If there was any doubt that the UC market is increasingly defined by two 800-pound gorillas, the news that Cisco is acquiring WebEx should put it to rest for good. In macro terms, the battle for the future of communications lies between two categories of vendors: apps and telephony, with Microsoft and IBM on the apps side and Cisco, Nortel, Avaya, et. al. on the telephony side. But this year the battle lines have been most clearly drawn between San Jose and Redmond.
Cisco’s acquisition of WebEx gives the larger company better access to the SMB market, where WebEx thrives as a market leader in web and audio collaboration applications. More interestingly, perhaps, is the fact that WebEx’s network-based solution meshes nicely with Cisco’s network-centric view of unified communications. Not incidentally, the purchase puts Cisco head to head with Microsoft’s LiveMeeting product, too.
WebEx is a hosted service, which also makes the acquisition an opportunity for Cisco to get into the hosted apps market. Presumably, companies that want an on-net solution will continue to use Cisco’s MeetingPlace conferencing product, about which the company made several announcement at VoiceCon, including Unified MeetingPlace 6.0, the latest version of its Web conferencing product. It’s not abandoning the old guard with this new one; it’s simply strengthening its overall portfolio.
MeetingPlace is already integrated with Cisco Unified Personal Communicator. It remains to be seen whether and when WebEx will be integrated with the vendor’s UC product. For it to be a truly effective part of a company’s UC vision, of course, WebEx ought to integrate with a variety of telephony vendors’ products, since it’s likely that not all 2 million WebEx customers are also exclusively Cisco shops.
Sound complicated? The waters get muddier: Cisco’s VoiceCon announcement of a tightened alliance with IBM helped solidify its strategy against Microsoft, but with WebEx, the company also ups its competition with… IBM (which has its own web conferencing product, albeit not a hosted one; but now, Cisco has twice as many web conferencing offerings as its key UC partner). Interestingly, Cisco also announced at VoiceCon integration between MeetingPlace and Microsoft Office Communicator, allowing the use of presence and instant messaging to launch ad-hoc conferences. (And let’s not forget that also at VoiceCon, Nortel, Microsoft’s key UC alliance partner, introduced integration between Sametime and MCS 5100).
All of which just goes to show that in this ever-evolving market, even the fiercest competitors must play nicely enough to support one another’s technology. Microsoft is used to those terms (although it is also good at using them to its advantage); Cisco, not so much.