Enterprise 2.0 Generates Interop Buzz

By Jeff Vance

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Is Enterprise 2.0 yet another over-hyped concept or is there some substance to this trend? As I’ve walked the Interop exhibition floor and sat through press meetings, this is the question I ask whenever buzzwords like “collaboration” or “social networking” come up.

The initial response is invariably the same. My question is answered with another question: Did you see John Chambers’ keynote address? Vendors touting their Enterprise 2.0 angles are absolutely thrilled the Cisco president spent the bulk of his keynote endorsing Web 2.0.

Chambers referred to last year’s Time Magazine person of the year: “You.” Chambers wasn’t buying the “you” concept, arguing that what’s really important is “us.” Web 2.0 tools promise to reverse the trend of technology as isolating end users, abstracting away our natural interactions. We may not be meeting face-to-face as often, but our communications can still be intimate and personal.

When I asked Andi Mann, a senior analyst at EMA, about the Enterprise 2.0 buzz, he said: “I hate the phrase Enterprise 2.0. What does it mean?” Mann prefers to classify IM, wikis, blogs, and RSS as “online content technologies,” using the old content-is-king argument.

If adoption patterns are any indication, Mann has a valid point. Enterprise 2.0 is a heck of a lot like Enterprise 1.0. Many of these technologies, as with email before them, are being brought into the enterprise through the back door. Adoption comes first, and then the policies and management tools try to catch up.

According to Gent Hito, CEO of /n Software, corporations should get in front of these new communications and encourage adoption. /n Software’s focus at Interop is its RSSBus offering, a play on RSS, with the final “S” in this case standing for “services” rather than syndication.

Hito believes that too much corporate data is stored away in places where people can’t find it or use it. This isn’t a new observation, but /n Software’s solution is innovative. Rather than tying disparate applications together through middleware, why not create simple Web services that can collect and publish data?

“Finding important data should be as easy as finding someone’s blog,” Hito said. As a result, users can process information in the applications they are most comfortable with. No need to learn a new interface, since the service will import it into whatever application you prefer.

Focus on Videoconferencing

User preference is also an issue driving the video conferencing push. During the Chambers keynote, after covering much familiar ground, such as collaboration, social networking, and network convergence, he then provided a sneak preview into a future Cisco product push, mentioning “Telepresence.”

This may seem like a separate issue, not at all related to Enterprise 2.0, but many of these new forms of communication and collaboration abstract human interaction. Cisco is developing a high-definition enterprise videoconferencing system that will feel to users nearly like a face-to-face meeting. That’s the promise, anyway. But judging from the current HD videoconferencing systems on display at Interop this sort of almost-real video isn’t much of a stretch.

LifeSize Communications is showing off its own HD conferencing system, the LifeSize Room. The LifeSize Room includes a high-definition camera, a conference phone and a remote. It delivers HD video streams over standard high-speed Internet connections.

“There are so many social, economic, and environmental factors converging,” said LifeSize CEO Craig Malloy. “As the trend of globalization continues, the executive whose business travel once consisted of a series of predictable trips between New York and London, for instance, may now have to go to Mumbai, Singapore, and Seoul. This type of business travel isn’t sustainable, not from an economic standpoint nor from a carbon footprint one.”The LifeSize demonstration was impressive. LifeSize had conferences set up with its office in Austin, and even at a low bitrate, the quality was impressive. With an initial cost of only $12K, LifeSize intends to push HD videoconferencing well beyond the boardroom. LifeSize intends to target the education, entertainment and medium-sized business markets. They also mentioned some interesting customer deployments that illustrate how broad the appeal of videoconferencing could eventually be.

“One of our customers is a casting agency,” Malloy said. “Previously, if an agency in New York wanted to see an actor from L.A., they had to fly them across the country. It’s not hard to understand the appeal of videoconferencing in a case like that.”

Other customers include the Kilpatrick Stockton law firm, which uses LifeSize for depositions and briefings, and Salud Family Health Centers, which is using the system for training and patient consultations.

“One thing that’s been missing in all of the talk about collaboration is the fact that humans are wired to communicate face to face,” Malloy said. Sometimes that enterprise collaboration platform is just too isolating, and being able to quickly set up a high-quality videoconference is a good approximation of the normal office behavior of getting up from the PC and walking down the hall to your colleague’s office for a quick face-to-face.

Another thing forgotten in the Web 2.0 hype is how cumbersome so many IT management consoles are. It’s easier and easier for end users to customize news feeds, blog spaces, and media settings, but what about the administrator supporting all of this stuff?

IT Management, Meet Mashups

FireScope is pushing the concept of mashups for IT management. According to Mark Lynd, the company’s president, the typical enterprise can’t keep up with its numerous point solutions.

“Over half lose their effectiveness and become shelfware within the first 90 days,” he said, noting that the most common cause for this is simply that IT is stretched too thin.

FireScope’s Business Service Management (BSM) portal brings the mashup concept to IT management. The solution aggregates the events and interfaces of all of an organization’s network applications into a Web-based portal. From the portal, IT administrators can monitor, analyze and report on their entire collection of IT solutions. The portal can be customized as end users see fit, and it is updated in real time via AJAX.

Of course, there are also all of the requisite collaboration and reporting tools, but the real value is bringing the ease of use that is a hallmark of Web 2.0 to IT pros. Just because IT experts can figure out complex systems on their own doesn’t mean they should have to. Who has the time for it, especially if you are supporting a large, heterogeneous environment?