WebEx: What Cisco gets from acquisition

Cisco Thursday acquired Web conferencing and collaboration service provider WebEx, which has 2.2 million registered users and a 64% market share. Gary Griffiths, president of WebEx products and operations, told Network World just what WebEx brings to Cisco's growing software stable.

Cisco on Thursday acquired Web conferencing and collaboration service provider WebEx, which has 2.2 million registered users and a 64% market share. While WebEx is best known for its Web conferencing, the vendor has a platform optimized for delivering software-as-a-service, a slate of online office applications and a services development environment. Gary Griffiths, president of WebEx products and operations, told Network World Senior Editor John Fontana just what WebEx brings to Cisco’s growing software stable.

(See also Network World's Q&A with Cisco's Ned Hooper for his take.)

What does your WebEx Connect platform bring to the table for Cisco?

For us it is our own version of unified communication or unified collaboration. Instead of taking all these related applications, whether it is sales force automation or a learning management system, instead of doing each one of those one off we said let's build a platform that does it. Let’s provide the APIs and the software development kits and the technology platform.

So we are doing a couple of things. For us, we are opening up the MediaTone network and allowing innovation to come from the outside. We are good at the online collaboration, we go deep there. We say WebEx Connect goes wide, it lets WebEx and our customers take advantage of all the great application ideas that work better with real-time collaboration added.

With Cisco, we see that platform going broad. What I mean is they have an absolutely unparalleled relationship with the enterprise. We believe that the enterprise business is there for the taking. With Cisco, putting this in their kit bag is a huge opportunity. For WebEx, where we have smaller customers, it will be interesting to explore with Connect the benefits of allowing Cisco to add their own technologies to the Connect platform and penetrate into the SMB.

Are there integration challenges you face in combining your platform with Cisco products?

There will undoubtedly be challenges, but frankly we have plenty of time to figure out where the synergies are. I think both sides kind of look at this as an embarrassment of riches in the different ways we can combine technology. And, yes, we are gong to run into some challenges along the way but that is pretty insignificant compared to where we see the opportunities.

How does your WebOffice offering compare with what Microsoft is doing with Office Live?

There is rough comparison. From a customer point of view, we look at WebOffice as literally an office where small business runs their business. Office Live is more a different way to get access to applications rather than a workspace. With WebOffice, customers are looking for an integrated real-time, asynchronous office where they can share documents, link their calendars and launch real-time meetings. It goes back to unified collaboration. As we look at where WebEx Connect is going we see a lot of the tools and applications in WebOffice just naturally migrating into our WebEx Connect workspace.

What is WebEx’s definition of the term “unified communications?”

I like to think of it as unified collaboration. It is sharing data, it is having audio, having video, it is bringing VoIP in and doing it all, not to overuse the word seamless, but that is what it has been all about for us. When Subrah (Iyar) and Min (Zhu) founded this company they knew doing business meant crossing boundaries; boundaries of companies, geographical boundaries, platform boundaries, and to me that is what unification is all about. It is about breaking down walls where technology dictates who you can compete with and who you can’t and who you can do business with.

From a technical perspective what are the defining characteristics that let you build and maintain your huge lead over Web conferencing competitors?

To do that it really does come down to technology. What has given us the edge here is that we made an investment in the technology realizing that the standard public Internet was not sophisticated enough to handle the real-time demands of a truly global integrated real-time service where you had to provide real-time voice, audio, data. It’s a lot different from serving up static page views like Google to actually conducting a session where you can have thousands of people sharing audio and video in real time. If you are in a meeting and you have a two-second delay in the audio, forget it, that meeting is over. Those are the challenges that have made it difficult for competition to get into this market and are why WebEx has enjoyed such a lead.

What do you bring to the table in terms of infrastructure to support software-as-a-service, such as your MediaTone platform?

Our MediaTone is quite a technological marvel. We have invested about $180 million in it. It has delivered the rocketship kind of reliability that really is required if you are going to have businesses that depend on your service.

How does MediaTone work?

It is a complicated set of servers. It has the multimedia servers that are sharing the application interfacing with audio servers and audio switches. And the whole thing is broken into pre-meeting and post-meeting experience, where you are dealing with the Web, and then in client, which is running on the desktop. It is Linux-based, somewhere around 4,000 to 5,000 servers, very scalable, very efficient.

Why did you decide to sell at this time when you guys are clearly at the height of your game?

We certainly weren’t looking to be bought. But if we are going to be bought, I can’t think of a better company out there to link up with.

Learn more about this topic


* Cisco to buy WebEx for $3.2 billion

* WebEx key to Cisco's transition into applications

* Cisco-Microsoft smackdown coming

* WebEx customers hoping for innovation

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Q&A: WebEx: What we bring Cisco

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