Channel Sees Plenty Of Spark In Avaya's Flare Experience

Avaya channel partners see plenty of reason to celebrate both Flare Experience, the company's just-launched collaboration dashboard software, and the video and UC-centric products Avaya debuted to populate its Flare ecosystem.

"I'm really impressed with the way that Avaya has taken the UC message and focused it on the people involved," said John O'Shea, vice president of product marketing for the networking division at Tech Data. "The biggest issue that exists today for collaboration is an easy-to-use interface, so I'm impressed with the device and the offering and the way they've enabled a Flare universe."

"They hit the mark," said Joseph Cassano, executive vice president at Juma Technology, a Farmingdale, N.Y.-based solution provider. "I think it's Avaya showing that they're going to create technology as opposed to waiting for their competitors to do so."

Avaya took the wraps off the Flare Experience at an event in New York Wednesday.

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The full offering -- a collaboration dashboard designed to run on a host of devices, desktop and mobile, plus a fleet of UC and video endpoint technologies to go with it -- dramatically expands Avaya's collaboration portfolio and also gives it an end-to-end video offering for the first time.

According to Avaya, it's the capabilities of the collaboration platform that should be the focus, not the devices it runs on, although Avaya did make waves Wednesday with the debut of Flare's first endpoint, a mobile tablet. It's a capacitive touch screen device called the Avaya Desktop Video Device, and it'll be inevitably compared to Cisco's forthcoming Cius tablet, Apple's iPad and other big-splash entries in the expanding tablet space.

But Avaya did a good job Wednesday of articulating its vision for the software and devices with Aura, its virtualized UC platform. The vendor put the emphasis, VARs said, on the platform possibilities instead of the products.

One key difference with this release as opposed to previous SiP-centric Avaya product releases, they added, is that the use cases for the end user are clearly visible. VARs can sell a user experience to customers, not a SIP architecture, even though it's SIP and Avaya's Aura platform that's powering that experience, said James McKenna, Jr.

"If you think about it, in this environment, customers are saying, why do I need to upgrade?" said McKenna, executive vice president and general manager of Data-Com Telecommunications, a Flanders, N,J.-based division of Xeta Technologies "Before, there hadn't yet been that killer app, and that collaboration and UC play customers crave. SIP is a hard thing to explain to a customer."

Ben Schoolsky, vice president of sales for Consolidated Technologies Inc., a Port Chester, N.Y.-based solution provider and Avaya Platinum partner, also saw Avaya as "moving in the right direction." Consolidated has committed to Avaya's messaging around SIP architecture, he said, and the products supporting that architecture.

"It's all about the play, not about the device or the endpoints," he said. "I think it's great that the new device is sweet and is nice, but each user is different and they all communicate differently. Avaya is saying, 'I don't care how you choose to communicate, but I'm going to assist you and make it easy for you."

Next: VARs See 'Sex Appeal' In Flare Experience

Tim McDermott, president of MAC Source Communications, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based solution provider, said he was sitting with a customer during Avaya's presentation and the customer immediately asked him to spec out how to deploy the Flare platform for several employees.

"It's got some sex appeal and it's something to show," McDermott said. "It's deliverable to a number of users in the enterprise and not something you'd take just to a traditional IT decision maker. It's something to get users in all capacities excited about."

Steve Bernard, vice president of distributor Westcon Group's Convergence unit, said the Flare debut beat his expectations as the first game-changing announcement Avaya has made since acquiring Nortel's enterprise unit.

"Now that they're together, it's the first real exciting announcement that end-users are going to grasp," Bernard said. "It's an eye-catcher, and gives a lot of end users a real compelling reason to look at upgrading the base."

If there's an obvious downside, said channel partners, it's that the tablet device itself, at an estimated $2,000 a pop, is prohibitively priced. Taken in context though -- a collaboration overhaul for existing infrastructure -- it should hold appeal for enterprise customers, they said.

"It's going to be a little more high-end, and the large enterprise is where it's going to fit," said Don O'Brien, regional sales director for Shared Technologies, a Coppell, Texas-based solution provider. "IT budgets are just starting to come back, so I think the whole sales piece of this is going to be convincing people there's a real ROI around it. But I think there are places where it's going to fit very well."

Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president and distinguished research fellow at The Yankee Group, said the $2,000 price point was undoubtedly high, but a high-priced mobile device is the wrong way to think about Avaya's launch.

"The Flare device itself isn’t what the company is buying, but instead the ability to aggregate all of a worker’s multimedia collaboration tools into one experience and display it in a way that’s usable," wrote Kerravala in a Wednesday blog post for "We live in a world today of information overload and while the device itself doesn't decrease the amount of information it does help organize it and allow for custom experience to help sift through it faster."

Forrester analyst Henry Dewing sees the Avaya Desktop Video Device among a class of mobile devices that "will enable a new breed of collaborative information worker -- the corridor warrior who works as often in a conference room as an office and is constantly connected via Web and videoconferencing software to peers and colleagues to gather and sift information to drive faster and better decision-making."

"At the end of the day, vendors of these devices will need to design them so that they will fill the now-open space in the market --- helping information workers connect with each other, share information, create new idea and make decisions seamlessly and naturally regardless of location," wrote Dewing in a blog post Wednesday. "User experience and seamless multi-network connectivity are the keys to success and I can see progress toward that goal being made differently by each vendor."