Cisco vs Microsoft: Strategic Communications and Collaboration Decisions
Deciding between the two vendors for strategic communications and collaboration is not easy. Here are some actionable recommendations.
One of the challenges many organizations face is the Cisco vs Microsoft dilemma as it relates to strategic communications and collaboration decisions. The challenge surfaces because 70%-75% of the market has Cisco networking equipment while 60% to 65% of the market has deployed Microsoft Lync for instant messaging (IM) and presence. In addition, Microsoft owns a huge share of the office productivity suite market (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.).
This means that a sizeable portion of the market has both Cisco switches and Microsoft software. Both companies are now competing for the enterprise voice market, and one of the difficult challenges organizations are facing is which to choose. Most market research has Cisco holding the number one market share in PBXs being sold in North America, followed by Avaya. But Microsoft is now showing up as the number three voice provider in many studies.
Microsoft does not sell a PBX, per se; rather, it sells a product called Lync Enterprise Voice, that allows organizations to augment or replace PBX functionality for some or all users by allowing calls to be made from the Lync software client or a Lync desk phone to the public switched telephone network. Lync does not have all of the features of a PBX, but it clearly has most of the functions that information and knowledge workers use on regular basis. And what it is designed to do works very well.
With the overlap between Cisco switches and Microsoft software in the enterprise, both companies are pushing hard for their voice solutions to be adopted as well. Cisco wants organizations to abandon Microsoft Lync in favor of Cisco's Unified Communication Manager (PBX) with its accompanying Jabber IM/presence/collaboration client and WebEx collaboration capabilities. Likewise, Microsoft wants organizations to end-of-life their Cisco PBX in favor of a unified communications solution based on Microsoft Lync IM/presence, conferencing, and Enterprise Voice.
Making the call can be very difficult. Part of this difficulty arises because the networking people are very passionate about Cisco while the enterprise software people are passionate about Microsoft. Thus, different camps of articulate, educated, well-meaning employees form who become quite entrenched in their opinions of which strategic decision an organization should make with respect to voice and collaboration solutions, and it regularly comes out as a Cisco-versus-Microsoft encounter.
Four Deployment Options
There are basically four different deployment choices an organization can make to resolve the Cisco vs Microsoft dilemma. Two of these are elimination strategies and two are coexistence strategies.
Figure 1. Four deployment choices for resolving the Cisco vs Microsoft dilemma.
1. An organization can choose to go with an all-Cisco voice and collaboration deployment. Cisco PBXs are used, Cisco Jabber is deployed, Cisco phones and video devices are used, and WebEx--whether on-premises or in the cloud--is part of the solution. Interoperability among devices and between users is guaranteed.
2. Some organizations choose to do an "elemental" deployment in which they deploy parts of each solution: Cisco for voice communications and Microsoft for IM/presence. For conferencing, they may choose either Lync or WebEx.
In this solution, there is little or no linkage between the Cisco and Microsoft elements. Even if a Lync client launches a telephone conversation, under the covers the Cisco infrastructure is used.
There is an integration Cisco has made for Lync called CUCILync, which is essentially a plug-in to Microsoft Lync that launches Cisco's own communications stack when a Lync user makes a phone or video call. The user experience is not as seamless as when Cisco PBXs are used with Jabber or when Microsoft Enterprise Voice is used with Lync.
Collaboration in such an "elemental" deployment suffers because it is not seamless when one needs to use multimodal conferencing, such as IM/presence, voice, and Web conferencing.
3. We are aware of some organizations that deploy both solutions in parallel. Those users who want Microsoft can use Lync with Lync Enterprise Voice and those that want Cisco can use the Cisco PBXs and Jabber. These can be connected with a SIP trunk (and possibly a gateway) between them to allow interoperable voice communications, but the collaboration capabilities suffer, as these systems do not federate together to have joint Web conferencing, audio conferencing and IM interoperability.
4. Finally, an organization may choose to go with a full Microsoft Lync deployment in which there is tight integration between the IM/presence capabilities, the conferencing functionality, and voice communications.
Why is Choosing Between Them So Hard?