Cisco Adds Social Software, Hosted E-Mail to Collaboration Lineup

Cisco Nov. 9 at its Cisco Collaboration Summit began its largest collaboration product launch to date. While the launch covers the usual Cisco strongholds -- IP phones to media servers to unified communications -- the company also rolled out hosted e-mail from its PostPath buy and enterprise social software. Cisco WebEx Mail is intended to compete with Google's Gmail, Zoho Mail, IBM LotusLive iNotes and Microsoft Exchange Online. Enterprise Collaboration Platform will battle IBM Lotus Connections and the swath of enterprise social software products from MindTouch, Socialtext, Jive Software and others.

Cisco Nov. 9 embarked on its largest collaboration product launch to date, covering products from IP phones to media servers to unified communications.

The launch theme for today's Cisco Collaboration Summit is "intercompany collaboration," to allow partners and customers to exchange information across firewalls, rather than just enabling employees within businesses and workgroups to work together.

eWEEK is focusing on the two new markets Cisco has entered today: enterprise social software and hosted e-mail. Cisco will compete with giants Google, IBM and Microsoft and a raft of startups in these areas, particularly in the cluttered social software space.

Leveraging technology from the company's PostPath purchase, Cisco WebEx Mail is a hosted e-mail application intended to go head-to-head with Google's Gmail, Zoho Mail, IBM LotusLive iNotes and Microsoft Exchange Online.

The app supports the MAPI protocol, providing interoperability with Microsoft Outlook. This will make it easier for customers to migrate from Microsoft Exchange to Cisco WebEx Mail on the back end, but keep their Outlook client on the front end if they desire. Cisco WebEx Mail, available in the United States and Canada today, will support mailboxes from five gigabytes to 25 GB.

In social software, the Cisco Enterprise Collaboration Platform lets users create team spaces and communities, adding profiles with customizable views, a corporate directory and social networking tools.

The app, which will compete with IBM Lotus Connections and the swath of enterprise social software products from MindTouch, Socialtext, Jive Software and others, will also include Cisco's unified communications tools, such as real-time voice, instant messaging and video.

A user will be able to find a contact profile and click a button to send an instant message or make an audio call or video chat session. This app also offers a customizable framework for tucking in legacy business applications, as well as a Web 2.0 client based on Yahoo's Zimbra mail app.

Alex Hadden-Boyd, director of Cisco's collaboration platform group, told eWEEK that businesses can think of Enterprise Collaboration Platform as Facebook for the enterprise. However, it is currently in limited availability.

If Enterprise Collaboration Platform is Cisco's Facebook for the enterprise, Cisco Show and Share is the company's YouTube for the enterprise.

Show and Share is a social video system that helps companies create video communities, where members can share ideas and knowledge. Show and Share lets companies record, edit and share video with comments, ratings, tagging and RSS feeds. Speech-to-text transcripts can be uploaded for easy video search and viewing.

Users can create videos from Cisco's enterprise video products, or even with the Flip camera Cisco acquired from Pure Digital and upload the content to Show and Share for colleagues, partners and others to view. Show and Share will be available in December. No word on pricing.

Finally, Cisco Pulse provides network-based search for social media. Pulse analyzes content, including video, as it shuttles across the network. It can tell users how often someone is blogging or contributing to a wiki on a subject, and tag that user.

Think of it as behind-the-firewall Digg or delicious. Pulse, which is rolling out in limited availability, also uses speech-to-text technology and phonetics to determine when certain phrases are said in a video to tag based on those comments.

It's clear that Cisco has brushed up on its Web 2.0 chops for this big product release, but eWEEK pointed out that Cisco rivals IBM, Microsoft and Google offer many comparable solutions.

For example, while IBM just joined the hosted e-mail ranks in October, Google has offered hosted e-mail with enterprise-class security for almost three years. On the social software side, startups such as Jive, Socialtext and MindTouch have cultivated rich collaboration platforms.

eWEEK spoke with Guido Jauret, CTO of Cisco's emerging technologies group, to learn some of the distinctions between what Cisco is doing and what everyone else is offering. Check back with eWEEK later Monday morning for that update in a separate report.