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Cisco and Apple -- A Seamless Partnership?

The big news of the day yesterday was a new partnership between tech giants Apple and Cisco, together creating what they're referring to as a "fast lane" for iOS business users. Cisco is optimizing its networks for iOS devices and applications with the idea of providing seamless integration of iPhones with Cisco enterprise networks.

The companies announced their partnership at Cisco's Global Sales Conference in Las Vegas, where Apple CEO Tim Cook joined Cisco Executive Chairman John Chambers on stage.

Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, hosted a Q&A Monday evening to explain some details of the partnership.

"We just see this enormous opportunity together to bring the best of what Apple does and the best of what Cisco does to change the way that people experience technology in the workplace," Trollope said, adding that up until this point, it has really felt like you're "turning back the technology clock by 10 years in some cases."

Cisco is the leader in business collaboration and enterprise networking, as well as one of the leaders in IT, Trollope emphasized. And as we all know, Apple iOS is one of the world's foremost mobile platforms, with the leading share of enterprise mobile users.

In illustrating what the partnership will look like to users, Trollope used a couple of examples. When a user walks into the office today, he might look up a number on his mobile phone and then enter it into a speakerphone to join a conference call -- there are disconnects in enterprise communications technology. The idea behind the Cisco-Apple fast lane is that users will be able to do things like place internal calls directly from their iPhones and have those connect seamlessly into the enterprise communications network. Down the road, this could be taken even further by having the speakerphone-mobile connection be automatic, where users would simply have to walk into conference rooms for the different devices to sync up.

"We're all about seamless end-to-end, and that's obviously where Apple has been so outstanding for so many years in terms of leading the industry, and we've got that same vision" Trollope said, adding "we can now actually, truly bring that together."

Trollope encouraged participants to think about the network itself and how it can be overloaded by the explosion in bandwidth caused by proliferation of mobile use. "As a result, it's costing businesses money, and you're also seeing that sometimes apps don't work as well."

If, for example, a doctor is calling in remotely to communicate with a patient at the hospital, that call should not be affected because the patient in the room next door is passing the time downloading a cat video. "You don't want the same quality of service for both of those kinds of experiences," Trollope said. Instead, he added, you want to be able to identify business-critical traffic so that you can ensure that goes over the network really well.

First and foremost, Cisco wants to support native connectivity from your iPhone to the corporate network, so incoming and outgoing business calls are automatically routed onto that network, Trollope said. Beyond that, Trollope sees another whole layer to expand to, referencing Cisco Spark, the company's mobile-first app, as a way to move people away from traditional ways of working with email, calendar, phone calls, and messaging. The announcement was short on details on how Cisco would be adapting its network to provide native connectivity for iOS devices.

With this partnership, "IT gets a lot of things they've been asking for, for a long time," Trollope said. "I talk to CIOs all the time, and they're like, 'You guys have to make all of this stuff work better together.'"

We know that people want a business experience comparable to their consumer experiences; BYOD has been a trend that IT has had to contend with for quite some time.

"This is the broader part of this vision that we have with this partnership," Rowan explained. "We want to really transform the way people work. So it's very expansive in terms of all the things that we might do together. We've spent a lot of time working together over the past 10 months to determine some specific near-term things that we can deliver to our customers that would be meaningful. For IT, it's things like manageability."

According to Trollope, 30% of phone calls in the office are placed on mobile devices. If those calls can be routed through the corporate network, businesses could see significant cost savings. Other things that could become easier for IT with this partnership would include compliance, manageability, and logging, he added.

"Service providers are going to play a big part in this," Trollope said, switching tunes. "The network plays a super important role in this -- you've got devices, you've got apps, and you've got the network. And Cisco is the leader in the network in the enterprise, but then you've also got the mobile network. And we've got great partnerships -- as does Apple -- with these service providers, and we've got an opportunity to work together to make a better experience across the board."

"This is the dream partnership for me," Trollope said. "The reason I came to Cisco in the first place was that I had this idea that we should transform the way that we work ... and I knew that Cisco had the hardware, the software, the network and the business to do it, but we didn't have the mobile device. We didn't have the entire platform and ecosystem of apps and everything that Apple has, so this is highly complementary, and we couldn't -- I couldn't -- have imagined a better partner than Apple."

The partnership he added, is "unlike anything that either company has ever done before."

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