Vmware/Mitel Compete With Cisco For Contact-Center Desktop Virtualization

VMware and Mitel have announced an integrated desktop virtualization product that the companies say will enable contact center managers to manage their agents anywhere in the world with cloud-based access to contact center functionality. Additionally, Mitel is making available its virtualized Unified Communicator Advanced client software for VMware View.

Esther Shein

February 15, 2012

4 Min Read
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VMware and Mitel have announced an integrated desktop virtualization product that the companies say will enable contact center managers to manage their agents anywhere in the world with cloud-based access to contact center functionality. Additionally, Mitel is making available its virtualized Unified Communicator Advanced client software for VMware View.

"The critical IT requirements [for] contact centers are high availability and rapid service restoration in the event of an equipment failure,'' says Simon Bramfitt, founder and principal analyst at Entelechy Associates. "We're reasonably good at delivering this from a desktop computing perspective, but we have taken conventional desktop PCs pretty much as far as they can go here. VDI gives us an opportunity to both increase overall system availability and minimize service restoration times."

At the same time, he says, the high degree of standardization found in contact centers means that many of the more challenging aspects of VDI are not seen. "In many respects, you could say that call centers and VDI are made for each other."

A 2011 studyfound that 90% of businesses are considering or implementing client virtualization projects, most of them within the next 12 to 24 months. Of those with client virtualization plans, 61% said the driver is an expected reduction in IT costs; 40% are looking for easier distribution of software; 38% aim for increased IT productivity; and 37% seek to improve IT support services. Another report expects that U.S. thin-client sales will double during the next few years, amounting to less than 2 million units by 2013.

If you're a CIO and you believe in virtual desktop technology, you're buying soft clients on desktops and the virtual desktop is the soft client or thin client, but what's been missing is voice and the ability to integrate it with that virtual desktop, says Mitel's Alan Zurakowski, director of corporate business development and strategic alliances. If a company uses remote agents, Mitel's Contact Center Solution for VMware View can be downloaded via email, instead of a contact center manager having to ship the agents a physical phone and, in some cases, a laptop. The software can reduce costs while extending the organization's desktop and mobile environment to anywhere an end user has an Internet connection, Mitel says.

"From a capital costs perspective, if [companies] want, all they have to ship now is a USB headset, so the costs are driven way down,'' says Zurakowski. "For an IT person, it makes sense for them to virtualize everything and have everything unified." Organizations can benefit from better control and management by centrally managing the desktops, applications and user data in the data center, Mitel says.

Bramfitt believes that from the telephony side, VDI can only go so far. Opportunities for using unified communications technologies in VDI are limited, he says. UC systems install a soft phone on the Windows desktop alongside all the other call center applications. In a VDI environment, where that desktop is running in the data center, the soft phone is also running in the data center.

 

This creates two challenges Bramfitt says: The soft phone can significantly reduce the number of virtual desktops it is possible to deploy on a single physical server. At the same time, voice traffic must be routed from the contact center back to the data center and out again--a process known as hair-pinning, he says. Any network latency or dropped packets can significantly affect call quality and consume significant network bandwidth. "Given these limitations, most contact centers are unable to take advantage of the combined benefits of VDI and unified communications," he says, "instead retaining conventional telephone systems alongside the desktop PC or thin client."

What Mitel's software does, Bramfitt says, is use VDI for the call setup. However, it hands off the actual voice communication so that it is handled by the thin client without passing through the data center. That increases the number of virtual desktop sessions that can be hosted on the server. "This gives you a VDI solution at a significantly lower cost," although he says the amount depends on implementation.

A second advantage of this approach is that the thin client effectively becomes both the PC and the phone, which is not huge, he notes, given the typical lifespan of both thin clients and phone handset hardware, but still significant. As well as reducing capital costs, Bramfitt says, "this has operating efficiencies because you have lower power consumption and less administrative support. And, generally speaking, it delivers long-term, worthwhile benefits to the operating costs of call center."

He adds that the software is not totally unique, in that Cisco offers "broadly equivalent capabilities" as part of its Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI). The main difference, he says, is that Cisco sells VXI as an integrated package of services that are optimized for larger deployments, whereas the Mitel product "can be cost effective in much smaller implementations.'' The other difference is Cisco is more focused on the hardware side and Mitel is extending its existing software base of communication services to allow it to take advantage of VMware's VDI package, he says.

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