Cisco Touts UC, Collaboration Products as HP, Microsoft Move in

Cisco Systems is rolling out new products, programs and partner deals in the area of unified communications and collaboration as it grabs for more control of what Cisco officials say is a $34 billion space. The move comes two weeks after HP and Microsoft announced a four-year, $180 million deal involving joint products, sales and marketing of UC and collaboration technology.

Cisco Systems is pushing forward its unified communications and collaboration agenda with a spate of new appliance, collaboration and partner offerings, looking to grab hold of a market that company officials say is at $34 billion.

Cisco's move comes just weeks after Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft at Interop on May 19 unveiled a four-year, $180 million UC and collaboration strategy of their own, a move that one Cisco official said merely further validates Cisco's own initiatives.

"The HP/Microsoft expanded alliance confirms what Cisco and our channel partners have known for years ... the network is critical," Keith Goodwin, Cisco's senior vice president of worldwide channels, said in a May 29 blog post. "This expanded alliance also acknowledges that interoperability is key because data, voice and video are all important factors of Unified Communications and collaboration. This news only serves to solidify our commitment to deliver-with our channel partners-an open, interoperable solution with companies like Microsoft, Apple and IBM."

Cisco, which is hosting its annual Partner Summit June 2 to 4 in Boston, announced several new products June 1 designed to extend its reach in the UC and collaboration space. Its low-end Unified IP Phone 6900 Series promises greater energy efficiency through its deep-sleep mode, while its Unified Videoconferencing 7.0 platform is designed for high-definition video conferencing.

Cisco also is creating two community sites to enable partners and customers to collaborate. The Collaboration User Group is a way for users of Cisco's UC, Telepresence and WebEx products to communicate with the company's executives and technicians, get a jump on upcoming products and learn best practices. The Collaboration Partner Community is an interactive online environment for partners.

In addition, Cisco has several partner programs based around licensing and reseller packages.

Richard McLeod, senior director of worldwide channels at Cisco, said the demand for UC products is increasing as businesses look for ways to reduce travel costs and other expenses. The demand will only increase as the worldwide economy improves, he said.

"As we enter the upturn, globalization, consolidation and innovation will emerge as the major business imperatives, with collaboration as the key enabler," McLeod said in a statement.

The deal between HP and Microsoft is an expansion of the companies' Frontline Partnership, and the $180 million initiative will cover everything from new products to professional services to joint sales and marketing efforts, according to the two companies.

Cisco's Goodwin said in his blog that a key difference between his company and the joint HP-Microsoft strategy is that Cisco offers a more integrated and complete collaboration platform.

"Time will tell if HP and Microsoft's joint $180 million investment will be enough in terms of development and integration to fix the holes in their combined portfolio," he wrote. "This leaves customers to decide if they want to wait for a combined solution from HP/Microsoft or deploy a proven, interoperable Unified Communications solution from Cisco today."