Irwin Lazar
Irwin Lazar is the Vice President and Service Director at Nemertes Research, where he manages research operations, develops and manages...
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Irwin Lazar | October 29, 2013 |


Cisco's "Delightful" Cloud and Mobile Focus

Cisco's "Delightful" Cloud and Mobile Focus Execs at Collaboration Summit tried to demonstrate a renewed focus on delivering collaboration software that "delights" users.

Execs at Collaboration Summit tried to demonstrate a renewed focus on delivering collaboration software that "delights" users.

Last week I attended Cisco's annual Collaboration Summit, during which Cisco executives shared their vision for their collaboration business with industry analysts, partners, and consultants. Here are few random observations

1. There's a Change Afoot
Cisco started this year's event informally with a "get to know you" session with its new collaboration leadership team headed by Rowan Trollope. Rowan has been at Cisco for just about a year, coming over from Symantec, and it was clear that he brings a different vision and perspective to Cisco. His new management team includes several new faces including Jens Meggers (also from Symantec) who is leading cloud collaboration, and SIP luminary Jonathan Rosenberg, who rejoins Cisco after a stint as Chief Technology Strategist for Microsoft Skype.

While this new team needs to protect (and grow) Cisco's hardware business, it was clear that their focus going forward is around innovating in software, specifically focused on mobility and cloud. Nearly every speaker throughout the event kept this focus, not surprising given that Cisco's chief adversary Microsoft dominates PC desktops, but owns just a small fraction of the growing mobile and tablet market.

2. New Mobility-focused Announcements
Cisco made several product-related announcements including:

* new packaging around its collaboration portfolio (Collaboration Systems Release), designed to simplify buying and rolling out collaboration solutions (attempting to duplicate the success of its "Packaged" contact center offering),
*new unified management console (Cisco Prime Collaboration),
* a new, more stylish phone (7800).

Perhaps the most interesting offering is Expressway, a border gateway enabling Jabber clients to enter a company network without requiring establishment of an IPSec VPN tunnel. This approach greatly simplifies remote and mobile client deployments and allows Cisco to match Lync's own SSL/TLS VPN capabilities. Cisco also demonstrated a new video conferencing small room system (MX300) and a mobile app to enable video call control.

3. WebRTC-like Functionality Without WebRTC
Another compelling announcement is Cisco Jabber Guest. Similar to Amazon's "Mayday" support for Kindle, Jabber Guest enables companies using Cisco contact center platforms to create "click to call" or "click to video" applications directly within web or mobile applications. One demonstration shown at the event had a customer having trouble setting up a bicycle; the customer used Jabber Guest to show a technician the problem, leveraging the video capabilities of the customer's iPad. While Jabber Guest isn't a true WebRTC app in that it requires a plug-in, Cisco noted it leverages a WebRTC-like architecture and will be capable of supporting WebRTC at some point.

4. To the Clouds
While Cisco didn't make any specific announcements of new cloud/WebEx-based offerings, it did demonstrate how it is continuing to evolve its cloud strategy to support seamless integration of cloud and on-prem (which it calls "Cloud Fusion"), and how its longer-term vision includes federation between cloud services, the latter being an increasing challenge for companies looking to integrate services obtained from various cloud providers (e.g. Box, Salesforce, SAP, WebEx, etc.).

Our research participants mostly say that even if they aren't ready to embrace 100% cloud today, they want to know they can get there eventually, and with more than 60% already having at least some of their UC in the cloud, they want to easily integrate on- and off-premise solutions.

What was missing?
A couple of things. First, Cisco still isn't ready to make the break with its desktop phone. Despite the repeated focus on mobility, it showed how mobile devices could integrate with Cisco desktop devices like the DX-650 phone, but not replace it. Obviously Cisco has a tremendous endpoint business to protect, but our research continually shows that an ever-increasing number of companies are adopting soft-clients, tablets and smartphones for business use, and increasingly these are becoming the primary end-user computing devices. Cisco could follow the approach of ShoreTel and deliver a mobile device "dock" to enable tablet/smartphone customers to potentially save money and leverage a single, unified endpoint device.

Secondly, Cisco's focus on collaboration is on "real-time" collaboration. Absent was any mention of its social platform (WebEx Social/Quad) except to respond to one question about its future by saying that it is shifting its focus to work with partners rather than continuing to push its own social offering. This stands in stark contrast to Microsoft, which is not only expanding social capabilities in SharePoint, but recently bought Yammer. Could Cisco reestablish its relationship with IBM to integrate with Connections, or partner with someone like Jive or Tibbr? It remains to be seen.

However, as we work with our clients on collaboration strategy, we're seeing a growing interest in incorporating social and document collaboration into an overall collaboration architecture. Cisco's vision around integrating real-time and non-real-time collaboration is a bit fuzzy at the moment, and is largely reliant on partners like Esna. What I'd like to see is an overall Cisco collaboration architecture covering desktop, mobile, and web, including both real-time and non-real time collaboration tools and integration points.

The bottom line: It has only been a year, but Cisco is moving toward a more software-centric model built around integrated cloud and mobile offerings. It remains to be seen if Cisco will truly embrace mobile devices as the primary user interface, or whether it will focus on leveraging mobile devices to augment and interact with its own hardware. Also, we will have to wait to see Cisco's vision for the convergence of real-time and non-real-time collaboration.

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