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Cisco's UC Platform Signals IBM, Microsoft Tussle

Cisco, a company synonymous with telecommunications networks, is flexing its muscles in yet another arena -- unified communications. On Wednesday, the company set the stage for head butts with incumbents IBM and Microsoft by unveiling a UC portfolio for the enterprise.

Cisco, which recently gobbled up hosted e-mail provider PostPath, also partners with Microsoft in the UC market. Microsoft, for its part, has moved into the voice-over-IP space where Cisco is a major competitor.

The market for UC, also known as "collaboration," is valued at $34 billion by some industry sources. UC systems typically combine voice, video, e-mail and other communications technologies into an integrated platform.

Cisco's move is predicated on its newly released UC 7.0 system and the mash-up of its TelePresence and WebEx capabilities into that platform as part of WebEx Connect. The technology combination signals that the equipment vendor is continuing to integrate the 36 companies it bought in the last four years.

Cisco plans to use its potent network and myriad of applications developers and partners to develop solutions and widgets that personalize the UC experience and extend it to integrate business applications, IT infrastructure and Web services. It's an opportunity to secure its corporate customers that already use Cisco switching and routing gear.

The glue that holds together Cisco's new collaboration offering is WebEx Connect. Cisco acquired the technology when it paid $3.2 billion for the online meetings specialist company. WebEx Connect is a software-as-a-service platform designed to integrate existing software with on-demand collaboration and business applications.

It's expected that Jabber, which Cisco recently acquired, will also play a role in the new UC. Jabber software lets rival free instant messaging services users not only interact with each other but also send messages to commercial-grade services such as Microsoft's Office Communications Server.

Another potential piece of the pie -- although this is farther off in the future -- is a linkage between Cisco's TelePresence and its Scientific-Atlanta group. Scientific-Atlanta builds cable boxes, but one could envision some further use for that technology within the enterprise.

The Cisco offering will directly compete with Microsoft's Windows-based SharePoint collaboration.

About the Author

Jim Barthold is a freelance writer based in Delanco, N.J. covering a variety of technology subjects.

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