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Cisco taking on Microsoft over unified communications

Collaboration wars heating up with Cisco, Microsoft and IBM

By , Network World
March 15, 2007 03:25 PM ET

Network World - With one $3.2 billion acquisition, Cisco has gotten in Microsoft’s face and positioned itself to give the software giant a fight in the battle to supply corporations with unified communications tools from office applications to Web conferencing, experts say.

“Cisco has become a multiheaded beast all of a sudden," says Mike Gotta, an analyst with the Burton Group. “This deal puts Cisco aggressively in the face of Microsoft.”

Cisco, which lacked a strong presence in the small-to-midsized collaboration and unified communications market, has now filled that gap and then some.

While Web conferencing dominance is the obvious advantage Cisco gains by acquiring market leader WebEx, it is the other offerings from that company that help make the equation that much more interesting and a threat to Microsoft.

“All of a sudden Cisco has some assets in play,” says Gotta. “It might not know how to play them, but it puts them right in Microsoft’s face.”

Beyond Web conferencing, those assets include WebEx Media Tone Network (MTN), a global network and platform specifically designed for secure delivery of on-demand applications. Microsoft is trying to build the same thing with its collection of services under its Live brand.

In addition, WebEx has WebOffice, which runs on MTN and provides document sharing, calendars, databases and Web meetings. WebOffice is designed for small businesses, project teams and departments much like Microsoft’s recently introduced Office Live solution. (See Network World's Q&A with WebEx on how it stacks up to Microsoft.)

WebEx AOL/AIM Pro Business Edition provides group chat, VoIP capabilities, centralized administration, secure file transfers and integration with Outlook.

Microsoft is grouping a similar set of capabilities around its upcoming Office Communications Server 2007, Office Communicator client and Outlook.

In addition, WebEx AOL/AIM Pro Business Edition also integrates with WebEx business applications that are part of WebEx Connect. The integration creates the type of collaboration and application integration Microsoft also is eyeing between its Dynamics ERP and CRM applications, its online services and its unified communications platform.

WebEx Connect lets users integrate data from multiple applications and create a customized collaborative workspace that can integrate with local workflow and business processes. A set of WebEx MediaTone APIs lets developers integrate desktop and corporate applications or create mashup applications.

WebEx partners such as SugarCRM, which develops an open source customer relationship management application, have already adapted their applications for WebEx Connect.

In contrast, Microsoft won’t ship its hosted CRM service until the end of this year. CEO Steve Ballmer demonstrated Microsoft’s Dynamics Live CRM service on Wednesday at the company’s annual business applications conference called Convergence and called it “great example of how we're combining software and services to create exciting new opportunities for customers and partners.”

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