Cisco Execs Tout Unified Communications Lead Over Microsoft

At the event, held this week in Las Vegas, Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers publicly acknowledged that the San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant and Microsoft are in the early stages of the battle for control of the nascent unified communications market.

"We've got a three-year lead, and we've never lost a game where we had a three-year lead," Chambers said during a press Q&A at the event.

Cisco's unified communications strategy hinges on an open architecture featuring simplicity and interoperability, all of which will be crucial to driving adoption of the technology, said Chambers.

Ethan Simmons, a partner at NetTeks, a Boston-based solution provider that partners with Cisco and Microsoft, said Cisco's lead in unified communications is apparent in terms of more features and ease of installation.

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Microsoft is positioning Exchange 2007 as a replacement for Cisco Unity Express, but the former isn't as clean to install and lacks important features like auto attendant, Simmons said, adding that Exchange also requires third-party software to provide additional functionality.

Keith Goodwin, senior vice president of worldwide channels at Cisco, said collaboration with Microsoft is "stronger than it has ever been," and the two companies continue to work on interoperability between their products.

However, Goodwin said he's aware that Cisco partners that are also Microsoft partners are watching closely to see how the two giants will work together in unified communications and in other areas.

"I think John [Chambers] has been pretty vocal about our strategy with respect to Microsoft, and I think our partners are receptive to hearing how we're going to interoperate and collaborate, and also how we're going to compete," Goodwin said.

"It's definitely on the minds of our partners. Many of our partners have relationships with both Cisco and Microsoft, so it's clearly top-of-mind for them," added Goodwin.