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June 2001

Rich Tehrani What If We Were All Living A Lie?


[ Go Right To: An Educational Opportunity For All ]

I love the movie The Matrix. Aside from the incredible special effects, the storyline is so well-thought-out that many people don't even "get" the whole movie the first time they see it. In case you didn't see it, the basis of the film is that all of our brains and other parts of our bodies are electrically interconnected while software simulates the world around us. Sleeping, waking up and going to work are all simulated events. The whole concept of entire generations living a lie through simulated electrical impulses is fascinating to me.

What if this happened today? What if we were all living a lie? For example, what if the consistent need to buy faster and faster PCs with larger and larger hard drives and memory for your agents didn't really exist? Better yet, what if the need to give away your latest batch of Pentium 133 machines as you purchase the latest generation of desktops for hundreds or thousands of seats within your company was eliminated and you just didn't know about it?

In The Matrix, a character named Morpheus was responsible for explaining to unsuspecting Matrix inhabitants their predicament, at which point he was able to liberate them. In real life, Sun Microsystems is trying to shake up the world by preaching that the days of the PC and the need for frequent upgrades are numbered.

Interested? Well if you're a CIO, MIS director or tasked with managing office computers or if you are responsible for minimizing waste in your organization and reducing management cost, please keep reading.

As you may recall, Sun Microsystems is the company that for years has preached, "The network is the computer." They may finally have proven their point and in doing so may very well have just changed the way users interact with networks.

Sun's new products, Sun Ray Appliances, are stateless devices that process only keyboard input and screen output, leaving all of the application processing and storage to the server. The devices are attached to a dedicated network and receive a stream of pixel commands transmitting screen deltas or changes, meaning they only have to handle the processing of graphical functions as opposed to calculating spreadsheets or reformatting desktop publishing documents. This system takes advantage of statistical multiplexing and is optimized for bursty network conditions. You may be thinking this is analogous to the dumb terminals so commonly used with mainframes and minicomputers, but these devices are much more powerful. As you may recall, dumb terminals didn't have graphics per se (unless you include the ability to awkwardly simulate graphics with text). Sun Ray Appliances can process any graphics a regular Sun workstation can tackle, save those of the 3D variety.

The whole premise of this computer design is that CIOs told Sun they wanted something simple and easy to manage. Sun Ray Appliances are the response to that request, as the machines themselves, which vary in model from the Sun Ray 1 to the Sun Ray 150, are stateless machines having no moving parts. They have five-year warranties and are not upgradable. In fact, these machines are more like telephones than computers. When you factor in the $299 starting price, you realize that some of your executive phones could actually cost more than these devices!

In case you think these machines are nothing more than stripped-down computers, you'd be mistaken, because Sun Ray Appliances have the potential for a very rich user environment with Web access, multimedia, CD audio quality and the ability to access mainframe and Unix databases, Linux and NT.

The Sun Ray devices are attached to a Sun server and can run any version of Java or Netscape and any application that runs on Solaris 2.6, 2.7 or 2.8 runs on Sun Ray appliances. It is precisely the ability of the Sun Ray to run in all of these environments that makes it so versatile. Being able to run Sun's version of Unix as well as Java allows these machines to connect to just about any computer or database. Additionally, using the Java client of the excellent product MetaFrame from Citrix allows Sun Ray machines to access any NT Microsoft-based server applications. Of course, you could always install a Sun PCi II Coprocessor Card in your server, as well, to run PC applications, but I would think any resource-intensive Microsoft OS-based programs would run more efficiently from a remote server accessed through a Citrix or SCO Tarantella solution.

Sun's initial target with these machines was the enterprise, financial services and government markets. The product line soon started to take off in the education market as an appliance to access the campus network. The next area to show strong interest was the K-12 market because of the inherent simplicity of these machines.

As you might imagine, another very hot market for this approach is the call center market, as users not only get all the advantages listed above, but they can have 100 sessions or simultaneous users on a single Sun server with 4 CPUs!

Another interesting twist on traditional computing is that Sun Ray Appliances come with the ability to accept smart cards that contain user profiles. Different users can have totally different desktop applications and access rights and can access their desktop from any computer on the network by just plugging in their card to any Sun Ray on the network. Once the card is plugged in, every setting of your connection, including caps lock, is synchronized with the machine. This capability is ideal for multiple shifts or supervisors of large contact centers, allowing them access to their unique applications from any workstation. In case your agents are like me and are likely to leave their ID cards at home from time to time, rest assured that they can still log on with a user name and password.

