Microsoft and Cisco promise that, even though they are moving into an increasing number of areas where they compete head on, their respective technologies will interoperate, so that customers will be able to mix and match them at will.
That was the overriding message from a press conference held yesterday in New York’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel and webcast to the world, featuring CEOs Steve Ballmer and John Chambers, as well as their respective engineering heads Bob Muglia (senior VP, server and tools) and Charlie Giancarlo (executive VP and chief development officer).
That the two companies felt the need to bring out the big guns for what was, after all, neither a product announcement, nor even a specific alliance, is indicative of quite how many their customers have been calling upon them to guarantee interoperability.
Chambers said the two companies have been collaborating for as long as ten years, but more in earnest over the last two years, which was when Muglia and Giancarlo took over responsibility for the process, with additional momentum picking up since the beginning of this year. Ballmer made the point that, just as he does with the CEOs of major Microsoft partner companies HP, Dell and Intel, he had now set time aside in his diary to meet regularly with Chambers, who’s done the same on his side.
Giancarlo said his first place he and Muglia focused their attentions to guarantee interop was in security. This refers to the companies’ respective network access control (NAC) offerings, namely Network Admission Control from Cisco and Network Access Protection (NAP) from Microsoft.
The two were billed as in direct competition when they first announced their initiatives in 2004, with Cisco proposing that NAC be done in the network elements, while Microsoft wants to do it in the servers and desktops.
However, customers banged the vendors’ heads together, as they foresaw having to opt for one or the other, with the potential for tech conflict is they bought companies that had opted for the other vendor and so on.
In September last year they announced NAC-NAP interoperability, therefore, and from there the two sides found more areas on which they should guarantee similar abilities. They outlined seven areas where they have groups working on interop, namely: IT architectures, security, management, wireless, unified communications, connected entertainment (i.e. digital home) and SMB.
Unified comms was also featured in the demos Muglia and Giancarlo ran, showing a search in Exchange and Active Directory, with a mashup with Microsoft Virtual Earth using location information from a Cisco network infrastructure, then a click to call them from within a Microsoft Office Communicator client taking presence information and using SIP trunking from a Cisco CallManager. Another showed a Samsung cellphone running Windows Mobile 6 with a Cisco UC client, presence from Cisco and Active Directory information, plus Outlook to schedule a meeting.
Methinks the ladies do protest too much. OK, so we know that Microsoft and Cisco have to be seen to interoperate for the sake of their common customers, and indeed, Ballmer and Chambers were off after the press conference to meet some two dozen big customers of both to spread the word.
They will, however, be competing as intensely as ever for business in areas like NAC and unified comms, and while today they compete in probably only 10%-20% of their portfolios, the potential is there for that percentage to increase significantly over the next few years. That means a delicate ballet between the protestations of good corporate citizenship, working together for our common customers, and the harsher words their respective sales forces will be pronouncing away from the cameras.