Tech giant Cisco is looking to serve up what could be the holy grail of today’s enterprise communications, announcing on Monday its Unified Communications System, a suite of voice, data and video applications aimed at wrangling Internet Protocol (IP) communications.
Cisco said the new suite is built upon its Service-Oriented Network Architecture (SONA) and is an open and extensible platform for real-time communications based on presence, mobility and the network.
Cisco’s efforts are not the only attempt to bring together voice, data, and video communications, but the company did manage collaboration with Microsoft and IBM, which could give it some competitive advantage.
“What they’re trying to do is to take IP communications to another level,” Yankee Group senior analyst Zeus Kerravala told TechNewsWorld. “Every vendor has the same vision, but they’re all at different points to getting there.”
Cisco said its new system represents the second generation of IP communications and goes beyond telephone services to include seamless integration of voice, data, and video. Unified Communications includes a Personal Communicator, Presence Server and Customer Interaction Analyzer, all aimed at simplifying and streamlining communications, whether voice or data from a PC, mobile phone or home office.
Cisco’s collaborative effort with Microsoft is focused on business communication tools, including integration with Office Live. With IBM, it will work on a customized plug-in for Lotus Sametime 7.5 and Cisco Unified Call Manager 5.0.
“The federated presence capability in Cisco Unified Presence Server will ultimately help to drive enhanced communications and productivity within the enterprise,” said Barry O’Sullivan, vice president and general manager of Cisco’s IP Communications Business Unit.
With access to converged communications possible with the new Unified system, the biggest challenge for enterprises willl be in knowing how to apply the tools to take advantage of its capabilities, Kerravala said.
“Cisco has an advantage with its Internet systems group,” he said. “It … spends a lot of time on business processes, which are crucial pieces.”
While all of the vendors in the space are working toward converged communications, customers can still end up with two or three incompatible “silos,” he said, highlighting interoperability as the biggest challenge. Still, the analyst predicted a number of similar announcements to come.
“You’re going to see more of this from vendors this year,” he said.
The Cisco Unified Communications System begins to fulfill a longstanding expectation of enterprise IT customers: “any device, anytime, any application, any network,” according to IDC research director Shiv Bakhshi.
It does address the priorities for businesses in security and overcoming latency, Bakhshi told TechNewsWorld. However, there are still challenges to applying the technology, he added.
“There are too many moving parts,” he said.
Still, the converged offerings from Cisco and others are the first technology steps that make the business part of the equation work.
“You make the technology feasible, and other things will follow after that,” he said. “We are going to see a lot of innovation like this.”