Zeus Kerravala
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his...
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Zeus Kerravala | May 07, 2015 |


Cisco to CPaaS Providers: Game On!

Cisco to CPaaS Providers: Game On! Cisco acquires Tropo cloud API platform, gets serious about attracting developers to build for its UC&C apps.

Cisco acquires Tropo cloud API platform, gets serious about attracting developers to build for its UC&C apps.

Cisco announced this morning its intent to acquire cloud API platform provider Tropo. Together, Cisco and Tropo will provide a collaboration platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) aimed at letting enterprise and partner developers communications-enable applications with ease.

For all the success that Cisco has had in the collaboration market, the company has struggled in attracting developers to build UC-based applications. Cisco has talked the talk of being a "platform" vendor, but hasn't been able to walk that walk yet. While the revamped DevNet program is much better than previous initiatives, Cisco is still in the early stages of building the community. This is particularly so in the collaboration space, which should be the low-hanging fruit for DevNet.

With this morning's acquisition announcement, Cisco took a big step in filling that void. For those unfamiliar with Tropo, the company is a relatively small (43 employees) CPaaS provider located in Menlo Park, Calif. Small as Tropo is, the CPaaS it offers already has attracted more than 200,000 developers using the platform. While there may be some bigger companies in this space or ones that are more well known, Tropo makes a good fit for Cisco for the following reasons:

  • Technology acquisition. Cisco has had some success with a few large acquisitions, such as IronPort and WebEx, but the company's calling card has been its ability to leverage smaller purchases. It drops the talent and technology into the Cisco machine, and gains a market-leading or sometimes market-defining position from it.

  • Easy-to-use programming language. One of the criticisms I've had of the communications industry is that the development tools have been too hard to use and require a level of telecom knowledge far beyond that of the average developer. Like all CPaaS providers, Tropo has an extensive, rich set of APIs, but the company has focused on building a development interface that is dead easy to use. If you've spent any time with Cisco's SVP of collaboration, Rowan Trollope, you'll know he is obsessed with things being easy to use and easy to understand. In a pre-briefing with him about the acquisition, Rowan told me that his goal is to make the Tropo tool kit so easy to use that a CFO could write an application. I know a lot of CFOs, so we'll see if he can accomplish this.

  • Easy integration into the Cisco Cloud Collaboration. At Collaboration Summit and Enterprise Connect Orlando, Trollope talked about the Collaboration Cloud Cisco has built to create a common cloud back end for WebEx, Jabber, Cisco UC, and Spark. He told me that he's been looking at different CPaaS providers now for over a year, and one of the criteria is that whichever Cisco acquires must be able to easily integrate into the Cisco Collaboration Cloud. Based on this, I would fully expect the integration between Tropo and Cisco to be relatively fast.

  • Service provider (SP) integration. A big part of Cisco's success over the years has been with rolling out new services and finding a way to enable SPs to create differentiated services. Tropo will certainly appeal to enterprise developers and ISVs, but it currently has a number of SP relationships, including a number of Tier 1s such as AT&T, Deutcsh Telecom and China Telecom, through which the technology could be directly integrated into existing communications infrastructure. For example, an SP could create some kind of differentiated on-net service or phone number-based application because it owns the network, the phone number, and the customer. Another CPaaS provider would likely need to build some kind of gateway into that network. This gives Cisco's SP customers a way of creating services they can use to counter the offerings from the over-the-top competitors.

In my 2015 Enterprise Connect wrap-up blog, I had stated my belief that the CPaaS market had come to life this year. At the show, Twilio took center stage and seemed to be everywhere, and Genband was showing off a bunch of cool communications-enabled applications in its Kandy truck. It seems like we've been talking about communications-enabled applications now for years, but the shift to the cloud has really made the market come to life.

I believe the last point above on SP integration was probably a significant factor in Cisco's decision to acquire Tropo over others. Each CPaaS provider approaches the market somewhat differently.

Nexmo does SMS better than anyone. Twilio is great at enabling developers to build communications applications with a consumer look and feel. And Tropo excels in enabling developers to build communications-enabled applications with SP-grade scale and performance.

Integration with Spark

Saying that Spark has become the focal point for Cisco collaboration is as big an understatement as saying that Rowan isn't your typical Cisco executive. Spark is certainly new and cool, but it's still a product -- not a platform. I talked to Rowan about this at Enterprise Connect, and we discussed Spark eventually shifting from being a stand-alone product to being a set of capabilities that a developer could drop into other applications. The challenge was that Cisco didn't have the developer tools to do this. Now it does.

When buying a company, phase one of any integration plan is to leave it alone and let it do what it does best as to not stop the train that is already running successfully. I believe step two of the integration plan is to use Tropo to improve Spark. One aspect of this is to make Spark something that developers can work with so you can enter the "rooms" and collaborate from other applications. Tropo could also bring functionality like SMS and PSTN dial-out to Spark.

Back to my earlier comment that CPaaS is a market set to explode, I think Cisco's acquisition of Tropo is a good proof point -- game on.

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