Cisco, Avaya abstain from UC interoperability forum -- for now

Cite existing work with standards bodies, questions on board makeup, other business, legal wrangles

Two vendors were noticeably absent from a unified communication interoperability group announced last week. Indeed, the two of the leading vendors of unified communications: Cisco and Avaya.

It might be because the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum was founded by a handful of their competitors. Microsoft, Polycom, Juniper and HP are all involved, as is LifeSize, which makes a competing telepresence system to Cisco's.

The group was formed a month after the close of Cisco's acquisition of Tandberg, which made it the leading videoconferencing vendor in the industry, according to this report by IDG News Service's Steve Lawson. Videoconferencing is key to the unified communications and collaboration experience - just ask Cisco and Polycom and LifeSize.

Cisco and Avaya were invited to participate in UCIF but for now, they are balking. Says an Avaya spokesperson:

"Avaya has long been a supporter of open standards, and has actively participated in dozens of standards bodies to drive cross industry interoperability. These include the International Multimedia Teleconferencing Consortium (IMTC), Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the SIP Forum to name but a few. UCIF is not a standards body. We believe true multi-vendor interoperability will be dependent upon active participation in the appropriate standards bodies by the majority of players in the UC market place. That said, we have deep and longstanding relationships with many the key players in UCIF, including HP, Polycom, Lifesize and Juniper and we will leverage these partnerships to see how UCIF evolves. Avaya may choose to join in the future."

Cisco's reasoning is much the same but there are legal implications as well, according to a company spokesperson:

"Cisco actively participates in a number of similar industry forums today, and we need to evaluate our involvement in the UCIF with that context in mind.  Additionally, joining such a forum, especially in a leadership position, requires careful business and legal review.  We seek to participate in forums that will advance existing standards, have a consensus driven decision model, and include wide participation, including market leaders across the industry landscape, to ensure the right level of industry leadership.  The UCIF structure and board leadership were formed before membership was offered to Cisco.  Cisco is actively evaluating the offer and will decide on its level of participation after completing the necessary legal and business reviews."

So, the question remains: without participation of the two leading UC vendors, will UCIF have any teeth? Or was it expressly formed to alienate the two leaders in an effort to carve a bigger piece of the UC pie for those in the UCIF?

Perhaps an even bigger question: do vendor driven interoperability forums have the same credibility that an interoperability test bed like the University of New Hampshire has? UCIF said it will create its own interoperability testing profiles -- much like UNH does with its test suites -- and work with standards organizations to run them through the paces. But calls to UCIF and UNH were not returned in time to determine if the two organizations have engaged in dialogue on testing the UCIF profiles at UNH-IOL.

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