Cisco Overhauls Its IP Communications Architecture

On Monday, Cisco Systems unveiled a comprehensive new framework around its IP communications solutions that seeks to create a streamlined way of delivering telephony technology and services.

The Cisco Unified Communication System is an umbrella brand that includes nearly 60 new or revamped Cisco products, with special attention paid to increasing intelligence around call processing, presence and location. The system also is based on the Sessions Initiation Protocol (SIP) open standard, meaning that it will be easier to incorporate third-party products into any IP communications installation.

Cisco engineers have spent the past two years developing the framework, re-engineering some products and building others from the ground up.

"We wanted to transition from siloed individual products to a well-integrated system," says Rick McConnell, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Unified Communications business unit. "We're not intending to be the be-all, end-all with Cisco products, but rather offering an open architecture that accommodates third-party solutions."

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Until now, many of the company's products worked best in near Cisco-only Windows-based environments, but the new system should help partners expand their offerings while creating smoother-running communications infrastructures.

"Cisco has sort of straddled the fence with working with Microsoft," says Ethan Simmons, a partner at NetTeks, an IP communications, security and storage solution provider in Boston. "This is another approach that moves toward a Linux-based, appliance-based model for voice applications that should fit into most businesses' strategies whether they love or hate Microsoft."

Cisco demonstrated some of the new technology to a small group of partners in December, with encouraging results.

"We saw products in use that were pretty impressive," Simmons says. "There was a lot of new stuff on the presence-management side, and Cisco should be able to tie these things together better than a lot of other companies could because of their comprehensive systems."

Richard McLeod, Cisco's director of Unified Communications Solutions for worldwide channels, says the new framework will help partners increase their sales of products and services across the board.

"As convergence increases its penetration, it's allowing us to bring in these rich, new applications and opening new sales opportunities with Cisco solutions and third-party solutions," he says.

He adds that the opportunities won't come without some commitment from partners.

"As it opens these third-party opportunities, those partners really have to upgrade their skill sets to prepare for it," McLeod says. "Probably the biggest challenge I see for partners is that the approach for this is very different from the traditional approach. It's about how to redesign customers' workflow, improve collaboration and roll out new training programs."