Cisco moves unified comms to the cloud

The company has cloud plans for its WebEx unified communications service, and intends to support both platform and top-layer SaaS delivery

Cisco intends to bring its WebEx unified communications product to enterprises from small to large, and will serve it up over a SaaS delivery model, as well as build a cloud platform to support it.

In a teleconference call on Tuesday with the media, Cisco chief technology officer Padmasree Warrior announced plans for a SaaS (software-as-a-service) version of WebEx, as well as a PaaS (platform-as-a-services) layer called WebEx Connect.

The latter will extend API (application programming interface) support to third-party applications for the WebEx product.

Of WebEx, which Cisco bought in 2007, Warrior said there is market demand for an "enterprise-class collaboration platform" on the cloud.

Doug Dennerline, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's collaboration software group, said WebEx was built for the early-adopter crowd. Cisco's repackaging of the offering for the cloud is aimed at mainstream adoption, which requires the product offering to be easy to use and provide clear pricing, he said.

Cisco hopes its announcement will give companies confidence to look towards the cloud. Warrior said large enterprises still have their reservations about embarking on cloud computing, and Cisco hopes to provide hand-holding on their migration paths to the cloud.

Warrior reiterated her stance that most enterprise deployments on the cloud will remain a hybrid of on-premise and cloud components: "No CIO wants to throw away IT investments to go to the cloud. We want to help their evolution of the datacentre."

According to a recent survey, half of the Global 2000 companies have no plans to get onto the cloud, citing factors such as unawareness and lack of service provider support.

Warrior said industry interest in the cloud is building, but that three barriers still exist for large enterprises in moving to the cloud: the lack of robust service-level agreements (SLAs), concerns over security and cloud lock-in.

Sandra Ng, group vice president, communications, peripherals and services research at IDC Asia-Pacific, told ZDNet Asia the "siloed nature of today's clouds" are of greater concern to large enterprises than SMEs.

Ng said Cisco joining the party will lend its name and credibility to the overall cloud industry: "Clearly, with Cisco moving into this space, branding, marketing [and] awareness will be greater and the education alone will benefit all in the ecosystem."

Cisco's interest in the cloud is clear — the main attraction the cloud holds for Cisco is in providing its networking technology, since clouds are network-dependent, she said. So the drive towards the cloud — Cisco's or otherwise — would ultimately benefit Cisco one way or another, Ng added.

Dennerline said Cisco has some 200 telco service providers in its global partner ecosystem, which will help it reach out to the SME market.

He said the cloud model will provide a new revenue model for its communications channel partners who currently earn commissions from providing Cisco customer references. Monthly cloud subscriptions will provide a more regular revenue stream for these channel partners compared to recommendation fees, which occur once in four years from customer renewals, he said.

Ng said taking the cloud route could be "risky" for the communications provider because its channel margins are relatively lower, but Cisco's extensive partner network would "more than compensate" in sales volumes.


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