Microsoft and the New AV World Order

INFOCOMM14-0114Hot on the heels of the January 10th announcement by InfoComm International, many of us now know that Microsoft is coming to InfoComm 2014 as a Platinum sponsor. In the announcement, David Labuskes, CTS, RCDD, executive director and CEO, InfoComm International said: “The decade-long conversation about the convergence of AV and IT technology has been realized, with the presence of a blue-chip company like Microsoft at InfoComm 2014 underscoring the importance of the show to companies of all sizes looking to do business in today’s information communications marketplace.” Since it was announced, the news has sped across the industry at warp-speed and the whole industry is buzzing about the software giant’s appearance at the show.

In a recent article Analyzing the Significance of Microsoft Exhibiting at InfoComm 2014, written by D. Craig McCormack, a bold statement is made: “After a decade or so of ‘convergence’ being a major buzzword among those on both sides of the AV and IT aisle, Microsoft’s move could signal that it’s finally here.” Thus, in short, InfoComm may have finally cornered the market on AV/IT with one of the IT industry’s biggest players. Later in the article an interesting question is posed: “So, could Microsoft’s decision — and Cisco’s presence in the commercial space through its Tandberg acquisition in 2011 — mean other primarily IT companies are on the InfoComm show floor this summer or in future years?” On that note, will Cisco now flex underutilized industry muscles and start bringing their IT networking side along with telepresence to the show? Has the door been left wide open now for Google to bring Glass and other wearables to the show as THE hot technology? Will Glass Explorers and enthusiasts then flock to the show in droves? How about Cloud and BYOD IT technology solutions providers? Yes, it look like the industry’s IT initiatives may finally become grand reality.

Another article, Microsoft + InfoComm 2014 = Awesome written by Tim Albright and published in AVNation,says, “Every once in a while an announcement comes out of the world of AV that just knocks you back. Such was the case this past Friday when InfoComm International announced their newest Platinum Sponsor for InfoComm 2014; Microsoft.” The statement speaks volumes coinciding with the buzz flashing through the industry. Microsoft will indeed become a highly visible entry to the show as well as the realm of AV/IT and may very well help InfoComm to break the 2013 show attendance record. Microsoft’s appearance will no doubt draw crowds at the show, and possibly more of those elusive east coast integrators who rarely travel to Vegas these days. We sure do miss the Projection Shoot-Out, however will this present a vendor “shoot-out” of a different sort? Of course, we’ll know more in June as many (if not all) after-show reports will likely contain the word Microsoft. Awesome news? Absolutely. Disruption in the industry? Hmm, good question.

The Industry Impact

Now that the smoke has begun to clear, it’s time to assess the true value of the announcement. Lync has been the talk of the industry in terms of UC solution integration. More industry vendors have built Lync integration into their products and will no doubt be looking at a win-win effort at the show. As a stand-alone application, the closest we get (maybe until now) is the Lync Room System, sold by SMART Technologies and Crestron, which includes electronic white boarding and system control to go along with one of the leading enterprise UC solutions. Microsoft’s Office 365 has fast become the enterprise productivity software of choice since the business version was announced in early 2013. The Surface 2 and Pro 2 versions are picking up speed and now competing with the once invincible iPad. Business productivity software and tablets front and center at the show? Can this present the necessary add-in for an industry so used to solutions encompassing projectors, displays, hardware-based videoconferencing, switching, control systems and more? Not that that’s a problem since they’re still industry necessities, but the value of Microsoft’s entry to the AV/IT market can certainly be considered immeasurable.

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With the Microsoft news spreading like virtual wildfire, has everyone in the industry latched on and accepted Microsoft as a most worthy participant at the show? According to what I’ve read in various posts in LinkedIn groups – most, but not all. Will those who may not be all-in possibly consider them a potential disruptive force at the show, competing for show traffic with the industry standard bearers? Can this competition for show traffic in essence become competition for show supremacy? Who will end up the big winner? Well that would be InfoComm as they may just see record numbers as well as potential mass draw of IT end users driven towards attending a Microsoft-led show with heavier concentration in AV/IT, Cloud and BYOD. Microsoft could essentially embody all of it in a single expansive booth space.

The Cloud (Continues to) Cometh

The whole video conference hardware vs. SaaS (let’s include Lync for good measure) battle continues to rage on and will for quite some time. Many commercial integrators continue to seek out opportunities to install standard VTC hardware solutions, although there are those who are beginning to accept the fact that current cloud-computing technologies are hitting the market with greater impact and presenting strategy already being leveraged by the enterprise in terms of IT applications. Along those lines, cloud computing technologies continue to burst on the scene in major markets leading to solutions in video conferencing, storage, virtual desktops and infrastructure and more. Along with Lync, Microsoft offers cloud solutions for storage (OneDrive – formerly SkyDrive), collaboration (SharePoint) and virtual infrastructure (Windows Azure) along with many others. Those who have fully accepted cloud computing technology as a given in the AV market will readily accept the fact that it’s high time for vendors like Microsoft to make their grand entry to the show.

So what becomes a corresponding technology focus to all of this? That would be mobility and BYOD. Devices are no longer just for presenting, they are now tied into many stages of cloud computing. Need to store and retrieve files via mobile device? Utilize Cloud storage. Need to share files? Do it with a Cloud collaboration solution (i.e. the aforementioned SharePoint). Need a VTC/Unified Communications platform? SaaS is the way to go. And then there’s the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) discussion also making its way into the industry. In fact VMware, the IT industry’s most recognized virtualization software solution (although Microsoft’s Hyper-V is picking up speed) is driving virtual Infrastructure and desktop strategy in enterprise IT. Wait, could VMware be next? OK, now I can see the online pubs running 24×7 and the espresso machines working overtime. Yep, go ahead and knock me back now.

In the end, considering their bold entry into the AV realm, Microsoft now becomes a strategic force that will hopefully bring other major IT industry players to the show. And as I always say, the possibilities are now endless. For those of you who choose to bypass the new dawn of AV/IT, think about it…

Congratulations, InfoComm!