The “Post PBX Era” is BS


Bovine Scatology
NoJitter is running a symposium titled The Post-PBX Platform & The New Communications Architecture. The idea of a symposium is for multiple experts to chime in with differing opinions – which inevitably includes both brilliant and erroneous points of view. I was flattered to be invited to be part of the seed stock. If you can get past the NJ comment engine, you should post a comment there.
Eric Krapf set the stage with the irrefutable observation:

The PBX will be replaced as the core of the typical enterprise communications architecture.

My response is here, and includes this line: “Just another “[fill in the blank]-is-dead” conversation. The tech blog equivalent of shock jock radio.”
Please, allow me to expand:
It takes a long time for long established technology to die – don’t give in to the hype. Let’s review some facts.

  • Despite the fact the PBX is nearly a hundred years old, no one ever liked that name.
  • No vendors did or will call their product a PBX.
  • Rolm attempted to call it a PABX.
  • The PBX was corded, became mechanical, then computer and digital, then computer and packet.
  • The importance of voice has not declined – but the communications menu is much larger and more diverse. We professionals call this multi-modal communication.
  • Convergence was initially physical (VoIP and data), but now we have convergence at the application level. Suddenly IBM, Microsoft, even SAP are communications vendors.
  • Even if you go hosted, that just means you outsourced the PBX and now pay for it per user per month. It’s still there. It’s like Weekend at Bernie’s – no matter how you dress it or position it, the fact just does not change.
  • The PBX – though never called that – continues to morph with more applications and new names. Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims like a duck.
  • Regarding duck behavior we get to Eric’s subsequent conclusion about the brave new world. “Centralized control of communications connectivity.” Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

This conversation is similar to conversations about the “Post PC Era” that Steve Jobs ushered in with the iPad. Of course, the first thing you do when you get an iPad is plug it into a PC. While iPads and tablets in general are very powerful and versatile devices, the desktop computer era is far from over. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, even called the iPad a PC. Desktop computers or what we call PCs (including Macs) will continue to evolve to totally new types of machines – just like my current laptop did from the pre-Microsoft and Pre IBM pioneering portable PC – the Osborne.

Ignore the hype. Ignore all the claims. Some vendors insist they are better because they are software driven (they all are), Some insist they open (none of them are), and some insist they are simple (they are not).Ironically, voice and video are now (thanks to VoIP and SIP) more alike than ever before. However, multi user video systems still generally require an MCU due to the processing power required. An MCU is very similar to a PBX conceptually. So these same pundits that are proclaiming the death of the PBX are also rolling in video PBX’s as the proof point. Go figure.It isn’t a post PBX era, though it is a new era of communications – one that involves things like collaboration, video, and mobility.

Dave Michels