Cisco Inbox to Integrate E-Mail, Enterprise Social Networking Tools

Cisco told eWEEK it is working on Cisco Inbox, a combination of Cisco WebEx Mail and the company's social networking tools for businesses, including Enterprise Collaboration Platform, Show and Share video and Pulse tagging. Combined with the company's new Intercompany Media Engine, Cisco will have a server-software combo Google, Microsoft and IBM would find tough to compete with. At a time when these vendors are looking to well-rounded solutions, Cisco appears to have an edge -- and it's backed by the network.

Cisco Nov. 9 unveiled several new solutions at its Cisco Collaboration Summit, most notably Cisco WebEx Mail hosted e-mail and enterprise social networking tools, including Enterprise Collaboration Platform, Show and Share and Pulse.

EWEEK detailed the new tools here, and analyzed how they differentiate from tools from Microsoft, IBM, Google and startups here.

Yet in a recent discussion about Cisco WebEx Mail, Alex Hadden-Boyd, director of Cisco's collaboration platform group, said that moving to a Web-based e-mail application will enable Cisco to eventually plug into its enterprise social networking applications. Cisco calls this the "Cisco Inbox."

For example, Hadden-Boyd explained, users could take an e-mail thread from its new Cisco WebEx Mail, and post it to a wiki on the new Enterprise Collaboration Platform, or use the new Cisco Pulse capabilities to provide network tagging inside e-mail.

That was a pre-announcement, something that while not ready today, is coming down the pike. That's when eWEEK had it's a-ha moment with regard to Cisco's news.

Let's consider Cisco's potential plays for the future. Cisco WebEx Mail, which has a Web 2.0 client provided by Yahoo's Zimbra, will eventually be plugged into the company's new Enterprise Collaboration Platform.

That platform not only includes the wiki workspaces, profiles and tagging tools, but integration with Cisco's existing WebEx voice, instant messaging (now powered by Jabber, not AOL) and video tools. A user will be able to find a contact profile and click a button to send an instant message or make and audio call or video chat session.

Cisco would of course also integrate its new Show and Share enterprise video app and Pulse. That would make Cisco the first company to offer a Webmail solution with complete social networking tools supported by full unified communications. No one is offering this in one solution.

Let's at Cisco's broader collaboration strategy. With its latest launch, Cisco also released the Cisco Intercompany Media Engine. This server connects to any IP network to let users at different companies communicate using voice, video, presence, instant messaging and Web conferencing. The Intercompany Media Engine boasts multiple levels of security to cross firewalls.

It could bundle the Cisco WebEx Mail, Enterprise Collaboration Platform and software apps with the Intercompany Media Engine server and sell it as a server-software bundle for collaboration needs between businesses and organizations.

That combination of secure networking hardware and workplace applications would make quite a formidable solution pitted versus Google, Microsoft and IBM. In fact, that would be more robust and complete than Microsoft SharePoint, the leading collaboration solution that rakes in $1 billion-plus per year.

EWeek asked Guido Jouret, CTO of Cisco's emerging technologies group, how the company's network approach to collaboration helps it compete in the market versus more established players.

Jouret said video and rich media are becoming a dominant portion of enterprise network traffic, comprising as much as 20 percent of the content in North American businesses. Video comprises 65 percent of Cisco's traffic, counting digital signs, telepresence and video surveillance. Jouret added:

"We're creating an evolution of the intranet/extranet to become what we call a medianet. Medianets are about endowing the IP network with additional intelligence to essentially optimize collaboration and rich media video. These have certain attributes like recording, streaming, the ability to broadcast across company boundaries, and to dynamically transcode video so you can shoot a video from one endpoint to another endpoint without worrying about formats or whether or not there is enough bandwidth to ship it. Those are attributes that applications developers today are racking their brains over how to address. We're pushing those features into the network so the network does all of these things."

Suddenly, Cisco's solutions seem not only new, but prescient: a one-stop shop for collaboration needs the likes of which the market hasn't seen. And it's all supported by the network, the root of Cisco's success.