«Andy Nilssen & David Dines Wainhouse Research June 2008 Wainhouse Research, LLC Study sponsored by: 34 Duck Hill Terrace Duxbury, MA 02332 USA ...»
WebEx Connect’s “Spaces” provide a virtual on-line space for team members to hold back-and-forth forum-like threaded discussions (“persistent chat”). Integrated file sharing permits team members to drag any document from their PC desktop and simply place it along with their comments in the threaded discussion – the file is transparently uploaded to the team space and placed in the dialog accordingly.
The file can then be accessed by other team members either from the threaded discussion or from the “Files” tab by simply double-clicking on it – there is no need to first download it to the team member’s PC.
The document directly opens in the associated application for review and editing – and can then be
A key factor is that the entire process is seamless and as transparent as working with files resident on a PC’s local disk. The only indication that the file is originating from the on-line team workspace is the appearance of a brief file download meter before the document opens (or closes in the case of uploading the document). On-screen help messages are shown by default in the workspace, and can be closed once the process becomes familiar. In addition to placing files in the threaded discussion, the “Files” tab also acts as a traditional file repository. Each WebEx Connect user also has a private tab to store their personal files on-line called “My WebEx.” Additional tabs can be defined and added to the team workspace by administrators and/or team members as desired (as permitted by corporate IT). These tabs can contain an open workspace ready to be populated with custom applications and “widgets” to be used by all team members. Widgets can be added to a space from a library provided WebEx, or third parties and team members can build custom widgets to perform specialized functions (again as permitted by corporate IT). Ready-to-use widgets in the widget library include a bookmarks widget for sharing websites with the team, a bulletin board widget for sharing Post-it style notes, team calendar and calendar dashboard widgets for tracking key events, a meeting recordings player, RSS reader, and widget for viewing information about other team members Leveraging Web 2.0 Technologies for Business Gain Page 6 and their shared spaces. While today’s widgets are somewhat basic in scope, they illustrate the Web 2.0 “platform” nature of WebEx Connect, and are “proof-of-concept” of what is possible going forward. The WebEx Connect platform has a complete set of API’s ready for locally-inspired and developed miniapplications and mash-ups as needed to assist the team process.
IM, Presence, and Rich Media Conferencing WebEx Connect’s team workspaces are complemented by a powerful combination of Instant Messaging (IM) and Presence, which includes a number of security, manageability, and connectivity capabilities that elevate it to enterprise class. End-to-end 128-bit SSL encryption plus centrally managed authentication provides business-grade security. Corporate IT can control and audit the use of IM through an advanced set of “hygene” tools. WebEx Connect includes “native” connectivity with AIM users and the AOL network – which in turn provides federation with Microsoft OCS, IBM Sametime, and Jabber users. The number of IM users that can be communicated with on these networks is in the millions.
Integration with WebEx’s full suite of rich media conferencing services makes initiation of real-time communications easy and productive. Exposure to the unpredictable performance of the Internet is minimized by routing all conferencing and team space data over the WebEx MediaTone network, WebEx’s private global switched network. By using presence, team members can see instantly when others are available to start a text chat, hold ad-hoc conversations, or collaborate on documents in the team workspace – any time of day.
With a click of the mouse, text-based instant messaging exchanges can be easily and seamlessly escalated to VoIP-based audio conversations using either a headset or the microphone and speakers built into laptop PCs – or a click-to-call phone conversation can initiated through integration with Cisco IP Communicator on the desktop and Cisco Communications Manager residing on the network. By adding a simple USB-connected webcam, any conversation can be augmented with a video conferencing stream as well. During our trial experience using WebEx Connect, the quality of the VoIP-based PC-to-PC audio was nothing short of excellent, while the video quality performed well enough to add a sense of “connected-ness” – a welcome capability between team members that may not be able to meet face-toface often. All video and VoIP voice data is sent over the single encrypted IP-based MediaTone connection – which makes communications not only simple and secure, but increases performance while remaining economical.
The ability to share what a team member is seeing on their PC screen can also be added with a click of the mouse. This capability can be expanded to include WebEx’s full suite of web conferencing capabilities. After confirming a team member’s availability using presence and instant messaging, web meetings can be launched instantly directly from either the WebEx Connect team workspace or from the WebEx Connect instant messaging client.
For example, the audio conferencing component of the platform can be deployed either as an outsourced service through WebEx, as an on-premise solution using Cisco MeetingPlace, or a mix of both. Instant Messaging and Presence can be implemented using WebEx Connect, the Cisco Unified Presence Server, or both. Audio conversations can be held using the VoIP service in WebEx Connect or by using Cisco on-premise solutions residing on the network. This hybrid deployment approach enables the customers to choose what best fits their needs and adjust their deployment strategy at any time. The customer-facing applications do not change; therefore functionality remains constant for users. Users do not have to adapt to new interfaces and they are not even aware of how the services are being delivered.
This gives IT the agility required to fulfill the demands of employees with greater speed and flexibility.
The WebEx Connect Platform The ability to realize this hybrid approach requires a “virtual” applications delivery platform that extends from the customer’s premise to services located in “the cloud”. WebEx Connect’s ability to accomplish this means it can deliver a unique set of benefits that go beyond flexibility in deployment. Customer needs can vary greatly in security vs. the audiences that need to use the technology. Since the WebEx Connect platform is based in “the Cloud”, it can address the need to support team members in different organizations – partners, out-sourced resources, customers – that need to participate in a project yet Leveraging Web 2.0 Technologies for Business Gain Page 8 reside outside of the organization’s firewall (and behind a different firewall). Using end-to-end encryption and minimizing the data’s exposure to the Internet by routing it through the WebEx MediaTone Network, the WebEx Connect platform uniquely makes these inter-organizations connections possible while maintaining security, reliability, and performance. For those industries that absolutely MUST maintain all data behind the firewall for internal audiences only (health care, finance, etc), those interactions can be supported by on-premise resources while still having “the Cloud” connection available for external audiences as needed.
