Cisco Systems Inc yesterday unveiled a raft of new and upgraded products in the IP communications space, re-branding it as Unified Communications and moving ever more squarely into competition with Microsoft Corp in real-time collaboration.
This is an emerging market for technology that enables the different ways people in business environments interact (fixed and mobile phones, email, instant messaging, voicemail and conferencing) to be centrally managed by the individual user.
This, together with features like presence and context, promises what Tim Stone, Cisco’s senior marketing manager for unified comms in Europe and Emerging Markets, called locating the right [human] resource the first time, rather than playing phone tag.
Of course, there will be times when the person sought is otherwise engaged, but the context feature with real-time collaboration should make it possible for the caller to know the other party is around and will get back to them, rather than on holiday, off sick or travelling.
Not surprisingly, this is also an area that has attracted a lot of vendors from different sides of the IT industry. IBM tackles it from within its Notes/Domino groupware business, calling its corporate collaboration platform Sametime.
Microsoft does the same from Exchange with Live Communications Server, and seeks to leverage its strength in office productivity by enabling click-to-dial from Office apps like Excel and Word, as well as Active Directory.
San Jose, California-based Cisco is at pains to tout the ability of its new products to integrate with both Sametime and LCS, but it is nonetheless encroaching on their territory with this latest slew of offerings.
The whole portfolio of products has been re-branded from IP to Unified Comms, which is indicative of how Cisco’s ambitions are widening in this space.
The first new product is Cisco Unified Personal Communicator (UPC), software designed to sit on a desktop or laptop and manage the user’s entire unified comms process, from phone calls to messaging and ad hoc conferencing, adding and removing participants with drag-and-drop operations.
To do this, it interacts with other Cisco apps such as Unity Connection for unified messaging and voicemail, Unified MeetingPlace for conferencing, Unified Contact Center and, of course, Unified CallManager, the vendor’s IP PBX, for IP telephony.
It will also interface with Sametime or LCS for the same purpose. Equally, Ian Sherring, Unified Comms marketing manager for the UK and Ireland, was careful to point out that UPC or its Microsoft equivalent, Office Communicator, can act as the controlling client for unified comms with the Cisco apps.
Another new product is Cisco Unified Presence Server, the information from which will enable users to alert one another as to their status on the network, as well as to stay informed as to whether they are available.
Presence is one of the features of IP telephony most actively developed by companies supporting the Session Initiation Protocol standard, and it is no coincidence that Cisco is supporting SIP for the first time.
Cisco said it has enabled line-side SIP support, rather than just trunk-side support, within the new release of CallManager (v5.0), now renamed Unified CallManager. Until now the protocol for communicating with its IP phones has been a proprietary one called Skinny SIP.
Now we’re enabling our midrange IP desk phones 7941 and 7961 to run as SIP devices, as well as supporting Gigabit Ethernet to the desktop, said Sherring.
That Cisco is moving more directly into competition with Microsoft in this area is further underlined by another announcement from the networking giant, namely the availability, for the first time, of a Linux-based appliance version of CallManager.
Until now the IP PBX has only been available as software for loading onto a Windows server, but some people might not want to go the Windows route, said Stone.