Cisco Dangles Partner Incentives To Drive Cloud Collaboration9:14 AM EST Tue. Oct. 16, 2012
Cisco is significantly expanding its hosted collaboration and cloud-based unified communications (UC) and contact center offerings, including a slew of telepresence and Web conferencing options and a number of new incentives to help partners back Cisco's cloud strategy for that crucial market segment.
Cisco, which is making a big deal of cloud at this week's Cisco Collaboration Summit in Los Angeles, added 16 new partners for its Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS) in the past year, bringing the total to 34 as of October. Among new offerings as of this week are a "static bridge" service option for allowing customers to conduct telepresence meetings without a reservation and the integration into HCS of Cisco TelePresence Exchange (CTX), meaning partners can leverage the infrastructure they have to support HCS across the entire customer base, instead of having to make individual infrastructure investments on a per-customer basis.
"A lot of what customers are saying about [cloud] is driven by business requirements," Michael Smith, Cisco director of marketing, collaboration solutions, told CRN. "It's coming up in every conversation."
Cisco has positioned the overall UC and collaboration space as at least a $42 billion total addressable market (TAM) for Cisco partners over the next few years. The networking titan has plowed resources into the space as it competes with Microsoft and its fast-rising Lync platform, and as other competitors like Avaya and Polycom shift their attention toward enabling partners to sell hosted collaboration and video services.
Updates to Cisco's overall UC&C portfolio have come at a steady cadence in 2012, including June's updated Cisco Unified Communications Manager release and the expansion of Cisco's WebEx brand to cover its social collaboration and hosted telepresence products. Cisco in August also changed the licensing structure for its UC products as a way to give partners more flexibility in how they deploy UC packages for customers.
Along with the CTX announcements Tuesday, Cisco said partners will also have an easier time managing various contact centers using updated software in Cisco's Customer Collaboration enhancements for HCS. They also now have access to a customizable collaboration desktop that makes it easier to organize and distribute information to call center agents.
NEXT: Cisco Expands HCS Partnerships
In addition, Cisco is now making many of the UC capabilities that debuted in the 9.0 version of its Cisco Unified Communications Manager (UCM) this summer available through HCS, as well. Those include the use of Cisco's Jabber soft client to connect third-party devices into the Cisco UC environment and fixed-mobile convergence.
"We see this as flowing from the bottom up," said Richard McLeod, Cisco senior director, collaboration sales, worldwide partner organization. "All of the capabilities you saw relative to that 9.0 release now come full-power to the cloud."
The other key release from this week is WebEx Meetings Server -- a way to deploy the online meeting tools found in Cisco's SaaS platform WebEx in a private cloud environment. The goal there, according to Cisco, is to appeal to customers that want the features of WebEx and Cisco hosted collaboration but prefer an on-premises solution, not accessed via the public cloud. Among key features of the Meetings Server release is that it's a virtualized software platform tailored for Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) data center environments. Cisco's Smith said the Meetings Server version will help expand Cisco's WebEx total addressable market to $3.9 billion.
To backstop channel sales of its cloud-centric solutions, Cisco is letting partners brand themselves as "Cisco-powered" when it comes to selling the solutions, along with the Cisco corporate marketing collateral that goes with it. Cisco is also providing what it calls "accelerators" to Cisco account managers focused on cloud solutions sold through the channel -- part of an overall sales approach for Cisco's new fiscal year in which Cisco will provide its AMs added incentive to knock down deals in collaboration, data center, security and mobility.
"It's a pretty substantial kicker for Cisco account managers," McLeod said.
McLeod and Smith said about 15 percent to 18 percent of Cisco customers are adopting cloud-delivered collaboration and communications in some form, and Cisco expects that percentage to hit as much as 30 percent in two years.
McLeod acknowledged that not all Cisco partners will be able to stand up hosted collaboration offerings, and while some will offer it as wholesale service providers, many more will opt to resell cloud services from outlets such as distributor Ingram Micro.
It isn't necessarily a matter of size, he said, although McLeod acknowledged that existing HCS players include monster Cisco partners like CDW and CSC. Cisco partners selling HCS need to achieve the full complement of related Cisco specializations, be able to deliver Cisco validated designs and go through an audit to ensure they can support SLAs behind the "powered by Cisco" branding.
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NWN Corp., a Waltham, Mass.-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner, is among the 34 HCS providers and has a rapidly expanding pipeline of business.
"What Cisco has chosen to do here is pretty unique from an industry perspective," said Skip Tappen, NWN's chief operating officer. "If you look at it, it's a co-dependent model, in that they have the products, we have the services, and you're taking both as an offering to the customer. A lot of vendors want to bring all that in-house and resell the built services offering, as opposed to give the partners the opportunity to really participate."
Tappen said NWN has aggressive plans for its HCS offering, which has grown in line with expectations, he said. But as customers more willingly embrace the as-a-service model, "I could be underestimating it. This thing really could be off the charts."
"The more educated customers see this as a value play, it's not just price," Tappen said. "It's a big change in the service model and it's not just something that happens overnight. But for us, it was a natural extension to the longstanding managed services offering we've had for years."
Count on vendors like Cisco and its many UC competitors to turn up the heat on channel partners to push their cloud communications strategies, solution providers and analysts agree.
"Following Polycom's substantial emphasis on new cloud-based services, it is clear that enterprise communications/collaboration hardware vendors are beginning to take cloud-based services more seriously," wrote Raymond James & Associates analysts Simon Leopold and Brian Alexander in a recent note, anticipating Cisco's Tuesday launch. "We suspect the success of these initiatives will come down to the incentives provided to resellers to sell cloud solutions vs. on-premise hardware."
PUBLISHED OCT. 16, 2012