies. Notice that the newcomers Digium and Huawei went straight to the niche quad instead of arriving as challengers or visionaries…

And to me that is tragic. Has the UC market place finally settled and its landscape defined?

With Microsoft leading the pack it’s clear that UC is an enterprise software application. Microsoft’s dominance in enterprise software is paying dividends in the adolescent UC market. Plus, its leadership further strengthened with the acquisition of Skype.

I wouldn’t have thought networking giant Cisco to be a close second. My #2 pick would’ve been IBM but alas, Big Blue has never quite figured out “communications” throughout its history.

Interestingly, Mitel is the only visionary in the report. The company has been making waves recently by making its products VM-friendly and exclusive — a “game changer,” according to Dave Michels of Pin Drop Soup:

Today at VMworld in Las Vegas, we learned of a new capability: virtual softphones! Mitel’s US desktop suite, UC-Advanced, includes a softphone (and presence, and IM), and it is now supported on VMware’s View virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). To my knowledge, this is the first time a softphone is truly being supported on a virtual desktop. This is a game changer.

So far, this is a Mitel (MCD) and VMware (View 5) exclusive. The companies have not disclosed the secret sauce that makes it work, but it will no doubt be coming to other vendors. VDI is hot! It drives down support and hardware costs while improving mobility. Allowing a softphone to tag along has huge implications, particularly for organizations embracing cloud services. Virtual desktops have the potential to turn all kinds of form factors into legitimate, secure workstations including PCs, thin client desktops, iPads, and ChromeBooks.

Thanks to Eric Krapf over at the No Jitter blog, we learn a bit about the “secret sauce“:

“In the VDI space, the reason why the math works so well is you don’t have a PC for every person in the datacenter; you oversubscribe the resource,” because you don’t have everyone using all their resources all the time, [Mitel CTO Jim Davies] explained. So “even if you solve the latency problem, which is solvable, you still have the math problem.”

Rewriting the softphone application enabled Mitel to solve the latency problem; VMWare created an API for View that lets the Mitel softphone’s media streaming function plug into the thin client on the desktop, while the remaining functions move to the datacenter.

What will the next UC Magic Quadrant look like? I hope to see more dots in the top-left and bottom-right quadrants.

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