The Perfect Thin Voice/Desk Solution (In Theory)

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About a year and half ago, Mitel debuted a fairly impressive solution – tight Mitel integration with Sun’s Sun Ray thin client terminals.

There were two key components: The ability to marry the “hotdesking” feature of the Mitel 3300 VoIP platform with the Sun/Sun Ray desktop client, AND the ability for the Sun Ray client (hardware) to be integrated into the phone. This created a rather sexy implementation of what many people call “Hoteling”.

If you are not familiar with the Sun Ray solution (and few are), it is pretty slick. Actually introduced around 2000 (way ahead of its time), it uses Sun Servers to create a stunning thin client desktop environment. The Sun Ray terminals utilize a smart (Java) card for its login – the user swipes their card and up comes their desktop being served from a Sun server. For users that require Microsoft services, add in Terminal Services (or Citrix ) and you got them. One of the key benefits of the solution, was the session followed the (smart) card. So a user could move their active session to another desktop, say to ask an expert a question. The idea is to have these thin clients throughout the organization (desks, conference rooms, homes, different branches) – just swipe the card and get to work.

Mitel, as with many VoIP systems, has a feature called “Hotdesking”. This feature allows you to login to a phone to make it your own. Your number, your programmed buttons, your speed dials, and your voice mail light. This is a great solution for mobile professionals that work in multiple locations (home, office1, office2) or for shared work spaces . Many roles, such as outside sales, spend very little time in the office. So instead of giving up dedicated office space for these folks, an increasing trend is set up shared workspace. They can Hotdesk at the shared phone and make it theirs while in the office.

What Mitel did was technically simple, but incredibly innovative to marry Hotdesking to thin client computing. Now, one swipe establishes the computing and telephone desktops. Every VoIP player is trumpeting mobility, Mitel went beyond the cell phone integration play (they have that too).

The hardware was the real genius. The Mitel phones have a simple plastic base that fits most of their phones. They also offer some optional bases that replaces the simple stand; a wifi unit to eliminate the cat-5, and a GB base for gigabit to the desktop environments. The concept of putting a phone on top of a thin client base is very clever and to my knowledge unique. This solution gives the IP phone three additional ports for keyboard, monitor, and mouse. The front of the device has the slot for the Java card.

They recently showed this exact solution at VoiceCon-SFO, but you had to ask. The walkerbuyer would unlikely notice it. I love the concept of this solution. Really, it is an ideal solution, considering thin is in. Everything is moving to the cloud. PlusVoIP is in. Factor in the increasing popularity of Telecommuting and Mobility – and this is a perfect storm of technology. I pity the Cisco dealers since they don’t have this.

Only one problem: It don’t sell. I think there are three reasons why it isn’t selling. The first is simple enough – the phone shown above is still vapor. I have seen it at numerous Mitel shows, but it still is not available for sale. The solution can be implemented with regular Mitel phones and regular Sun Ray terminals, but the single device is the sizzle. The mock up unit remains “3 months away”. At least that is what they said at VoiceCon last month, and the last several shows I’ve attended over the past 18 months.

The second issue has to do with Marketing. Mitel is not particularly helpful when it comes to creating demand or even basic awareness of their products – in fact, one of the stated reasons for the Inter-Tel acquisition/merger was that Inter-Tel had stronger name recognition (of course, the first thing they did was rename all the Inter-Tel products to be Mitel products). There isn’t a CIO out there that responds to “We need a new phone system” with “Quick, call a local Mitel dealer”. Mitel sales are done by the dealer turning over every stone looking for someone, anyone that needs a phone system. Once we find a lead, we have a compelling story and solution to tell, but we need to find them. There is very little marketplace “pull” for Mitel . Sun on the other hand is fairly good at Marketing in general, but not the Sun Rays. As I said, they have been around for a while, yet few people know about them or understand them. They did get some traction in selected verticals- specifically in NY, but nationally, Sun is a footnote in the thin client movement. So two products that people may need, but not know of, does not make the phone ring (pun intended).

But the final reason is the big reason why this product remains more of a demo than a solution; it is dealer fit. The Mitel 3300 is a complex and powerful beast. To be a good qualified technician on the product, you have to have a lot of telecom experience, and a lot of Mitel certifications. The 3300 certification itself is 2-3 weeks, but that is just the basics. The key value in a 3300 is its applications – such as Teleworker, Mobile Extension, Nupoint messaging, collaboration applications, etc. All of these require additional certifications. Then to get things to actually work, such as a SIP trunk, UM, firewall, or VLAN , you have to have some networking capabilities. These people and these dealers typically do not have enterprise computing experience.

Sun servers and Sun Rays are even more complex. Add in a Windows requirement with Terminal Server or Citrix and it gets even better. The Sun dealers either don’t like VoIP/Telecom, or do it with Cisco or Shoretel. So the obvious answer is a partnership waiting to happen.

And still waiting. Mitel and Sun have made this solution available to each of their channels. But for someone to sell this, we need to find a customer that either needs a new phone system and computing system or has a Mitel 3300 or a Sun Ray investment (desktops, Sun servers, and usually Terminal Services) and needs the other, that additionally needs or values hoteling , that has money to spend on an unproven solution (hardware available in 3 months), and where the salesperson is willing to partner or gamble the lead on new technology with a new partner. As I said, waiting. The simple fact is Sun dealers can barely sell Sun Rays, so how can a Mitel dealer?

We actually came across such a prospect, but setting up a demo, even with a Sun dealer’s assistance wasn’t trivial (time or money). Mitel is willing to help as much as they can with an occasional phone call. Mitel will be the first to admit that they don’t really expect their dealers to sell this complete solution. But my PC fan makes more noise than Mitel does about partnership opportunities.

I do think the idea of a thin client workstation integrated into the phone. It makes a tremendous amount of sense. I might suggest Mitel talk to Wyse or HP about this concept as those clients have a much lower bar regarding implementation skills.

I have blogged before about how stupid IP phones are. There is no excuse for a device this price or this size to be so stupid. The basic IP phone value proposition is no different than the value proposition associated with the Western Electric Call Director phone of 1958. OK, those couldn’t transfer, but the point is reasonably valid. I strongly believe we need to introduce OS based phones with Android or other (MacOS?) on IP phones. But I digress to a previous post – the opportunity is right to make these phones do something more and this Sun Ray attempt is pretty darn close. But as Max Smart said… they “missed it by that much”…

You can view a demo of this solution here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESu8CkN4VQ8

Dave Michels