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Unified Communications Battle: Cisco Versus Microsoft

As another umbrella technology which is attempting to integrate ease-of-use and transparency on top of an incredibly diverse collection of services, unified communications is a worthy effort. A new report, which says the overall enterprise UC market will generate $7.8 billion in revenues in 2010, sheds interesting light on the relative strengths and positioning of Cisco and Microsoft. Here are some salient excerpts.

First, a quick look at the numbers. The report, from Insight Research Corp., is entitled "The Global Market for Unified Communications: Software, Services, and Solutions 2009-2014, forecasts that the market will grow at compound annual rate of 38.7 percent, rising from an estimated $5.3 billion this year to $27.3 billion in 2014.

Some of those numbers were contained in an Insight Research press release, which teased the report. But I was really more interested in hearing what it had to say about some of the major players. I apologize for leaving out Avaya, which has a UC intro today, but for the purposes of this blog, I'm going to present to you some quick insights into Cisco (which recently acquired Tandberg) and Microsoft. I thank Insight Research's president, Robert Rosenberg, for allowing me to quote from his report.

In terms of positioning, the report says that Microsoft and Cisco have contrasting approaches to UC.  Cisco's is characterized as network-centric, while Microsoft is seen as taking an application-centric tack.

Notes the report:

"As a result of their preeminent position in the respective fields, they are the default[s] typically selected for inclusion in a UC setup.  They have thus lent a tangible structure to what is otherwise a much unstructured solutions scenario.

While Cisco's instantiation of UC components is mostly router based, Microsoft's instantiation of the very same components is server based, underlining the contrast in their approaches yielding the same results.  Both the vendors have an impressive web of partners leading to a large installed base.  In fact, practically every UC solutions vendor has close interoperability with offerings of either or both of them.

Cisco and Microsoft should also be credited for achieving the mammoth task of raising customer awareness of UC."

Here's a little more individual perspective on the UC positioning of the two companies. On Cisco:

"What is striking is the centrality accorded by Cisco to the network infrastructure.  The reason for this is the extensive network devices and peripheral portfolio owned by Cisco, which it is projecting as a part of its UC offerings. Cisco can rightfully claim that it is being faithful to the letter and spirit of UC, which is primarily communications driven.

Cisco puts great stress on the fact that UC is IP driven, a fact which makes UC extremely synergistic to Cisco's business objectives.

Cisco is one of the few vendors that have the resources to supply top ranking products across all the UC component domains."

Here's some of what the report has to say about Microsoft:

"Microsoft is the champion proponent of software-driven architecture solutions. The success of Microsoft in UC is an eloquent testimony to the fact that UC is not just about networking, but about applications.  There can thus be no better example of how the communication OEM-only mainstay of enterprise networking is crumbling to other stakeholders than studying the texture and impact of Microsoft's UC solution.

Microsoft views UC as one of the important gateways into the enterprise communications applications market.  As is typical of Microsoft, it is treading on this path on its own terms and from a position of strength.

Microsoft has altered the face of enterprise networking gear by introducing server-based architecture in place of the traditional router-based version.  In doing so, Microsoft has thrown the field wide open to other ISVs without impressive telecom pedigrees to explore the market purely on the basis of their software skills."

In analyzing the competitive stance of Cisco and Microsoft towards each other, the report makes the interesting conclusion that, while the two have come at UC from opposite quarters, they are now trying to be more like each other.

More on the report is available on the Insight Research site, here.

For ongoing, in-depth coverage of the UC marketplace, see our sister site, No Jitter.

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