Cisco expands collaboration tools for the enterprise

UK businesses will be offered the hosted version of the new social-networking software and cloud-based email without certain functions, due to EU data rules
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Cisco has made a push into the social software and hosted email markets with a series of launches that are largely based on technology bought in along with the company's recent acquisitions.

However, some document collaboration and blogging functions will remain unavailable to European users of Cisco's hosted products, because Cisco has not yet built up a datacentre infrastructure in Europe that can satisfy data-protection legislation.

The networking giant announced several software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools on Monday. Cisco WebEx Mail is a corporate-grade, Outlook-compatible hosted email product, based on PostPath technology, while Cisco WebEx Connect Instant Messaging uses XMPP-based technology that Cisco gained through the acquisition of Jabber.

The Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), which itself used to be known as Jabber, provides federation of presence — the ability to know whether a contact is online or offline, and what type of device they are connected on — across various instant-messaging platforms such as Google Chat, Yahoo, IBM's Lotus Sametime and Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS).

A key component of the hosted-mail and instant-messaging products will be missing from their European launch, in that these products will not incorporate team spaces. Team spaces provide functionality such as document repositories, which lets users have blogs and collaborate on shared documents.

As a result, WebEx Connect Mail, a hosted version of Cisco's email platform, will not yet be rolled out in Europe, while WebEx Connect IM will be made available in Europe as what Cisco's European marketing chief Tim Stone called a "controlled release".

"We're going to have that [team space] capability within our enterprise collaboration platform as an on-premise offering [but not in the SaaS versions]," Stone told ZDNet UK on Friday.

Stone explained that, while North American users can use the team space functionality now, Europeans will have to wait. Cisco does not have the datacentre infrastructure in place in Europe to support SaaS email and IM and still stick to data-protection guidelines forbidding the holding of sensitive data outside the EU, he said.

Cisco also announced TelePresence WebEx Engage, a system for initiating and scheduling integrated video calls between high-end TelePresence suites and lower-end WebEx online meetings. TelePresence is also to get full interoperability with third-party, high-definition TelePresence systems, through the new Media Experience Engine (MXE) 5600.

An Intercompany Media Engine is also to be released, to allow multiple organisations to collaborate as if sharing one network environment.

In addition, the company introduced a social video system called Show and Share, which allows organisations to record, edit and share videos with comment, rating and tagging functionality — in a similar way to how YouTube lets its users interact with videos.

Show and Share can use the MXE 5600 platform, or the MXE 3500, to convert speech to text in order to create transcripts that aid video search.

A new corporate directory system, the Cisco Enterprise Collaboration Platform, was also unveiled on Monday. This incorporates social network capabilities, so users can create collaborative spaces that can plug into business applications and Web 2.0 content. Another release is Cisco Pulse, a tool that automatically tags social content from across the network.

Stone said the Enterprise Collaboration Platform was not as text-and-document-centric as other collaboration tools currently on the market.

"This is a Web 2.0 platform which is a completely open environment," Stone said. "It provides one portal which gives you access to your information — blogs, wikis and forums — but also access to other employees. You can click to IM, have a video session, drag people into a virtual meeting room — all from one portal you can customise to your own environments."

Cisco Unified Communications Manager 8.0 Session Management Edition and Cisco WebEx Connect IM are both available in the UK now. The other products are expected to be made available over the next year or so.

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