Cisco: Enterprise Focus, Security Set Cius Apart From Tablet Crowd

Cisco's Cius will be an enterprise game-changer because it consolidates all of a business user's most important unified communications (UC) tools, and offers them in a mobile device with built-in enterprise security. That's the key difference between the Cius and tablet market dynamos like Apple's iPad, Cisco said Wednesday: a truer enterprise-grade experience that also creates upset opportunities for Cisco solution providers focused on UC, video and virtualization.

That was the message from Cisco collaboration executives, who in a media event in New York and other locations Wednesday offered the most details yet on how Cisco will position Cius in the rapidly-crowding tablet arena.

"We believe we sunk a lot of technology into this device," said Tom Puorro, senior director, product management, collaboration solutions at Cisco. "We've designed the device to be very broad in its capabilities, and [not just designed] for a particular use case. [This is] a lot of power focused on the enterprise user."

The Cius' on-board security offerings include Cisco hardware-accelerated encryption, network security, certificate management, virtual private network, enterprise access, mobility security and policy management tools. It's the only tablet out there with built-in enterprise security, according to Puorro, and IT managers can tailor policy controls to the needs of their Cius fleets.

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"They can make it very loose, or very firm," Puorro said.

Cius, which Cisco introduced a year ago to the day at Cisco Live 2010, weighs 1.5 pounds, includes a front-mounted 720p HD camera, a 7-inch VGA touch-target display, a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and other features. It runs an Intel Atom 1.6 Ghz processor, with 32 GB of flash memory.

It's supported by Cisco's UC Manager and natively supports Cisco TelePresence, Cisco's Jabber instant messaging client, Cisco's WebEx communications software, and Cisco Quad, the vendor's social networking-flavored collaboration platform. It also supports virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), using Citrix, VMware and Wyse platforms and devices, per a previous Cisco announcement. Cius outguns even business-focused tablets like Research In Motion's PlayBook, Cisco executives said, because Cius extends the reach of Cisco's total UC offering all the way to the mobile edge.

Earlier Wednesday, Cisco debuted AppHQ, an application development platform for Cius users that in theory will allow companies better control over what business applications their Cius tablet users have access to.

Cius users can access Google's Android Marketplace as they would using any Android device. But Cisco AppHQ gives businesses the ability to both highlight and limit what applications they want their employees to use. AppHQ further has a "store within a store" function: a Cisco-hosted, private app storefront that business users can customize with their own logos, and through which they can offer specific applications to their employees based on company policy. Those controls are useful, for example, when IT managers want to direct users to applications that are pre-validated to work interoperably with Cisco platforms, and have the necessary security built in to work on their enterprise networks.

"I buy what I want for bulk licenses, and put them there for my users to consume," Purro explained. "This is not a Draconian consumer store."

The applications included in AppHQ are chosen by Cisco, which on Wednesday also said it would be expanding its Cius app development program with an announcement at the upcoming Cisco Live conference in Las Vegas, July 11-14.

Next: More Details On Cisco Cius Pricing, Availability

Cisco hasn't confirmed the exact list price for Cius, but on Wednesday reconfirmed an estimated street price below $750 for the Wi-Fi only version of the tablet. Volume discount programs will bring the price per unit below $700 -- likely about $650, Puorro said. Cius is scheduled for global availability on July 31, and 4G versions will be available through Verizon and AT&T this fall.

Basic AppHQ access is included with all Cius units. Customers that want to use the "store within a store" function will pay an additional fee, which hasn't yet been confirmed by Cisco, according to Puorro.

All of the Cius' core functions, including VDI, can be accessed without the Cius' docking unit, which is sold separately for what Cisco executives told CRN will be about $400. The docking unit adds a handset, speakerphone and USB and Bluetooth connectivity for keyboards, mice and other peripherals. According to Cisco, more accessories -- including Cius cases -- will be available later this year.

Cisco put Cius in field tests with hundreds of users around the world as part of a beta program over the past six months, according to Puorro. Wednesday's event included positive feedback from several Cisco Cius customers, including Verizon, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Palomar Pomerado Health, that deployed between a dozen and two dozen Ciuses in their employee bases.

Purro admitted the Cius unit, physically, is a bit bulkier than an iPad but was necessary because Cisco wanted to include a replaceable battery for the tablet, and also drive high quality audio with fatter speakers.

Overall, insisted Puorro, if business users are going to adopt tablets in greater numbers, they'll ultimately seek an enterprise-centric experience, not a consumer-focused device brought into enterprise.

"People are trying to use consumer-grade products in the enterprise, and a lot of that ends up as base functionality: e-mail, accessing the Web and watching movies," Puorro said. "[You] want more out of the device. This is a consolidation of many devices."

Cisco worked closely with Google during the development phase, Puorro said. Current Ciuses run the Froyo, or version 2.2, release of Android. Cisco will be skipping version 3.0, also known as Honeycomb, and the next major update for Cius' Android OS will come when Google releases Ice Cream Sandwich, which reportedly will be a melding of Google's Honeycomb-focused tablet software and its Gingerbread, or version 2.3, smartphone software into one platform.

Next: Cius' Appeal For Cisco VARs Cius became available for Cisco Master and Advanced Unified Communications partners in late March. Cius is particularly appealing for Cisco solution providers because it cuts across all of Cisco's major business architectures, allows partners to pinpoint network upgrade opportunities to run data, voice and video more effectively for customers. AppHQ can leverage partner skills for app development, particularly when vertical-specific applications are involved, according to Cisco.

"The hope is to have apps living there that leverage Cius integration with U.C.," said Richard McLeod, senior director, collaboration sales for Cisco's Worldwide Partner Organization. "You've taken those apps you're comfortable with, and they're tightly integrated with your business process. [That's] where the real power of a Cisco VAR steps in."

Steven Reese, director of solutions marketing for Nexus Information Systems, a Plymouth, Minn.-based solution provider and top Cisco VAR, said there's a shift going on in which customers are moving from "best of need" networks to upgraded network architectures that can seamlessly support voice, video and data and the myriad mobile devices that use those applications on the go. Cius, with its many functions, fits neatly in that shift, he said.

Features like the AppHQ platform add to a VAR's ability to customize the mobile experience for business users, Reese said, because the VAR can sell the infrastructure and the device, add professional and managed services behind those elements, and provide a tailored app deployment experience that leverages secure, pre-validated apps and creates opportunity for custom development.

"Now that I can create my own enterprise app store, I can say this application is already integrated with our back office processes, your unified communications are going to be there, and it's tested and proven and built into that application," Reese said. "That's a repeatable sales process."

Reese said Nexus is pushing Cius toward its health care, state and local government, K-12 and education customers. There's been a lot of positive feedback based on Cius use cases, Reese said, and Nexus is also focused on app development for the tablet with third party developer partners.

Cisco solution providers can't yet brand the AppHQ for their own use -- that is, private-label the AppHQ platform as their own, branded app store -- but McLeod said Cisco is discussing that as a possibility for partners.

Cius adoption is also happening within Cisco. Internally, about 1,500 Cisco employees have personal Cius units so far, according to Cisco executives.