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The When, Where and How of Cisco versus Microsoft for Unified Communications

The Unified Communications Market is very broad and there is no single vendor that can provide all functionality. It's a multivendor world so the key is to understand which vendors are best suited to which functions

Earlier this week I was at a CIO conference in Europe and one of the big topics of conversation was Unified Communications. Remote working, collaboration initiatives and cost cutting have all made UC a more important topic over the past twelve months. There was lots of discussion about deployment issues, the ROI of UC, training issues, etc. but the biggest point of discussion was Cisco versus Microsoft and where to use which. Based on the conversations I had at the CIO summit plus others, here is where companies should leverage the respective strengths of each of the two 800 pound gorillas:

• Video. There seemed to be little doubt here that Cisco is the vendor of choice. Between TelePresence, Tandberg, Callway, Show and Share and all the other video solutions Cisco has, the company is, by far, the most dominant vendor in the video space. Additionally, there’s a common belief by people with a Cisco network that Cisco video on a Cisco network will give the best experience. I think you can provision quality video on any network with any end point but I do believe it’s easier with Cisco on Cisco.

• Voice. Despite the advancements Lync has had with voice, the majority of IT individuals I have talked to lean Cisco’s way for a number of reasons. First, Cisco has a very broad range of phones and regardless of how much this industry has changed; the phone itself still drives much of the decision. Also, Cisco has a long history in voice and, as Cisco, ShoreTel, 3Com and other VoIP only vendors found out, voice is hard and you can’t just jump into and be a smashing success. Microsoft will eventually get this right but most large companies would prefer to use a solution that they know will work.

• E-Mail. There isn’t much of a decision here. Microsoft has almost a monopoly on e-mail and Cisco dropped WebEx mail last year. Once in a while I run into a Lotus or corporate G-Mail customer but Exchange is still the de facto standard.

• Presence for Windows. If the deploying organization is an all Windows shop then it makes sense to use Lync for presence and chat. Microsoft has a strong history in having its software work well together so if you’re running Office, Exchange and Windows, Lync would be the best choice. It’s worth noting that Cisco has shifted it’s presence focus exclusively to Jabber and most user won’t notice much difference between Jabber and Lync.

• Presence for non-Windows devices. Here is where Cisco Jabber has a big advantage over Lync. Jabber was designed to be multi vendor from the outset so it’s very stable and feature rich on non-Windows endpoints

• Integration into 3rd party applications. This is an area that one would think Microsoft should lead in, and they did until Cisco switched its presence platform to Jabber. Feedback from customers is that Lync and Jabber both integrate well into Office, Share Point and other applications. Regarding Web applications, developer’s feedback is that the Jabber SDK is a bit richer in features than the Lync SDK. This shouldn’t be a surprise as the Web was Jabber’s primary focus prior to Cisco’s acquisition.

• Mobile support. The edge here also goes to Cisco. The last release of Lync brought better integration with Windows Mobile and Microsoft does intend to bring feature parity to Android, Apple and Blackberry. If you happen to be all Windows mobile then Lync might be the right choice but Jabber supports more devices with a more consistent user experience. So if supporting iPads, iPhones and Android is key, then use Cisco.

Microsoft has the edge in areas that are related to Windows computing, such as Exchange and Microsoft Office. Similarly, Cisco has the advantage in areas that are more communications related, such as the network, voice and video. The real battle between the two will be for presence and this is key because ownership is key to building communications enabled applications. Microsoft’s strength here is with Windows but the world is rapidly moving to where Multi OS is the norm instead of the exception. I’m not saying it’s a fait accompli for Cisco yet but they do have a significant multi OS lead right now over Microsoft.

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