Big news always seems to come when I am either traveling, when there’s not much time to react. This news came, appropriately, during Gartner’s Portals, Content and Collaboration conference in Los Angeles. Plenty of chances to talk with other analysts and delegates about what it means, but it takes time on a flight to get some thoughts down.
The first thought is that this is another step in Cisco’s bulking itself up with collaboration products to compete against Microsoft. After Microsoft made it plain that it was entering Cisco’s market when it announced OCS, Cisco acquired WebEx (web conferencing) and then Postpath (email server) and now Jabber (IM and presence). All of these acquisitions compete directly with products at the very heart of Microsoft’s Office Empire (Live Meeting, Exchange and OCS). SharePoint and the core Office desktop suite are the only major products unchallenged by Cisco. WebEx Weboffice contains some SharePoint-like functionality, but Cisco has not been pushing it aggressively and probably won’t, aside from in some SMB markets.
But while it is tempting to see this as two giants spoiling for a fight, I don’t think that Microsoft is Cisco’s main target, or at least not Microsoft’s current products. Many companies have tried to loosen Microsoft’s hold on the collaboration market, but most have failed to make much headway. Customers show a frustrating (to competitors) patience and reluctance to shift from the Microsoft products they have invested heavily in over the years. But something is coming which will make at least some switch: The Cloud.
Like an idea in a gloomy science fiction movie, The Cloud sits on the horizon with the potential to change, if not everything, at least quite a lot. While companies aren’t terribly interested in swapping one client-server, thick application, on premise-based set of tools for another client-server, thick application, on premise-based product suite, they are almost to the point where they will consider a Cloud alternative.
While Sun famously said “The computer is the network” Cisco lives and breathes that sentiment. They even use the phrase “on network” when everyone else says “on premise.” Just like Oracle ultimately solves all problems with its database, Cisco instinctively makes the network the solution to everything. Cisco will (or should) build out a cloud-based offering with its new products, offering a new deployment model along with new functionality.
This would put Cisco on a collision course with Google, the current Cloud King. Google already uses the Jabber protocol and XMPP standard closely associated with Jabber, and almost no one else. SIP/SIMPLE is the current favorite presence protocol. Cisco’s strengths and strategies make a collision with Google much more likely in the long term than a direct confrontation with Microsoft.
Of course, none of this really matters. No matter what a vendor does in the collaboration space, Microsoft is the ultimate target. The big story of the day is how Cisco has added another arrow to its quiver as it attacks Fort Office. The next part of the story could get more complicated, and interesting.