While Cisco’s networking expertise is well respected in the enterprise, the use of the WebEx MediaTone Network brings Cisco’s expertise to meetings and applications that occur in “the Cloud”. Since the WebEx MediaTone network is largely based on carrier-class Cisco technology, users have access to a high-speed, robust, secure, global private network for the majority of the data being transported outside of the organization as well. Additional field-proven Cisco technology that can be used with the platform includes Cisco Call Manager, which can be accessed with either an IP phone or PC-based soft phone, and Cisco directory and identity services.
The resulting hybrid architecture presents a unique communications-centric platform for developing and deploying on-premise / on-demand collaborative applications. While Cisco WebEx will continue to develop and expand the core application set – from telephony and Unified Communications to WebEx Meeting Center and WebEx Connect for virtual teams – the platform itself has a set of developer APIs to encourage application innovation from third party developers and customers. To further catalyze third party efforts, Cisco WebEx is making available a partner “marketplace” program that will be fully realized in the second half of 2008 to help developers integrate, publish, and market their resulting applications.
Page 9 Copyright © 2008 Wainhouse Research, LLC Analysis & Conclusions Compared to other vendors in the space, WebEx Connect leads on several fronts. Its strategy of providing enterprise-class Web 2.0 services seamlessly via a hybrid combination of on-demand and/or on-premise deployment is visionary. Cisco is one of the few suppliers that has the resources, experience, and reputation to make this work. This is not an easy task – getting applications to work across this divide while maintaining the enterprise class standards for security, reliability and scalability requires unique capabilities. Other major competitors are vying to enter this space with on-demand services – including Microsoft (Microsoft Office Live) and IBM (IBM Bluehouse) – though both competitive offerings are in their alpha or beta states. In terms of execution, WebEx has over ten years of experience in delivering on-demand business-class services, and, even in its pre-release stage, WebEx Connect feels refined and very close to production quality.
From a hands-on perspective, WR is impressed with the following aspects of WebEx Connect:
• Ease of setup and getting started – It could hardly be simpler. WR attributes this in part to WebEx’s experience in getting thousands of web conferences to work reliably on-the-fly every day. It is significantly easier to set up, install, and navigate than the other on-demand offerings that we have seen – and also beats the consumer / small business oriented services like Google Sites or Microsoft Office Live.
• Integration with existing productivity applications – This aspect of the service is key, and WebEx has done it right. WR has evaluated team workspace products and services in the past that, when all is said and done, were too much of a disruption to the way people work to bother adopting.
WebEx Connect’s drag and drop to the desktop is a very useful feature that, when combined with being able to open documents directly from the team space, matches or beats its competition.
The integration of WebEx Connect-sourced presence within Outlook’s email and calendar and the ability to access Outlook email via the IM client is also very seamless and useful.
• Collaboration via IM and Persistent Chat - WR used Connect in writing this whitepaper and found that it did simplify and streamline the collaborative process. By remaining logged in to the workspace, we were able to view the latest revisions and exchange comments – either by persistent chat or in real-time depending on each team member’s presence status. The integration of IM and presence with the workspace was fairly elegant, and the entire process was much easier and more effective than exchanging emails and file attachments.
• Rich Media Conferencing - Click-to-talk was very simple to use, it worked on the first attempt, and the voice quality was superb. Video conferencing using a web cam also worked sufficiently well.
Desktop sharing was straightforward and performed well.
Stepping back from the hands-on experience, it struck us that WebEx concentrated very hard at implementing the core feature set required to make team interaction very effective – and, for this initial release, not much more. This makes using the service very easy and intuitive, and it works well.
Other parts of the system, such as the Widgets and third-party expansion, are sure to fill out and become more valuable over time. At this point WebEx Connect’s personal profiles are sufficient but lag competitive offerings in depth and breadth of features. In addition, the collaborative toolset is less Leveraging Web 2.0 Technologies for Business Gain Page 10 complete than what is offered by IBM’s Bluehouse (based on Lotus Connections) and even Microsoft’s Office Live (based on SharePoint). For instance, with IBM, messages, task lists, ability to assign tasks, notifications and bookmarks are all integrated into the shared workspace. WebEx assures us that they are working to provide the above features in the near future.
Overall, WR is quite impressed with WebEx’s first effort in bringing a Web 2.0 collaboration platform to enterprises. The company’s strategy and vision make sense at several levels. On the capabilities level, it hits the needs of the market. On the deployment level, it plays to Cisco WebEx’s strengths in providing on-premise and on-demand solutions. On the platform level, it presets an opportunity for customers and developers to deliver collaboration-infused applications. This first release of WebEx Connect is, on the whole, well conceived, well executed, and contains just what an extended team needs to start accomplishing some serious collaborative work right away – with what it takes to be very appealing to IT managers.
Page 11 Copyright © 2008 Wainhouse Research, LLC About the Authors Andy Nilssen is a Senior Analyst & Partner at Wainhouse Research, where he leads the WR web conferencing and IM & Presence practice. Andy is a co-author of WR's recent Unified Communications Products report, which sized the entire UC market space, and WR’s annual WebMetrics study, which tracks web conferencing usage and user preferences. Earlier in his career, Andy managed the planning and launch of PictureTel's second-generation group videoconferencing systems. Andy has over 25 years of experience in high-technology product marketing and market research, earned his MBA and BSEE degrees from the University of New Hampshire, and holds two ease-of-use related patents.