Cisco Partners: 'We Want Tighter Integration' With Microsoft

Partners are calling for tighter integration between Cisco and Microsoft as the networking leader starts to dive deeper into collaboration with the revamping of Cisco Spark.

"Cisco is now taking a different direction to what they were doing three or four years ago, when they were talking about how, 'We need to rip and replace Microsoft' -- they realized they can't do that," said one top solution provider and Cisco Gold partner who declined to be identified. "So I want them to integrate more tightly because when they do that, it's easier to start to chip away at the business. … They just spent $700 million to show that."

Last month, Cisco purchased London-based collaboration startup Acano, which specializes in Microsoft Skype for Business, Lync 2013 and Office 365, for $700 million.

[Related: Partners: Cisco Collaboration 'Has Its Mojo Back' With Spark Overhaul]

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"Acano brings a level of interoperability with Microsoft and others that is very much in demand in the market," said Ross Daniels, director of marketing collaboration at Cisco, in an interview with CRN. "It will give us, upon close, expanded or enhanced interoperability, especially with some of the Microsoft proprietary protocols."

Daniels said Microsoft remains both a strategic partner in some areas and an "important competitor for us in the collaboration space."

"Skype for Business is something that we see as a competitive product all the time, and we're winning our fair share and we hope we win more," said Daniels.

Cisco partners said tighter integration with Microsoft will drive profitability in the channel and open up doors for more revenue streams.

"Tighter integration with Microsoft would absolutely help," said Jamie Shepard, senior vice president for health care and strategy at Dallas-based Lumenate, No. 145 on the CRN 2015 Solution Provider 500. "What Cisco is doing is, 'Let's just collaborate and support Microsoft, because at the end of the day, Microsoft is not offering the world of connectivity and collaboration -- that's owned by Cisco and Cisco dominates there.' … We're a big [Microsoft] Exchange user, and having calendaring, [Microsoft] Outlook and chat and all that stuff integrated with one tool, Cisco Spark, for me is huge and it will be for our customers."

On Tuesday, Cisco took a deeper dive into collaboration with the overhaul of Cisco Spark, taking it from a messaging-centric application to a complete end-to-end collaboration solution. The San Jose, Calif.-based company launched a new Collaboration-as-a-Service platform, a Spark for Developer community portal, and hybrid services that connect on-premise capabilities from Cisco and non-Cisco services, such as Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, to the cloud.

"The more [seamlessly] they can integrate, then the easier it is to sell Cisco on the experience side, because Microsoft doesn't create an experience, because they see video as video -- they don’t understand video, [whereas] Cisco does," said the Cisco Gold partner.

"The tighter you integrate, the more you'll able to be able to say, 'You don’t have to throw away your [Microsoft] Exchange. I'm just going to give you a better platform to do IM with, telephony with, better to do video with and collaborate with, but it can all start in your Microsoft platform. You can keep that investment,' " he said. "I don't know whether [Microsoft] likes it, but there's nothing they can really do about it because they can't stop it."

Solution providers said Cisco wasn't targeting the collaboration space several years ago, but instead were trying to purchase storage-vendor Whiptail -- which Cisco closed earlier this year -- and investing in the server space. When Cisco realized no one company could have complete dominance because of the greater adoption of open source solutions, they sought out a partnership with Microsoft.

Cisco and Microsoft signed a three-year agreement in 2014 to drive deeper integration across their data center portfolios and jointly market their technology. Earlier this year, the two companies introduced Cisco Cloud Architecture for the Microsoft Cloud Platform, which integrates Cisco's ACI with Microsoft's Windows Azure Pack to help cloud providers more quickly deliver hybrid cloud services while simplifying operations and cutting costs.

"Microsoft is now trying to get back into the enterprise as people are adopting Google and open source," said Shepard. "Microsoft doesn't want to get killed off in the enterprise like it was by Google in [the] higher education [space], so they feel if they can partner with Cisco, they can save that."