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4/13/2011
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Cisco, Verizon Advance Unified Cloud Communications

The hosted UC service will launch with voice, video, chat, and presence.

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Cisco and Verizon continue to develop their hosted unified communications service for the enterprise, which includes voice, video, instant messaging, and presence, and they plan to add some of the newer enterprise social networking technologies Cisco has been touting, the companies said during a roundtable discussion Tuesday.

In a briefing for press and analysts conducted via WebEx and Cisco Telepresence rooms, Roberta Mackintosh, director for hosted unified communication and collaboration at Verizon, and Eric Schoch, senior director of hosted collaboration solutions for Cisco, gave an update on the Unified Communications & Collaboration as a Service partnership that was announced at the Enterprise Connect conference in March. Since then, they have been working with enterprise customers who are interested in participating in a beta test of the service, but have not yet gotten to the point where they will name names. They did have customers using the service in an earlier test phase, Mackintosh said, and are working to convert some of those same enterprises into beta customers.

Verizon's product is largely based on Cisco's hardware and software, although the carrier also advertises support for the Microsoft Lync unified communications (UC) platform. Verizon provides the telecommunications and management services to make the technology run reliably. The suite of collaboration services also includes WebEx, a product Cisco provides as a hosted service to begin with, but in this case WebEx can be part of the same provisioning framework an enterprise would use for the rest of its communications needs.

Cisco and Verizon said one of the things that will distinguish their service from hosted UC products aimed at small to midsize businesses is their support for hybrid systems, which will allow enterprises to mix and match cloud hosted and on-premises elements of a system and have them all work together.

"When you get into organizations of 1,000 seats and above, they need more flexibility," including ways of continuing to use technologies they have already invested in, without being forced to make an all-or-nothing commitment to cloud computing, Mackintosh said.

In addition to phone services, Verizon UC&C includes the Jabber instant messaging and presence detection software, to which Cisco announced multimedia upgrades at Enterprise Connect.

Schoch said the hosted software suite is broad enough that "it's easier for me to tell you what it does not include," but a couple of those not-included elements are Cisco Quad, the company's enterprise social networking system, and Cisco Unified Contact Center, which also has been adding social media integration features.

This seems to be a matter of the partners wanting to get the basics right, first, although Schoch said his team is "in active discussions" on adding Cisco Quad. Given the scale of their ambitions for the hosted UC product, Cisco and Verizon have been working very quickly to pull it together over the last 12 to 18 months, he said. "What then becomes phase two is integrating the initial suite of apps provided by Cisco and adding the Quad application to support that more collaborative type of environment."

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