Cisco Launches Hosted Collaboration Solution
At the Cisco Live customer event in Las Vegas, Cisco announced its Hosted Collaboration Solution. For those of you unfamiliar with Cisco’s approach to collaboration, it essentially includes IP telephony (IP PBXs), unified communications, video, conferencing, and social media/social software. The new cloud-based service will be based on Cisco’s virtualized Unified Computing System (UCS), a part of the Cisco Unified Services Delivery Solution, and will include hosted versions of Cisco Unified Communications Manager (UCM), Cisco Unified Contact Center, Cisco Unified Mobility, Cisco Unified Presence, Cisco Unity Connection (unified messaging), and Cisco Webex Meeting Center. Telepresence and additional applications will be offered in the future. Service providers and system integrators can offer a full suite of service offerings all based on the UCS, in an all Cisco infrastructure.
Cisco partners, including service providers and large system integrators/resellers, can deploy these services to customers from their data centers via the Cisco Unified Computing System, an all-in-one, highly virtualized data center package that includes server, networking, storage and management software. Partners house UCS in their data center and offer the various hosted services to customers. Customers will subscribe to these hosted services on a monthly basis. Initial partners offering these services include Verizon, Swisscom, and Orange, which have started field trials. Verizon Business announced that it will hold trials of a hosted unified communications package to provide businesses with UC applications through a cloud computing environment. Verizon Business will begin two-month trials in July to “give businesses an alternative to on-premises UC solutions by delivering services via the cloud.” Verizon Business already has customers signed up to trial the service, including a multinational auto manufacturer, a women's fashion retailer and a state government agency.
The Hosted Collaboration Solution gives Cisco partners more delivery options for Cisco solutions – whether on premise, hosted, or a hybrid approach. This will enable Cisco partners to provide the functionality that customers need in the most effective manner based on the customers’ needs.
Service Providers can provide the full portfolio of Cisco collaboration services, including integrated messaging, IM, presence, mobility, web conferencing, contact center services, while enabling customers to reduce capital and operating expenses and have the same capabilities as on-premise products. IP phones ship automatically as part of the service for customers. Enterprise organizations can access the capabilities needed.
Hosted service offerings are not new, and many of Cisco’s competitors and partners have been offering such services, with more being announced in the coming months. The fact that Cisco already has service providers lined up to trial these services to customers gives Cisco a leg up, as some of its competitors are or will be providing these same hosted services capabilities, but don’t have service provider partners yet. And Cisco’s partners are large, well-known service providers, with large customer bases. What is still unclear is how these services will be delivered to both the service providers and end user organizations. Cisco notes that, “Partners can purchase the Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution from Cisco and then license use of the applications within that solution to multiple customers through a subscription-based service.” But, will organizations be able to pick and choose the capabilities they want on a per-user basis? How will service providers price and package these services? According to a statement by Barry O'Sullivan, senior vice president of Cisco's Voice Technology Group, "Through the Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution, Cisco is enabling our partners to provide cloud-based solutions that offer unmatched levels of flexibility for their customers." However, I asked a couple Cisco representatives about whether service providers and ultimately their customers will be able to subscribe to only the services and capabilities they need on a per user basis, but was not given a definitive answer yet. I assume customers will be able to get Cisco Unified Communications Manager and Cisco Unified Presence services without getting Cisco Unit Connection and Cisco Unified Contact Center, for example, but this hasn’t been verified yet.
Cisco is certainly not the first UC or collaboration vendor to make its offerings available in a hosted basis, and it will definitely not be the last. However, as the market moves towards cloud-based offerings for both large enterprises and SMEs, it is essential that Cisco have a solution in this area. Expect to see more service providers, both large and small, partner with Cisco to offer Cisco’s collaboration capabilities to end-user organizations in the next few months, providing new revenue streams for Cisco and its partners.