Avaya's Top Technologist Touts Strongest-Ever Product Portfolio

Sixty new products in 18 months.

It was an oft-repeated sound bite at Avaya's U.S./Gov Sales Leadership and Partner Conference last week, but it made a point: Avaya is innovating at a faster pace, and with more sophistication, than it has in its entire history, and has never had as strong a product portfolio as it does now.

Those 60 products, which include everything from its Flare collaboration platform to the Avaya Aura Contact Center, represent more launches than Avaya had made in the entire decade previous. And there's more to come, with plans to expand its Flare Experience collaboration platform onto Apple- and Android-based mobile devices, add full-featured voice, video and web conferencing tools to Avaya Aura Conferencing, and update its Avaya one-X mobile client all on the horizon for the new year.

CRN Senior Editor Chad Berndtson sat down with Dr. Alan Baratz, senior vice president and president, Global Communication Solutions at Avaya, to examine how Avaya's partner base, including its 1,800 U.S. partners, should be thinking about Avaya's product technology progress. With Avaya pushing partners hard to sell more of the overall Avaya portfolio as a way to maximize their -- and Avaya's -- profitability, it's an increasingly more crucial conversation in the Avaya channel.

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You're seeing this interest in SIP generate further interest in technologies like session border control. Are there other adjacent technologies you'd put in that same category -- things that will grow as SIP grows?

Well, the important and compelling thing about SIP is that it's all about sessions: it can carry the IP, it can carry video, it can carry IM, maybe other new types of traffic. It means you can have a single control infrastructure supporting all of that communication. That enables a lot of really compelling capabilities for the end customer. First of all, it enables less expensive infrastructure, because you need only one platform instead of two or three. Second, it enables a more unified experience for the end user.

As a result, the things that will become more and more important to us as SIP becomes more pervasive are the capabilities, the application and the tools for non-voice modes of communication. Up until now, for Avaya, it really has been all about voice. But now, on the same platform, we can do video, we can do web collaboration, we can do IM, everything, so we need to start investing in those other modes of communication. Video codecs become more important to us. Screen sharing becomes more important to us. It's really about the different types of communication and the technologies required to support those modes.

So that's where partners should focus, on those technologies?

Or, on applications that leverage the underlying set of collaboration and communication capabilities. For example, earlier [in the conference] I showed a contact center application. We built that one, but partners could built apps like that for contact center or any business function. The thing I really like about that in a contact center environment is that if there is a problem in the queues, I don't have to walk over to an agent and plug in, I can simply conference into their call, and I can do that whether I'm at home, or on the road, or walking down a hallway. I have access to real-time communications infrastructure, and that coms out of Flare, the SIP that's sitting behind Flare, and a value-added application. So we're building that, but our partners could build a similar application.

We're hearing from Avaya about a lot of growth in contact center. Is that because there are more ways to add value to contact center now?

I actually think it's because of the fact that we are at the end of last year's technology cycle. I use the term "last year" loosely -- maybe the last few years, or decade -- because we've been using pretty much the same contact center architecture for the last six, seven, eight years now. It's all CTI [computer telephony integration]-based, which is a very complex protocol, and most contact center customers are now at the point where they're ready to start upgrading. The next architecture is SIP, and leveraging web services on SIP rather than with CTI, and enabling new kinds of capabilities like the ones we just talked about. I think it's an upgrade cycle.

But it's being able to add more granular intelligence to contact center, though?

There are always more applications you can add into the contact center environment, such as the social media management stuff where you can filter specific information, scour social networks and then bring data back to agents on-demand or off-line. That's clearly a new opportunity area that generates upside revenue value. I will tell you it's a lot easier to do all that on a modern SIP-based architecture with web services interfaces. So yes, there will be new applications and new application opportunities, but there's a lot going for contact center growth right now because of that upgrade cycle.

NEXT: Avaya On App Development, Flare Penetration

Interest in Avaya DevConnect is increasing, but how will Avaya put more resources in the hands of partners who want to own more of the development for customers? I mean not just ISVs, but VARs looking to add app dev revenue.

Our strategy is really ACE [the Avaya Agile Communication Environment, used for embedding communications into business applications]. ACE is all about a set of web services and APIs on top of Avaya infrastructure, so that anybody can easily build applications that leverage those underlying Avaya services. We're going to continue to build out the ACE platform to get to the point where we have a complete and clean set of interface services. That will become the vehicle our partners can use or third-party application developers can use to build communications-enabled applications.

The initial proof point for ACE is what we've done with Microsoft interoperability. We've used ACE as the vehicle to allow Microsoft clients and Microsoft business applications to sit on top of our communications infrastructure. Microsoft [platforms] can be served by Avaya Aura rather than OCS. Lync Client can be served by Avaya rather than by Lync. Sharepoint, Exchange and Outlook can all be served by Avaya Aura.

