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Cisco makes collaboration software play

Included in the mix: a new hosted e-mail offering that directly takes on Microsoft Outlook and other hosted mail/UC providers.

Cisco today made perhaps its most aggressive stab yet at enabling not just IP networks but the things that run over them, launching an array of collaboration products including a new hosted e-mail offering.

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The announcements included improvements or new versions of almost 60 Cisco software products, but perhaps most notably an entry into two new markets: enterprise social software and hosted e-mail.

Those new offerings, in particular, put the networking vendor most directly in competition with other software players, including Microsoft and IBM, and ratchets up the battle between those enterprise-focused vendors on delivering a full slate of unified communications (UC) capabilities into large businesses.

And by extension, it also sets up Cisco to potentially both partner and compete with telecom service providers as they piece together their UC offerings — capabilities that are at the core of how carriers will compete for IP-enabled enterprise customers.

“The shift to [software-as-a-service]-based e-mail will create a change in buying habits, just like the shift to SaaS-based software has in other markets, and Cisco’s hoping to grab a chunk of that market,” wrote Zeuss Kerravala, analyst with Yankee Group, in a blog post analyzing the launch. “This won’t be a quick transition or something that gives Cisco 25% share overnight, but with all the regulatory mandates around e-mail retention and the overall increase in the size of e-mail, it gets much harder for organizations to manage their own e-mail server, so it makes sense to push it into the cloud and be done with it.”

Cloud-based UC offerings are of particular interest to telcos, which see opportunities there not only in the enterprise, but perhaps even more attractively in the small- and medium-sized side of the market, as an easy upsell to small business telecom services.

Cisco’s announcements include new tools or improvements in areas including e-mail, social networking, video conferencing, instant messaging, and document and video sharing delivered under the Cisco Telepresence, Cisco Unified Communications and Cisco WebEx brands. Highlights include:

- Cisco TelePresence WebEx Engage is a one-button initiation and scheduling solution with video integration between Cisco TelePresence and Cisco WebEx conferencing.

- The Cisco Intercompany Media Engine, which gives end users B2B communications over any IP network. Cisco said it submitted these new capabilities to the Internet Engineering Task Force for standardization and includes features such as B2B wide band audio, voice and other collaboration capabilities.

- With Cisco Unified Communications system 8.0, an extended support for a wide range of endpoints including new video- and Wi-Fi-enabled Cisco Unified IP Phones.

- Cisco WebEx Mail, a new corporate-grade, hosted e-mail solution from Cisco, with native Microsoft Outlook interoperability, optimized mobile device support and browser-independent AJAX Web 2.0 access.

- Cisco Show and Share, a social video system that helps organizations create and manage secure video communities; and Cisco Enterprise Collaboration Platform, an enterprise-class social software portal that features a corporate directory with social networking capabilities.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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