Cisco Systems on Tuesday discussed its Web-based software strategy at a press conference that outlined new features and functions for its WebEx conferencing service. By adding more software, including voice integration, into WebEx, Cisco is moving into Microsoft's territory.
Microsoft is both a Cisco partner and a rival in the Web-conferencing space. Recent Cisco acquisitions suggest the company is going to become more aggressive about competing with Microsoft in cloud-based services that make up its unified communications suite.
Cisco hinted at the ability for business users to create documents and share them through the WebEx platform. That would be a direct threat to Microsoft Office, which generated $60 billion last year. Cisco also said it plans to introduce a telepresence product for homes in coming years. But the WebEx changes are the key focus for Cisco's services business.
Competing with Microsoft
"This does compete with Microsoft more than some may think," said Zeus Kerravala, a vice president at The Yankee Group. "Besides WebEx, Cisco has quietly made a couple of other acquisitions. One is PostPath, which is a hosted e-mail product, and the other is Jabber, which is a presence technology."
Cisco's acquisitions make it possible for the company to integrate hosted e-mail and instant messaging into WebEx. That could shake up the market. Microsoft has traditionally had the competitive advantage by virtue of its stronghold on desktop applications. But Cisco is strong in networking and VoIP and is finding ways to gain an edge in e-mail and desktop software.
"If Cisco is going to take market share from Microsoft in areas where Microsoft is strong, it's not going to be by out-Microsofting Microsoft," Kerravala said. "What I mean by that is that if Cisco tried to build its own version of Exchange, it would fail. So Cisco is going to create this movement to the cloud. Instead of premise-based e-mail, you might want to use a hosted e-mail service in the cloud with unlimited storage."
Creating a Market Transition
Cisco appears to be attempting to create a market transition to the cloud to combat Microsoft's strengths. Unified communications is fundamentally a software-driven market, and the software industry is moving toward Software as a Service. That bodes well for Cisco, Kerravala said.
"Cisco has a much stronger position than Microsoft. Cisco's strategy against Microsoft is to methodically pick off the parts that, if they moved them to the cloud, they could gain some share," Kerravala said. "The WebEx product has a bigger market share and is much more feature-rich than Microsoft Live Meeting. If that transition happens, it locks almost everybody else."
What's to stop Microsoft from moving its products to the cloud? Nothing, except that the incumbent vendor in a market typically doesn't create the shift.
It wasn't Avaya that created the move to VoIP. It was Cisco. It wasn't IBM that created the move to desktop computing. It was Microsoft.
The incumbent doesn't often manifest the shift because they've got the most to lose, Kerravala said. Cisco sees much to gain.