What's the penetration of ACE into the channel right now?

It's very new. ACE was an experimental piece of technology when we acquired Nortel. Within the last couple of months we've brought it to market, so we're just getting started. But there is a lot of interest.

Turning to Flare, I've had partners tell me there's definitely an interest on the part of customers in Flare, the collaboration platform, but less so on the video tablet…

…the ADVD (Avaya Desktop Video Device), yes.

Are you seeing adoption of the device?

We are. So the first thing to keep in mind is rather than ADVD running Flare or a PC running Flare or an iPad running Flare, you need Avaya Aura 6.x to run Flare. Until the middle of last year, the number of Avaya Aura 6.x lines was very small, and 6.x didn't even go into the market until the beginning of our last fiscal year. But the last two quarters we went from basically zero and then small thousands of 6.x lines to three million, and we're on a very steep ramp right now. So we're creating the foundation, the platform that allows us to access Flare, whether it's software on an iPad or on the ADVD.

I'll be honest with you: the cost of deploying software is a lot lower than the cost of deploying ADVD. You don't get the same capabilities, though; ADVD is a more complete solution, with full calendar integration, web browsing, video. But the software is providing us the ability to get business users in an enterprise excited and pulling their IT departments in an Avaya direction. Up until now, we basically sold to IT and to senior executives. Now, we have a chance to get end users excited and be internal advocates for what we're doing. All it takes is to download Flare onto your iPad, and if you've got Avaya 6.x, you're running.

But it's inaccurate to say that you are de-emphasizing ADVD in favor of Flare on iPad?

It is inaccurate to say we are de-emphasizing ADVD, yes. In fact, we've got a new release of ADVD -- the software, not the hardware -- coming out the end of the month.

And the beta of the iPad application will be free?

The beta will be free. Downloading Flare to the iPad will always be free, but it will acquire an Avaya Aura license to connect it, just like it requires an Avaya Aura license to connect one of our IP phones. But for the beta, you won't have to pay the license. Going forward, post-beta, there will also be a free trial period.

NEXT: Avaya Versus Competitors

Let's talk competitive displacement. You mentioned, from the stage, Cisco, Microsoft, ShoreTel and Genesys.

We've got a number of competitors in the UC space as well as the contact center space, in large enterprise and SME. They are doing interesting things worth pointing out.

OK, so looking at them individually, what is, say, ShoreTel's threat to Avaya?

I don't view ShoreTel as a threat today, and by the way, Microsoft isn't a threat today, either. The ShoreTel market share is very low. Microsoft's in UC in very low. At the same time, these are companies that have some interesting products in the market and that we want to be sure we get out in front of. We don't like surprises. For Lync, we are seeing it pop up. It's not rapid growth. But because we're seeing it pop up we want to get in front of it.

The other thing I've talked a lot about with solution providers is partnering with Avaya for hosted solutions. What is Avaya's strategy for offering hosted collaboration and hosted UC through partners?

We've spent a lot of time understanding, from the perspective of service providers, from customers, from Avaya, what the value of cloud is. We think that for large enterprises, the forms of cloud that will be of value are private cloud and dedicated hosted, not multi-tenant hosted. It's just not really there for the end customer, and there's the risk associated with trying to move infrastructure into a multi-tenant hosted environment. But private clouds, yes, basically using cloud-based technologies in your own data center, things like virtualization. We are committed to enabling our product set to leverage all those cloud-based technologies, by, for example, virtualizing across our product line.

In the SME space, it's a different story. There, multi-tenant hosted does make sense, so we're going after multi-tenant hosted versions of our SME environment in addition to premise-based versions. Finally, there's hybrid cloud, when you put some of the applications in the cloud, like maybe messaging or conferencing, or your IVR in the cloud, or your IVR overflow if you exceed your premise-based capacity. We will support those models as well.

So there is an opportunity for non-service provider VARs to sell that with Avaya?

Whoever wants to.

Is there a lot left for Avaya to do on the Nortel integration, or even a little? Are we completely there at this point?

We're pretty much there at this point. We've finished it in contact center with Avaya Aura Contact Center, we've finished it in SME with IP Office 7.0, and we've almost finished it in the UC space. We have delivered two releases of CS1000 and integrated Session Manager into the CS1000, so we now have the ability for non-Nortel SIP phones to get attached into the Avaya [infrastructure]. We've started building out the strategic Avaya feature server into the CS1000 base. We haven't finished that off yet.

Is there anything else that will be put on end-of-life in the Nortel portfolio?

Nothing that we haven't already talked about. I think we've communicated all the plans at this point.