The great thing about convergence is that it isn’t ‘owned’ by any single vendor. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t being fought over, in fact, far from it. The heavyweights of our industry – Cisco and Microsoft – are seemingly in direct competition and resellers are finding it hard to understand whose story to believe, and which to back.
What was once convergence is now unified communications; the convergence of networks to a single infrastructure; the convergence of fixed and mobile onto a single device; and the convergence of applications and network functionality into a single communications tool.
It would be simpler if the unified communications propositions of Microsoft and Cisco could be understood in diametrically opposing terms, but they can’t. Painting in such broad strokes, the best one can do is say that Cisco has the edge in terms of the ‘end-to-end’ architecture solution, while Microsoft ‘owns’ the desktop, giving users a seamless, familiar interface into unified communications applications and deep integration into the Microsoft suite of applications.
It’s important to bear in mind that the complexities of this technology can get very sticky the greater the margins one seeks. For every £1 a customer spends on kit and product enhancements, they’ll spend £3 on post-sales consultancy, integration and professional support services. End customers demand that resellers find the right route through this jungle, so which bits should a reseller pick and choose?
Both Cisco and Microsoft are guilty of overheating the market with their expensively spun visions for unified communications. The fallout among the whole industry is a lot of fear, uncertainty and doub, which isn’t helpful to the burgeoning of IP telephony / unified communications opportunities except for the healthy crop of resellers who have, thus far, been able to cut through the nonsense and address the demand.
These few succeed by convincing customers there are actions they need to be t aking now which will not restrict their choices later – and where they do need to make a strategic decision, these can be clearly identified and supported.
The reality is that, while Microsoft’s strategy offers much in the long term, very little will be available or adopted during 2007. Gartner predict that volume adoption of Microsoft Exchange, which provides the Unified Messaging solution, won’t start until late 2008, with major growth during 2010 – 2012.
Office Communications Server – which provides Microsoft’s first soft PBX capability – is currently in beta release. The first releases of IPT products rarely meet the demands of end user organisations and full functionality can be a steep learning curve for any new entrant. Nobody doubts Microsoft’s commitment to the unified communications market – or their long-term ability to deliver – but customers need to start the journey now, and that means looking to vendors like Cisco for the core foundation (which they need anyway) and business-strength call control. From there, the customer has an open platform for choosing the applications that will deliver against their needs.
My approach is to stop thinking about them as competitors. Even the two giants themselves openly concede that co-existence and integration is a fact of life, competing in some spaces and collaborating in others. It’s not a case of either/or – you really can have your cake and eat it!
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