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Communication Breakdown: Cisco Storms Into UC, Sort Of

Whatever unified communications is, everybody wants a part of it. Yesterday, we told you about Oracle cutting into the Notes-Exchange dance, which isn't strictly speaking a unified communications story, really...but it sort of is.

Or, at least, we think it is. After all, messaging, calendaring (we still love the fact that "calendar" is a verb now) and "collaboration" all seem pretty UC-ish to us, even if Oracle's new suite doesn't currently appear to delve quite as much into voice, Web conferencing and other nifty Web-whatever-point-oh functions as offerings from Microsoft and Cisco do.

It's all about people getting in touch with each other, right? And different ways of doing that, all rolled into one easy-to-manage bundle that's more or less supposed to tell us how to get a hold of any person at any time? The difference between simple collaboration software and swanky "unified communications" seems to be the size of and number of options available in the bundle -- or maybe it's all just marketing speak. And to think that we all once survived with just e-mail, cell phones and instant messaging (actually, most of us still do).

But if Microsoft, Cisco, Google, Oracle (sort of -- it's harder to tell with Oracle) and others have their way, we'll all be tethered to the almighty system all the time, reachable in any location, situation or state of being and ready to share documents or hop on a Web conference at the drop of a hat. And you thought the cell phone was an intrusive concept.

Anyway, this week's UC news -- and we're pretty sure that this is UC, not just collaboration, news -- is that Cisco is all jacked up about its UC suite, which is coming together nicely after a series of acquisitions. We note, though, that at least a few of the press outlets covering this story have tended to refer to Cisco's suite as collaboration software, which we thought was the simpler, Notes-Exchange type stuff, not the more heady UC.

See, this is why this stuff is so confusing. One day, we read that Oracle is set to take on IBM and Microsoft in the Notes-Exchange battle, which seems pretty old-school and established. The next day (literally), Cisco is going after Microsoft in UC -- or maybe collaboration software, which in any case, sounds more whiz-bang and sophisticated than just Notes and Exchange. Oh, and the analysts don't seem to be talking about Oracle or IBM in the same breath as Cisco at all. Although they are talking about Google, without even mentioning what Google really offers or how much market penetration (in any of these markets) it has. Everybody talks about Google. Very few people seem to understand it.

Surely if we're this confused as to what all this stuff is and what category it's supposed to fall into, at least a few partners must be, too. And customers -- for heaven's sake, what are they buying? An e-mail server or an integrated unified communications platform? Or both, or one thing that's part of another? And what does it all do? And how much will it cost? And they need it...why, exactly, if everything's pretty much working OK as-is? And if they buy one thing from IBM, will the other thing from Cisco work with it? And what is Google doing here again?

It's up to partners to answer those questions...if they can. We're pretty sure that we can't right now, but we're just hacks. We do find it funny, though -- ironic, maybe -- that markets with names like "collaboration" and "unified communications" are the most muddled in terms of who's offering what and which product or service or platform performs which absolutely necessary, can't-live-without-it function. Crank up Led Zeppelin's early stuff and call it a communication breakdown. At least Zep will drown out the noise coming from these vendors.

Have you got UC figured out? If so, enlighten us at lpender@rcpmag.com. Oh, and we'll get back to running your e-mails next week. We promise.

Posted by Lee Pender on 09/25/2008 at 1:22 PM


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