Cisco Set To Enter Cloud Computing E-mail Battle


That was the message from Matt Cain, a research vice president and cloud computing expert for Gartner, in a Tuesday session at the Midsize Enterprise Summit in Miami.

"It's going to be a battle to the death," said Cain. "It's going to be great because the customer wins.

"They are all going to be contending for e-mail dollars for those midsize enterprises," said Cain. "What's interesting is they are also going to be selling instant messaging, Web conferencing, social software and virtual workspaces. E-mail is the thin edge of the wedge and they are going to go parlay that initial e-mail account into much deeper application spaces and ultimately go beyond collaboration."

The biggest bang in the cloud computing e-mail war will come in the fourth quarter when networking giant Cisco comes out with a bundle of hosted services, including instant messaging from Jabber and e-mail from PostPath, both coupled with Webex internet conferencing.

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Cisco was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

"Webex is a great brand," Cain said. "It has become a verb. They have some inherent advantages with that Webex brand that they can use to build those other services."

Each of the four technology giants have their pros and cons, Cain said. But Microsoft has the "lion's share" of the midsize enterprise market and also has an "unbelievably productive" channel. "They can just churn product out and have a really broad reach," he said.

The cloud computing e-mail battle is in its early stages, said Cain, but he expects as much as 20 percent of commercial e-mail accounts to be in the cloud in 2012, up from only 2 percent in 2007. The Google booth on the Midsize Enterprise Summit show floor Tuesday was packed with CIOs anxious to see if they could cut their software licensing fees by employing Google Docs.

Randy Merle, director of IT for Red Gold, a premium tomato and food products company based in Elwood, Ind., was particularly interested in seeing if he could cut his Microsoft software licensing fees by switching to Google Docs. Red Gold has some 450 desktops and some 800 users based on shifts, said Merle. "This would eliminate that licensing," he said. "We are always trying to figure out how to minimize our license fees."

Taking a cue from an MES presentation by business visionary Geoffrey Moore, who urged CIOs to centralize and outsource noncore applications or systems of record, Merle said he sees e-mail as a context to his business rather than a core function related to producing the "freshest, best-tasting tomato products in the world."

The cloud computing battle has sparked a number of acquisitions, including IBM's acquisition earlier this year of messaging service assets of Outblaze, a privately held provider of online messaging and collaboration services, based in Hong Kong.

Cisco, for its part, paved the way for its entry into the cloud e-mail space with its acquisitions last year of both e-mail and calendaring provider PostPath and open-source instant messaging player Jabber.