Microsoft and Cisco: The Happy Couple...For Now
In the glow of a late-summer morning, they seemed so happy together. Steve
Ballmer and Cisco CEO John Chambers spent yesterday morning verbally nuzzling
each other and chatting happily with
the aptly named Charlie Rose
. (Yes, he's the guy who hosts a show on PBS
that we don't watch but claim we do in order to sound more sophisticated than
we really are. Hey, don't the reruns of "King of the Hill" come on
at the same time? We have our priorities.)
Anyway, the two corporate titans talked about unified communications and about
how their companies, increasingly competitors in the space, will continue to
make sure that their
products work together in order to keep customers happy. Oh, it'll be delicate,
they said...what with the software juggernaut and the networking monster finally
meeting on the same turf to do battle. But hey, it's all about customer satisfaction,
reasonable collaboration (although, nothing
too crazy, now) and coopetition, right?
Well, to some extent, it probably is. After all, partners tell us that customers
want Cisco's back-end networking infrastructure tied to a Microsoft front-end
(meaning, primarily, Office, but also Exchange and SharePoint) to form a perfect
hybrid union of unified communications. Lee Nicholls, global solutions director
for Microsoft technologies, says that his company, global IT services provider
and Microsoft Global Alliance Partner Getronics, has made a tidy sum doing that
type of work recently.
Customers are "taking their existing, trusted, proven Cisco back-end and
wiring it to new communications infrastructure from Microsoft," he says,
noting that collaboration between the two companies' wares is already pretty
good: "Office 2007 is able to deliver voice mail from Cisco platforms,"
But as we well know, what customers (and sometimes partners) want and what
vendors want don't always end up being the same thing. Surely, you don't believe
that Steve Ballmer and John Chambers will be happy to nudge
gently into each other's installed bases and play to their relative companies'
Oh, no. That's not how they got to be where they are. Don't let their cuddly
talk fool you: Each CEO wants the whole UC pie, and sharing a few slices of
it will not be an option. (Hey, give us a break -- we're writing this around
dinnertime.) Partners who work heavily with both vendors, we predict, can start
expecting some serious pressure to "choose a side" soon, if they haven't
experienced it already.
As for who will win the building Microsoft-Cisco war, the victors could be
partners if both companies leverage their competition with each other to improve
their wares and give UC -- already a pretty popular notion in a lot of places
-- further credibility in the corporate world while at the same time providing
plenty of incentives aimed at keeping partners in their good graces.
For his part, Nicholls isn't making any predictions, but he says that if Microsoft
enters the battle at a disadvantage, it's only because Cisco has more networking
street cred than its rival from Redmond. Microsoft's technology has "caught
up" with that of Cisco in unified communications, he says. It's just a
matter of changing perception for Redmond now: "It's not that Microsoft
isn't good," Nicholls says. "It's just not known."
That likely won't be the situation for long, and there's little doubt that
Steve Ballmer saw today's love-in with Chambers as an opportunity to boost Microsoft's
UC credibility. Don't expect the CEOs' summer romance to linger for too much
RCP is putting together a story on the changing relationship between
Microsoft and Cisco and its effects on partners. We'd love to hear your thoughts
on this for RCPU purposes but also possibly for the magazine. Don't worry --
we won't run anything in the magazine until we've spoken to you for a longer
interview, and, as always, we'll only run newsletter e-mails with first names.
If you want to drop a line about UC, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org,
and please let me know if you'd be willing to chat further about this issue.
Posted by Lee Pender on 08/21/2007 at 1:21 PM