Nov 9, 2009

Cisco throws a collaboration party

Cisco detailed it's Collaboration Strategy and emerging product line for collaboration at it's Collaboration Summit on Monday afternoon. Chairman and CEO John Chambers outlined Cisco's vision and plan which includes technologies from its collaboration and unified communications portfolio.
Cisco today announced significant product introductions across all categories of its collaboration portfolio. The company also announced its entrance into two new markets, enterprise social software and hosted email, with the goal of bringing the collaborative power of online social communities to businesses.
Some of the strategy is based on years of acquiring front-end technologies such as PostPath for e-mail and WebEx for online meetings and combining them with back-end platform services that support secure federation of directory information and media exchange. The Cisco collaboration platform combines real-time and asynchronous communications and collaboration with some twists. For example, Cisco's dedicated to Video (communications and content) as a core technology for collaboration.

Many of the ideas that Mr. Chambers presented on how collaboration is key to innovation are not ground breaking if you've been around the collaboration space for any time. He mostly reiterated the value proposition that electronic communications and collaboration have offered for years. However it's been a long awaited conversation from Cisco and all the talking points are on mark. Like most vendors the semantics and strategy is slightly different; collaboration, for example, in the Cisco vision leans more to the socialization of content and group interactions and real-time communications supported by TelePresence (i.e., presence awareness) and video technologies. This is a contemporary perspective that includes social feeds and threading of information based on tags and/or meta-data that many older collaboration solutions are currently retrofitting into their products.

The product announcements are broken into three lines: Cisco TelePresence, Cisco Unified Communications, and Cisco WebEx solutions. A strong connection to real-time communications over different modes, devices, and networks using open-source technologies are common threads in the strategy. In addition to providing services and presentation layer interfaces Cisco reiterated its dedication to extranets and federation of key service information, like federated presence awareness or directory information.

It's finally good to know what has happened to PostPath. Over a year after acquiring the open-source Exchange alternative, Cisco has subsumed PostPath into it's WebEx product line and released a SaaS-based e-mail package called WebEx Mail. They are still riding on the value proposition that WebEx Mail is 100% Outlook compatible and built on open-source technology that makes it easier to extend and manage. While the Outlook point might be valid, management and extensibility is likely only a benefit to Cisco now that it's a hosted solution. The offering seems to be along industry standards with 25GB of mailbox space. Details on data centers and risk management are limited and Cisco relies on it's hosted IronPort solution for in-the-cloud content filtering.

The social software and collaboration efforts are even more nascent with only choice customers getting beta access to the service for the next three to six months. Again the offering will be delivered as a SaaS model. There are some demos on the Cisco site that illustrate it's social, Cisco Pulse, and ad-hoc teaming solution, Show and Share. We'll have to wait to see more on how customers will respond to the tools.

So will this be disruptive to the collaboration market? Cisco definitely has strong technology and the high-definition video interfaces will be attractive to many customers who rely on teleconferencing. Cisco's strategy is a network centric vision - which is to be expected. Large global companies that want to create their own secure networks will likely be very interested in the Cisco solution. Although Cisco points out that it's platform is extensible, like most collaboration providers, the idea of a single platform for the most fidelity is strong here. Of course for e-mail and collaboration customers will need to weigh the cloud risks, which is still a tough subject when considering the regulatory and legal complexities that global firms face. What I think these offerings do is add yet another better defined platform solution to the choice matrix for customers, which for Cisco did not exist in a coherent form until now.

For more details on the Collaboration Summit with lots of resources go to Cisco's Community Central.

Cisco Breaks Down Barriers to Business-to-Business Collaboration -> Cisco News

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