The machines themselves are fairly high-end, with 1280 x 1024 graphics as well as 16-bit 48.KHz audio. Sun tells me some contact center customers use these machines as multimedia training devices while agents await calls. You can even allow agents to participate in collaborative computing since these devices can support just about every standard there is, such as H.323, T.120, T.127 and H.263 using SunForum 3.2 software. One of the engineers at TMC Labs actually tested a Sun Ray by conferencing it with Microsoft's NetMeeting on another machine. He removed the smart card from the connected machine and plugged it into another Sun Ray that had a video camera. Once plugged in, the new machine picked up the conference where the last one left off and also connected the camera into the collaborative session.

In case you're not familiar with Sun and are concerned about switching from PCs to Sun machines, you should know about Star Office, a free office application suite that is compatible with and functionally equivalent to Microsoft Office.

For all the great features in the Sun Ray philosophy, there is also a single, inherent drawback. The ability to work remotely is not enabled in Sun's current solution. Sun tells me this is not their target market at the moment as it is difficult to guarantee latency levels needed to have such a solution work remotely. They tell me they are working with other vendors to resolve this issue and they hope to have a viable solution in the future.

But remote access aside, the Sun Ray paradigm is certainly compelling and so is Sun's argument that data becomes so important that it eventually will live in the network. Sun proudly tells me that their devices give CIOs freedom of choice. Agents using Sun Ray Appliances can access just about any system. In my judgment, however, you are still locked into a Sun server and Sun appliances. So it is true that your agents can now play in the open computing game, but they need a Sun Ray and a connection to a Sun server as the price of admission. Still, this solution should be refreshing to those who don't want to be locked into Microsoft-based products.

Of course, Sun is not alone in this market. IBM, Wyse and NCD are all competing in this space and we can probably expect more competition in the future. The concept of thin clients is certainly not new and the ability to leverage such high-end processors finally makes it possible to really get the most out of this shift in computing.

Certainly Sun makes a compelling argument with their Sun Ray Appliances and the price for access to this type of solution is lower than at any time in the past. The question is whether or not companies are ready to give up their PCs to move to this type of solution. The idea of having a single box responsible for the computing needs of 100 users is very compelling. And if all this doesn't make you at least interested, then consider the following. The people at Sun tell me they have hundreds of Sun Ray Appliances connected to their servers that haven't needed rebooting for six months or more. Having been a former UNIX administrator myself, I can attest to the fact that UNIX is bulletproof, especially in comparison to any Microsoft operating system I have ever worked with. Perhaps Sun is onto something really big with this contact center push since there are few areas of any company more mission-critical than contact centers.


Rich Tehrani
Group Publisher
Group Editor-in-Chief

[ Return To The June 2001 Table Of Contents ]

An Educational Opportunity For All Awaits At Customer [email protected] Solutions Conference And EXPO

As you can see from Sun's Sun Ray Appliances, the industry is constantly changing. How can you keep up with the changes? This July 18-20 in the Cobb Galleria in Atlanta, Georgia, Technology Marketing Corporation (TMC) is proud to bring you Customer [email protected] Solutions Conference and EXPO, the must-attend conference and trade show for anyone who has to manage a contact center or anyone who has any part in the technology buying team. The editorial staff of Customer [email protected] Solutions magazine has put their combined experience of 87 years in the industry to the test in coming up with the most comprehensive conference program you'll find anywhere, designed with you in mind. Featuring tracks on Human Resources Solutions, Contact Center Technology Solutions, Innovative Management Solutions and E-Sales/E-Service Solutions, sessions run from the basics to the cutting-edge, so no matter where your contact center is in its development, you'll find the courses and the experts there to help you get your contact center running at peak efficiency. Each of our conference tracks will discuss the technologies teeming in today's marketplace and present practical ideas and strategies that address improving your infrastructure, enhancing your front- and back-office processes and improving employee productivity and morale. The conference program will address the most crucial challenges facing your business and help you discover a wealth of opportunities. You'll learn about employing the latest Web media for the contact center; self-help and self-service applications that empower your customers; campaign development; legal issues affecting contact centers; cost-effective hosted applications and solutions; how to attract the best talent to your contact center; remote workforce management; database and knowledge management technologies; building a next-generation contact center; and much more.

Starting with the most valuable piece in the contact center formula, your agents, the Human Resources Solutions track features the following sessions:

  • Master Session I: Tales from the Trenches: Outsourcing Elite Discuss the Past, Present and Future of Teleservices Outsourcing
  • The High-Tech Crystal Ball: What You Need to Know About Workforce Management Technology
  • Conquering the Challenge of Bad Attitudes and Difficult-to-Manage Employees
  • Master Session II: Staffing the Next-Generation Contact Center
  • Techniques to Attract Top Talent to Your Contact Center
  • E-learning: The Hottest Training Development in Years
  • Perfect Harmony: Tips for Building Team Solidarity
  • Breathing New Life into Outbound Selling Techniques
  • New Millennium Motivation: A Fresh Look at an Old Quandary
  • Ahh -- The Sigh of Relief Produced By an Ergonomic Environment
  • The Buck Starts Here: Compensation for New Forms of Communication
  • Marrying Monitoring to Motivation
  • and Managing the Remote Workforce.

