Full Nelson: Behind Cisco's Tablet Surprise - InformationWeek
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Full Nelson: Behind Cisco's Tablet Surprise

Cisco's Cius tablet is just one part of the company's push to own the "Social Enterprise," and, with its video-centric approach, another tool to push today's infrastructure for obvious gains.

All eyes were on Redmond, or South Korea, or maybe across the border to Waterloo, Canada, vigilantly awaiting the next tablet. Who knew it would come out of Santa Clara, mere highway exits away from Cupertino. Cisco! Of PIX, of Catalyst, of Vblock, of BFR, of IOS (the other kind), of Nexus (the other kind). Of tablet?

Suddenly it all makes sense: the accumulation of WebEx ($3.2 billion) and Flip ($590 million) and Tandberg ($3.4 billion); the incessant hammering about telepresence (Cisco recently called video the future of business); and the surprising announcement of Quad, its social enterprise software. Cisco owns the infrastructure upon which communications happens, and now it wants to own the communications, too, all the way to the edge of the network and into the fingertips of the post-modern knowledge worker. Almost $8 billion in spending later, maybe it will. And maybe one aspect (the communications) will drive growth in the other (infrastructure). More than any other Cisco end run to push the limits of enterprise data centers in the past two decades (security, storage, voice), this one could be the crowning achievement. It has acquired and -- this time -- built a pragmatic mix of technologies for the social enterprise. The question is whether such an enterprise actually exists, and whether video is in fact the future of business.

The Cisco Cius, an Android-based tablet that will make the rounds later this year (and ship early next), will push everything Cisco believes in one step further. It will make presence and collaboration and video more mobile, more accessible, and more sexy. As an Android device, Cius will also run Android applications, but as an enterprise tablet, IT managers will be able set policies around application access and security. The device will come ready-made for unified communication, and while applications like WebEx and Quad will run on any Android device, the experience will be more tightly integrated on the Cius -- across all device functions.

Just like the iPad has an e-mail button in just about every productivity application, from almost anywhere in Cius users will be able to detect presence, or start a WebEx session or a video chat or a multi-party call, with a push of a button. Cisco is providing access to its APIs, which presumably means that if Android developers want to take advantage of Cisco's collaborative infrastructure, they could, extending any productivity application into a unified application ecosystem.

That ecosystem reaches surprisingly further than ever. Late last year, Cisco announced Show & Share (a system for sharing videos in the enterprise), Pulse (a social-centric search engine) and WebEx Mail (e-mail in the cloud, with connections to Outlook), among other products. Two weeks ago, the company announced Quad, which it called "the glue of social behavior in the enterprise," again with links to Presence and WebEx. Quad is an enterprise social network, capturing activity streams and organizing visual voice mail, documents, wiki posts, and discussion threads, all searchable and all easily connected to outbound voice and video, where Cisco has a stronghold.

In an InformationWeek Analytics Unified Communications survey in April, half of the respondents said their organizations use WebEx for Web conferencing, with Microsoft Live Meeting close behind and no other industry players even close. While Microsoft dominated in desktop videoconferencing and Polycom in room-based systems, Cisco came up respectably close in both categories. In fact, combined, it dominates. And if Tandberg products were added, it would be far and away the dominant desktop provider. For voice servers, it's not even a contest. In other words, Cisco is as much of a force in the social enterprise as anyone, with Microsoft and IBM/Lotus as its biggest rivals, especially when e-mail, instant messaging, enterprise search, and software like Microsoft SharePoint gets factored in.

Cisco thinks video will become the killer social enterprise application, but our research suggests that this is still a distant dream -- video ranked at the bottom of collaboration technologies InformationWeek readers are deploying.

Now, with a tablet, the game changes even more. Cisco's senior VP of voice technology, Barry O'Sullivan, says that while the goal is to have all of Cisco's collaboration applications running across all mobile platforms, they'll work best on Cisco's device and with Cisco's infrastructure. O'Sullivan confirmed the integration scenarios envisioned above, but he added that all of this capability would be even more effective when enabled with things like quality of service (for video), policy control, and security (for applications and data). When the Cius streams a video session, O'Sullivan says, it plays seamlessly into a Cisco room-based telepresence system. It also lets customers seamlessly create fully encrypted inter-company telepresence using Cisco's Intercompany Media Engine. These scenarios require Cisco's Unified Communications Manager and ASA Firewall.

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