by Jeffrey Burt, eweek.com
October 28th 2014
Unify officials are launching the vendor's much anticipated unified communications platform formerly known as Project Ansible, a key product introduction for a company that has undergone more than its share of change and tumult while competing in a space that includes such giants as Cisco Systems and Microsoft.
Unify CEO Dean Douglas and other executives rolled out the unified communications (UC) solution—now called Circuit—during a Webcast event Oct. 28, promising a single common platform for all aspects of business communications, from voice and video to messaging, screen sharing and file sharing. It also gives users a place for storing the data from the meetings so that it can be accessed at a later date.
In communications today, business workers too often need to switch between devices and applications depending on what mode of communications they're using, Douglas said during the Webcast.
"That makes it all very kludgy and makes it difficult to use, and we're going to put all of that on a single pane of glass," he said.
Circuit, a browser-based solution built atop WebRTC standards, is designed to make it easy for users to move from one mode to another regardless of the device they're using. Such flexibility is becoming increasingly important as more employees are mobile or work remotely, and are demanding the ability to collaborate with colleagues, partners and customers regardless of whether they're using a smartphone, tablet or notebook, Bill Hurley, chief marketing officer at Unify, told eWEEK.
"We're very focused on how people work," Hurley said. "It's as much about the experience of the worker and not just the technology.
"Unify officials earlier this year began talking about what they're calling the New Way to Work, fueled by such trends as mobile computing, consumerization of IT, cloud computing, social media and bring-your-own-device (BYOD). Circuit is designed to address all these trends, Hurley said.
The single pane of glass gives users one Web application that brings together the various modes of communication, and stores the content for future use. In addition, the technology's contextual search and filter capabilities makes content easy to find by searching terms and people, and users can leverage the platform to conduct private one-on-one, group or company-wide conversations, according to Unify officials.
Hurley said company engineers also wanted to ensure that Circuit—which was designed along with product design firm Frog Design—offered an intuitive interface. The application currently supports Google's Chrome Web browser for Apple's iPhone and iPad devices. Support for devices running Google's Android mobile operating system will come in January 2015, the company said. Unify reportedly also plans browser support for Firefox and Internet Explorer.
Circuit—which has been in the works for two years, and was first publically discussed 16 months ago—initially will be offered as a cloud application, with an on-premises solution coming soon, Hurley said. The company also intends to provide software development kits (SDKs) and APIs to enable third-party software developers and customers to write applications for Circuit.
Circuit is available now in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany for $14.95 per user per month. Unify is offering a 60-day free trial, and officials said that those customers that sign up for an annual contract will get Circuit for free through March 31, 2015.
Unify is bringing Circuit into a market that analysts have said is dominated by Cisco and Microsoft, with a broad array of other vendors—such as Avaya, ShoreTel, Mitel and Alcatel-Lucent—also competing. They all also are looking for ways to make their products easier to use on a wide range of devices. For example, ShoreTel in April is expected to launch a common platform for its cloud, on-premises and hybrid solutions. Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, believes it's the promise of a common UC platform that is fueling Mitel's unsolicited $540 million bid to buy ShoreTel.
Hurley said Unify is expecting that Circuit will prove a differentiator to offerings from other rivals, which he referred to as "Frankenstein solutions" that have been "cobbled together" from acquisitions and then pushed out into the UC space.Circuit was released after several months of beta testing that included more than 1,000 subscribers, Hurley said. One of the things Unify heard from beta testers was the need for a new name. In science fiction, "ansible" refers to a device that offers instantaneous communication across vast distances. However, many beta testers didn't understand what the name meant, according to CEO Douglas.
"We spent too much time explaining what Ansible was … and when you have to explain it, you've already lost," he said.
The name change from Ansible to Circuit is only the latest change Unify has undergone. A year ago, the company changed its name from Siemens Enterprise Communications, and two month later brought Douglas on as CEO. Under Douglas, the company has begun a transformation away from being a device maker and towards being a software and services vendor, in line with the UC industry's trend toward mobile computing and the cloud.
The transformation includes relying more on the channel rather the an internal direct salesforce, with Unify officials announcing in June plans to cut its workforce in half, from about 7,700 to about 3,800 to adapt to the company's evolution.