Focusing on the myriad technologies that make up today's complex contact center, the Contact Center Technology Solutions track will provide sessions on:

  • Using Routing Technologies to Improve Customer Satisfaction
  • Leveraging Network Options for a More Efficient Customer Interaction Center
  • Using Real-Time Marketing Effectively
  • Integrating Voice, Data and E-Mail into a Seamless Whole
  • Database and Knowledge Management Technologies: Information is Power
  • Deploying Internet Telephony in the Contact Center
  • Master Session III: How to Build a Next-Gen Contact Center from the Ground Up
  • Using Personalization Technologies to Boost Competitive Advantage
  • Making Life Easier for Customers with New Speech Technologies
  • Guarding the Gates: Essential Security Issues and Considerations
  • Taming the Technological Logistics of Using Home-Based Agents
  • Logging and Monitoring Technologies: Beyond Simply Recording
  • Implementing a Cutting-Edge Help Desk
  • and Broadband in the Contact Center: Bigger Pipes, Better Opportunities.

For management who need to know how these technologies will increase the bottom line, the Innovative Management Solutions track will feature the following sessions:

  • CRM Across the Enterprise: What are the Benefits?
  • More Than Just the Fine Print: Legal Issues in the Contact Center
  • Looking for Mr. GoodWrench: Improving Your Contact Center's CRM
  • The Benefits of Creating a Distributed and Virtual Contact Center
  • Outsourced CRM Techniques and Trends
  • Mistakes to Avoid in Choosing CRM Technologies
  • Managing Customer Information for Better CRM
  • Building the Case for Communications ASPs
  • Next-Gen: The Future of the Customer Interaction Center
  • Let George Do It: Outsourcing Multimedia
  • Master Session IV: Improving the Bottom Line via Web-Enabled Customer Service
  • Choosing and Using E-Mail Management Technologies
  • Heating Up Customer Service in a Cooling Economy
  • and Campaign Development from Soup to Nuts.

For those of you looking to catch up to the 21st-century realities of the online world or fine-tune your present efforts, the E-Sales/E-Service Solutions track features: 

  • Readying Your Contact Center for E-Commerce
  • Protecting Customer Information against Hackers and Other Cyber-Villains
  • Exorcising Your Web Site: Turning Customer E-Mail from a Curse into a Blessing
  • Building a Business-to-Business Marketplace to Increase Efficiency
  • How to Globalize Your E-Sales/E-Service Initiatives
  • Helping Customers Help Themselves: Self-Service in the Contact Center
  • Business-to-Consumer E-Commerce: Still Alive and Kicking
  • Choosing and Using New Web Media for the Contact Center
  • Meeting Mobile Customer Needs via M-Commerce
  • Implementing Online Customer Service in the Real World
  • Keeping Customers on Your Web Site: Chat, VoIP and Collaboration Technologies
  • E-Marketing Techniques: It's 2001 -- Do You Know Who Your Customers Are?
  • Master Session IV: From Call Center to Contact Center: A Web-Enabling Retrofit
  • and Click Here for a Carbon-Based Life Form: Keeping a Human Presence on Your Web Site.

But the conference is only part of the total solution you will find at Customer [email protected] Solutions Conference and EXPO. As TMC has done every year since 1986 when it started the first conference and expo in this market, Customer [email protected] Solutions Conference and EXPO will also feature an exhibit hall with scores of vendors who can provide you with the services and technologies you read about every month in Customer [email protected] Solutions magazine. And to make it a more pleasant experience for you, we are limiting the exhibitor's booths to 10 x 10 or 10 x 20 spaces, so you will find a manageable, cooperative setting for you to connect with all of the vendors you seek.

But the information exchange doesn't stop there! I'm excited to tell you that, at the conclusion of each day, Customer [email protected] Solutions Conference and EXPO will hold a networking cocktail reception where you can meet friends and colleagues, exchange ideas, get another perspective on a particular product you saw in the exhibit hall, discuss similar issues and challenges with peers and form profitable relationships. It's the perfect setting for completing each day of discovery at Customer [email protected] Solutions Conference and EXPO.

After reading about all Customer [email protected] Solutions Conference and EXPO has to offer, I'm sure you'll agree with me that this is the one conference and expo in the contact center/CRM space that can deliver solutions for all your team members who are part of the decision-making process for purchasing products or services for your contact center. See you in Atlanta.

[ Return To The June 2001 Table Of Contents ]

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