The Cisco-Microsoft Love-fest: Tough Choices Ahead for the Channel?

Collaboration and friendly co-opetition were clearly the main themes of the August 20th moderated discussion between John Chambers and Microsoft’s Steve Balmer. And if there are two guys in the modern business world with more reasons to get all brotherly, I don’t know who they might be. People with the most success are also the ones with most to lose. So I actually think there was more happening than basic PR. This was as much of a message to people within Cisco and Microsoft as it was a message to people outside of both companies. The tone has been set – or more accurately, re-set – and the directives come straight from the top. Play nice. Their messages were well-said. But when push comes to shove, I’d wager my money on pushing and shoving. As Cisco become a more software-focused company, the opportunities for friction with Microsoft just become too compelling. And nowhere is that more prevalent than in the UC space. This has been emerging for a long time, and seemed to gain momentum since last Spring’s VoiceCon when Cisco and Microsoft executives each presented dueling visions for unified communications. Both companies have their respective advantages and can be expected to leverage them to the hilt. Cisco’s strength involves the voice/data network; Microsoft has email and IM. And as they aggressively leverage those strengths, the overall relationship is likely to get a little glitchy – regardless of what the executives at the top say. It’ll be interesting to see how all this will affect channel relationships. When individual sales reps, be they direct or indirect, have a precarious deal in-hand, will they do the right thing as defined by Chambers and Ballmer, or will they start throwing fear-uncertainty-and-doubt in large quantities? When people “carry a bag” for a living, they tend to be more focused on keeping that bag reasonably full, and less focused on the larger corporate strategy.

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