Cisco attempts to bring unity to unified communications with Jabber

Suite ties together multiple OSes and smart-phone platforms

In this world of many platforms and many devices, one of the big problems facing the implementation of unified communications is the ability to support all of the different options employees have in the work place.

Cisco is trying to change that.

The company announced its Cisco Jabber unified communications suite of products on Tuesday at the Enterprise Connect 2011 trade show in Orlando, Fla. The core of the offering is based on Jabber Inc. technology that Cisco acquired in 2008 and offers a refresh of many existing Cisco unified communications products as well as new interoperability options between platforms.

“We have some existing products, but what we are doing is bringing them together to really unify the interfaces,” said Laurent Philonenko, vice president and general manager, unified communications business unit at Cisco.

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For instance, Mac and PC users will be able to be incorporated into the Cisco unified communications landscape of the enterprise and just about every major smart phone (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Nokia – no Windows Phone 7 at this time) will be supported from the back end. Microsoft software applications, such as Exchange, are fully supported as well.

“We don't see the platform being tied to any specific platform or OS or form factor," Philonenko said. "We are addressing a variety of endpoints whether they be PCs, laptops or smart phones. It could be on premise or in the cloud.”

One of the more interesting parts of the new service is that Cisco is offering it as both a hardware solution or as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution available in the cloud. That infrastructure flexibility could be a great help to a federal agency (more likely departments of an agency) that do not have the necessary hardware or IT capital to build out a new unified communications platform.

“We need to accommodate those changes in how people use and access communication and collaboration applications,” Philonenko said. “The key words here are social, mobile, virtual and video because our applications are going to be available on the devices and taking advantage of the unified communications ability.”

Another problem with deploying unified communications is that of standards. Often it is difficult for companies that employ different instant messaging (IM) or presence standards to communicate with each other. Cisco is trying to bridge that gap by infusing the industry standard Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) that can allow Jabber to operate between IM applications from Google, AOL, IBM and Microsoft.

The play by Cisco here is to attempt to unify the disparate world of unified communications. If Jabber can make, for example, IBM and Microsoft unified communications products work together with Cisco as an intermediary, it could position itself to be the back-end leader in communications technology, more so than it already is at least. Or, as a direct competitor to Microsoft and IBM, Cisco stacks up well on a feature-function basis with its new software services in Jabber.

"There is a lot of competition for adoption. Now, you have the players -- Microsoft with Lync, IBM with [Lotus Sametime], and Cisco with WebEx and their voice-over IP solution with their handsets phones, and they have been trying to add the software stack too it," said Ted Schadler, an analyst with Forrester. "So, we really have a three-horse race for a real-time collaboration toolkit and that is a big deal because Cisco has got a calling card that is the UC infrastructure, the VOIP, the blade approach to router extensions. They have a really powerful audio and video platform to build upon and now they are adding another component that is up in the software layer is the opportunity."

One of the critical aspects to the Cisco offering, outside of the Jabber for Mac support (available in the second quarter of the year, whereas the rest of the suite is available in the first quarter), is the ability to tie unified communications capabilities to the variety of smart-phone platforms. Whereas Mac and PC have been learning to play nice with each other in the modern commercial computer sector for more than a decade, the operating systems for smart phones are as yet in their nascent stages and, outside of some of them sharing roots in Unix or Linux, are as different as operating systems can be.

For instance, Cisco’s WebEx Web Conferencing service, widely used in the enterprise for meetings, will be available to every phone except Nokia (which is assumed to be the Symbian operating system). Visual voicemail, presence and instant messaging for all phones will be available by the second half of 2011.

It is not groundbreaking technology from Cisco but it does offer flexibility and options for enterprises looking for the ability to support multiple devices and platforms as unified communications solutions become ubiquitous in the industry.

About the Author

Dan Rowinski is a staff reporter covering communications technologies.


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