Cisco Eyes The Cloud With New UC Offerings

collaboration software

According to Richard McLeod, Cisco's senior director for collaboration solutions, worldwide channels, the new portfolio ties together Cisco Unified Communications, Cisco TelePresence and Cisco WebEx, using the network to enable users to connect, communicate and collaborate from any application, device and workspace.

The centerpiece of the release is WebEx Connect, a cloud-based SaaS application platform to enable mashups through San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco's acquisition of WebEx last year. McLeod said WebEx Connect takes advantage of new Web 2.0 applications and capabilities. It integrates several standard applications, including enterprise instant messaging and presence, team spaces, document management, calendaring and discussions, with Web 2.0 applications. The applications can be combined " or mashed up " with third party widgets that are built using open APIs, enabling companies to work from a single workspace.

WebEx Connect also features a host of administrative controls and support for policy, security and compliance requirements. The solution works with enterprise messaging solutions and Cisco Unified Communications System to offer integrated communications capabilities within the context of a mashup. Additionally, the new portfolio can act as a Web 2.0 platform that integrates business applications, IT infrastructure and Web services and lets users and developers create new and customized applications and network-based services.

McLeod said WebEx Connect also enables solution providers to create custom applications and widgets for their clients to combine applications and business processes, ultimately boosting productivity and enhancing communications.

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The addition of WebEx Connect pits Cisco against Microsoft and IBM, which have also created cloud-based SaaS collaboration tools.

Brett Shockley, CEO of Minneapolis-based solution provider Spanlink said the ability to offer an integration platform that brings together different applications through WebEx Connect gives him the ability to pre-package applications that better meet market needs.

"It creates an interesting framework to bring those applications together and add increased functionality," he said.

Shockley said Spanlink is already beginning to offer integrated applications, creating a portal application based on Web 2.0 standards around its Solution Watch monitoring application. Integrating unified communications applications into the customer's Solution Watch portal, and creating a WebEx widget around it, creates a work space approach that lets customers collaborate around events picked up by the monitoring solutions, such as alarms. If an alarm is triggered, the system will notify the operations staff and offer them an invitation to collaborate in a work space environment. From there, they can invite in experts and everyone working on the issue has visibility into what's going on. That's a far cry from trying to get everyone together on a conference call to troubleshoot a network problem.

"The value on our end is it's a way for us to have a unique and superior relationship with the customer and be a more valuable solution provider," Shockley said. Creating widgets and tying in unified communications applications enables Spanlink to "help companies realize some of the real value of unified communications," he added.

Along with the WebEx Connect release, Cisco on Wednesday also unveiled the latest Cisco Unified Communications release, version 7.0, which adds enhanced application development and offers deeper integration with desktop products from IBM and Microsoft. Other enhancements include mobility, which can extend unified communications features across workspaces. Cisco's Unified Mobile Communicator also now supports devices that run Windows Mobile, Symbian and BlackBerry mobile operating systems. Version 7.0 also increases the scalability of Cisco Unified Presence to 30,000 and Cisco Unity to 15,000 users on a single server.

Cisco also announced a new facet of its TelePresence conferencing solutions, TelePresence Expert on Demand. TelePresence Expert lets users receive expert assistance directly in a TelePresence meeting or use a dedicated Cisco TelePresence endpoint to get face to face assistance. One example is a retail bank offering "in-person" services to customers in every location via TelePresence.

McLeod said Cisco is looking to continue rounding out its collaboration offerings. The recently closed acquisition of PostPath adds email and calendaring functionality to Cisco's unified communications offerings, while the recent purchase of Jabber will enable Cisco to offer instant messaging and presence capabilities across platforms.

Spanlink's Shockley said the new unified communications and collaboration features also create a new conversation point with customers, helping them better align their business processes to save money and time.

"It's become much more of a consulting and application engagement with the customer," he said.

"The unified communications conversation has really transitioned from one of 'we need a new phone system' to one of 'how can I improve my business processes.'"

Overall, Shockley said, he's able to show his customers hard ROI with collaboration solutions, enabling them to save money by changing the way they communicate and deliver value to their customers. He added that as the unified communications market evolves, more integration will come.

"You're going to see these applications come closer and closer together," he said.