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Cisco Broadens Its Web 2.0, Communications Portfolio

The company takes a swing at Microsoft and IBM with updates to WebEx Connect, Unified Communications System, and a partnership with Verizon.

Long the dominant networking pacesetter with its ubiquitous switches and routers, Cisco Systems served notice Wednesday that it plans to be a force to be reckoned with in the next user centric circle of networking -- in unified communications, advanced video conferencing, and in Web 2.0 applications.

Cisco unveiled its three collaborative platforms Wednesday and in the process is taking aim at some established players like Microsoft, Google and IBM. It's a big market and Cisco has already cobbled together a bunch of acquisitions it hopes will give it a quick thrust into the still-emerging markets.

"Collaboration is the next phase of the Internet, a phase analysts see as a $34 billon market opportunity and at the center of this phase is the network," said Cisco's Don Proctor, who is senior VP of the company's software group, in a statement. "Our network platform uses open standards protocols to expose critical collaboration services such as presence, instant messaging, call control and policy to a broad range of devices and applications."

"The Cisco collaboration portfolio," Proctor continued, "leverages this network architecture to create an integrated collaboration experience, from simple text messaging to immersive Cisco TelePresence sessions."

Cisco's chairman and CEO John Chambers tipped his hand back in January that the company had big things in store for video when he addressed the International Consumer Electronics show and unveiled a barrage of products. Many were set-top boxes from its Scientific-Atlanta acquisition.

Now the video focus is on Cisco's TelePresence Expert on Demand, which enables customers to set up elaborate configurations of video cameras and displays so they can easily connect with experts and leaders at the touch of a button. TelePresence Expert works with Cisco's Unified Communications and Unified Contact Center in one illustration of how the various new platforms can complement each other.

The company promises that its new Unified Communications System Release 7.0 will improve ownership costs, ease-of-use and interoperability with business applications, both existing and new. Release 7.0 provides deeper integration with IBM and Microsoft products, Cisco pointed out, while its Unified Mobile Communicator will support Symbian, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile operating systems. The Cisco UC offering increases Cisco Unified Presence scalability to 30,000 users and Cisco United to 15,000 on a single server.

Cisco's Web 2.0 Applications Platform is based on the company's WebEx Connect software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform that integrates traditional and Web 2.0 business applications with presence, IM, team spaces, and Web meetings. In addition, WebEx Connect can be utilized with third-party widgets built on open APIs.

One Cisco partner, Verizon Communications, said it plans to expand its overall suite of unified communications and collaboration tools based on the new Cisco collaboration portfolio. John Stratton, Verizon Communications' executive vice president and chief marketing officer, said the partnership with Cisco will help Verizon accelerate delivery of the "latest technologies to the marketplace."

Verizon said its Verizon Business unit will offer support for Cisco Unified Communications Manager and Cisco Unified Contact Center through tools that seamlessly integrate VoIP, IM, conferencing, and contact center tools.

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