Cisco Launches UC Blitz vs. Microsoft

Cisco is looking to highlight differences in its approach and Microsoft’s as the two companies compete to offer complete solutions.

Cisco Systems officials are kicking off a campaign aimed at highlighting what they say are significant shortcomings in rival Microsoft’s enterprise collaboration efforts.

Cisco’s initiative—launched Feb. 18, on the eve of Microsoft’s Lync Conference 2013 in San Diego, Calif.—includes a survey conducted by the networking giant that officials say illustrates the differences in approach to collaboration by Cisco and Microsoft, and how Cisco’s strategy dovetails better with the demands of businesses.

The release of the survey results is just the beginning of an effort to mark the differences between Cisco and Microsoft that officials say could last weeks.

“Customers tell us time and again that a modern collaboration platform needs to deliver more than the basics like IM, conferencing and VOIP,” Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group, said in a Feb. 18 post on the Cisco blog. “It needs to offer flexibility and choice in support of trends such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), high-quality video, and cloud-based deployments (private, public, hybrid,and hosted). The modern collaboration platform needs to be usable not just by office workers but by anyone, from physicians to customer care agents, executives, mobile and desk-less workers. And it needs to be as complete of a solution as possible. … Which brings me back to Microsoft and Lync. We believe that a solution that’s primarily been developed for a desktop PC user experience is less able to meet these wider post-PC requirements than one that has been designed and optimized for them from the outset.”

Microsoft officials are pushing back. While not addressing Cisco’s campaign directly, they said they are pleased with the growth they’ve seen in Lync business since it was announced more than two years ago, and that that growth is a validation of the direction Microsoft is taking in collaboration.

“We’re taking a software-based approach to unified communications, an industry that’s been [based in] hardware,” Giovanni Mezgec, general manager of Lync product marketing for Microsoft, told eWEEK.

Forrester Research analyst Henry Dewing said it’s not surprising that Cisco and Microsoft are eyeing each other as they expand their enterprise collaboration offerings.

“Microsoft and Cisco in particular are the poster children for a single-vendor solution,” Dewing told eWEEK. “Both are working very hard to create a soups-to-nuts solution.”

In addition, while each offers strong offerings, neither has a complete solution. There are weaknesses in both.

“At the end of the day, both of these have holes,” he said. “Neither one of them is as broad [a solution set] as they think they are. … The truth lies somewhere in the middle.”

Christian Stegh, vice president of strategy at Enabling Technologies, a UC consultancy and Microsoft’s UC partner of the year in 2012, struck a similar tone in a post earlier this month on the No Jitter blog site, which focuses on communications and networking.

“We would contend that, when a company embraces the full suite of Cisco or Avaya products, the breadth of skills needed to understand and manage the various components is only slightly smaller than the breadth of skills needed in a Microsoft environment,” Stegh wrote. “While the logos on the boxes and CD-ROMs may be different, Lync's architecture is the sum of the same parts that make up an Avaya or Cisco infrastructure, and can be handled similarly.”