Partners: Blockbuster Deal Could Bridge Gap Between Apple iPhone, Cisco Enterprise VoIP

Solution providers Monday cheered a blockbuster Cisco-Apple partnership that they said could lead to tighter integration between Apple iPhones and iPads, and Cisco enterprise collaboration products.

"Right now, the Apple iPhone and Cisco VoIP worlds are segregated," said Bob Venero, CEO of Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider Future Tech, No. 232 on the CRN Solution Provider 500. "This could be a way to merge them and, in the process, bring corporations a better return on investment and time around iPhones and iPads in corporate network environments. We are looking forward to some time lines, direction and details on what they are trying to accomplish here."

Cisco and Apple Monday said they are teaming to optimize Cisco networks for Apple iOS-based devices and apps. Cisco said it will also optimize collaboration tools like Cisco Spark, Cisco Telepresence and Cisco WebEx on iOS devices, allowing the company to deliver business services across mobile and cloud environments. Apple and Cisco also will work together to make the iPhone a better business collaborations tool in Cisco voice and video environments.

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Apple and Cisco provided no specific product integration plans or time line around the partnership. A Cisco spokesperson said via email that the deal includes both joint engineering and go-to-market efforts, and that the fruits of the partnership will be available through both the direct and indirect sales channels of both companies. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Venero said he envisions the deal will break down barriers between Apple and Cisco technologies by allowing Apple iPhones or iPads -- often a large piece of partner-built Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) solutions -- to instantly become an extension of the corporate VoIP network.

"If your iPhone instantly becomes your corporate handset once you walk into a company, that would be pretty valuable," he said. "There are ways to do that today, but it's pretty kludgey. Tighter integration of the two products could bring a broader, feature-rich iPhone experience in a Cisco VoIP environment."

Venero added he is hoping the two companies will quickly articulate a channel strategy around the new deal. "As an enterprise VAR, I'm looking forward to somebody at Apple and Cisco reaching out to us to give us details."

The blockbuster deal signifies another strategic move by Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple to make its iPad and iPhone devices more appealing to enterprise customers, said Jack Narcotta, devices analyst at research firm Technology Business Research. "It is in the same vein as making sure the devices that Apple is making are in sync with the application demand of a changing workplace," Narcotta said.

The company inked a partnership with IBM in July 2014, aimed at driving its iOS devices into the enterprise. The deal allowed IBM to build more than 100 industry-specific apps for iOS devices, and resell Apple iPhones and iPads.

Stephen Monteros, vice president of business development and strategic initiatives at Sigmanet, an Ontario, Calif.-based Apple and Cisco partner, said the deal would be crucial for Apple to push its devices into the enterprise market.

"This is part of an overall strategy for Apple to make that migration over to enterprise customers," said Monteros. "From the partner side, it's really interesting. You can see all of Apple's alignments starting to take shape as they work with partners to make their largely consumer products more appealing to businesses."

Apple has historically marched to the beat of its own drum; now the industry heavyweight realizes it needs help to get into the enterprise, said Rick Jordan, director of sales and strategic alliances at Toronto-based Tenet Computer Group, a Cisco partner.

"It's a little ironic. It seems like Apple is trying to partner because they know they can't do it on their own," Jordan said, noting Apple's partnership with IBM.

On Cisco's end, the San Jose, Calif.-based company said that the deal will provide its partner ecosystem with an opportunity to offer a "full mobility solution, including networking infrastructure and collaboration solutions from Cisco, and Apple the leader in mobile device and application ecosystems."

"We know that customers are looking to their partners, their trusted advisers, to help them unlock the next biggest productivity opportunity in business -- mobility. With iOS devices in nearly every Fortune 500 and Global 500 company, and Cisco with more networks deployed [85 percent of the market] than any other vendor, we hope partners will see today’s announcement as a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of customers' existing investments in Cisco to deliver an even better mobile iOS experience for their employees," said the Cisco spokesperson.

But details of the partnership are still scarce, and partners are unclear what the impact of the deal will be for their businesses.

"I'm just curious how the collaboration between Cisco and iOS is going to be seamless for enterprise applications," Jordan said.

Gina Narcisi and Steven Burke contributed to this story.