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Cisco's Cloud Service is Neither Cloud Nor Service

October 17, 2012 | David S. Maldow, Esq.
(click image to expand)

In the wake of the Polycom NASDAQ announcement blitz, and in the context of the pervasive industry buzz about cloud solutions, expectations were high for Cisco to make a cloud related announcement at the Los Angeles Cisco Collaboration Summit this week. With no real cloud related developments ready to release, Cisco was forced to dress up some underwhelming product improvements as "New Cloud Capabilities and Services for Enterprises, Service Providers and Partners."

Unfortunately, the mix of high expectations and unclear wording in the press release led to some confusing coverage, which appears to indicate that Cisco will be offering video as a service directly to customers. For example, a ZDNet article on the announcement is titled, "Cisco aims to deliver communications as a service with new upgrades." However, my understanding is that Cisco is not going to deliver its HCS solution as a service and it isn't really a cloud product, in terms of virtualization.

So what is the announcement actually about? Cisco partners, who are already using Cisco equipment to provide "cloud" services, are getting a few upgrades to their Cisco products. Specifically, the HCS platform will now have improved multi-tenancy support, standing meeting room support, and other "contact center enhancements." No industry firsts here, and nothing game-changing. Just some nice improvements which should make life a little easier for the team working the front lines at your local managed service provider. In addition, they are offering a private version of WebEx, allowing customers to create their own WebEx cloud service.

Hyperbole aside, this isn't a bad announcement. These new features are welcome. But by trying to wrap them up into a proclamation which "Showcases Growth in Cloud Collaboration..." isn't helpful. I first thought the announcement was somewhat curious when I studied the accompanying infographic. WebEx has as many monthly attendees as Sweden, Portugal, and Greece combined? Technically accurate, and an excellent job of finding three countries that sound big but really actually have small populations. It would also be accurate to say WebEx has as many monthly attendees as the population of Peru, but that doesn't sound as impressive.

Peru_Globe.png The infographic also mentions that WebEx has 2.7 million downloads, which compares to the population of Jamaica. Accurate, but a pointless comparison. A better comparison would be to compare it to downloads of another communications app. Of course, one must consider the fact that when Skype updated its app to support 3G they had 5 million downloads on the iPhone alone, in just the first 4 days. Bottom line, when a press release starts with this type of infographic, you can expect me to read the rest of the release very carefully.

Putting aside the PR, Cisco is actually playing an important role in the enabling of cloud services and that must be respected. The 30+ partners using Cisco's platform to provide video services include some serious heavy hitters with large user bases. People are making calls supported by Cisco hardware whether they are aware of it or not. These improvements will be appreciated and have a positive effect in many working environments.

I understand that vendors feel a need to show customers, and the market in general, that they are always leading the industry at all times. If "Cloud" is hot, then they will be positioning themselves as a cloud company. If the trend is to move away from hardware, then you suddenly become a "software powered" company. But at some point this creates confusion and you have to face reality. If you sell hammers to carpenters, you aren't selling carpentry services, you are selling hammers. I guess you can call it a carpentry service platform, but then don't act surprised when you cause market confusion.

David_Maldow, Esq.David Maldow, Esq. is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate editor at Telepresence Options. David has extensive expertise in testing, evaluating, and explaining telepresence and other visual collaboration / rich media solutions. David is focused on providing third-party independent analysis and opinion of these technologies and helping end users better secure their telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter and Google+.

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