It was supposed to be a public discussion about the future of technology between two CEOs from two technology titans. After it was over, Microsoft and Cisco agreed to work together on seven specific technology initiatives including unified communications. The others are: IT architecture, security, management, wireless & mobile, connected entertainment and SMB.
The meeting between John Chambers and Steve Ballmer took place at the Mandarin Oriental in New York and was hosted by PBS broadcaster Charlie Rose.
Rose called the experience “irresistible” and continually asked if unified communications would be or is a competitive sticking point to any form of future partnership between the two American monoliths.
“We’re two very competitive companies and there tends to be a lot of media attention paid to how we are competing now or where we might compete head-to-head in the future. When so much of the focus is on who is going to win in markets like unified communications, say, or in Internet-driven television, what is often missing is the amount of work that we’re doing on interoperability on just how much collaboration there is between the two companies,” Ballmer said.
Recently, Microsoft announced the long rumoured unified communications, VoIP and telephony suite called Office Communications Server 2007. Chambers during his company’s Partner Summit told the channel that Microsoft has given Cisco a three-year lead and the company has never lost a game when it’s had this kind of lead.
This banter created some uneasiness in the channel. Harry Zarek, CEO of Compugen, said in a previous interview that as a channel partner you never want an either/or with two titans such as Microsoft and Cisco.
Chambers during the public forum said the two companies are committed to working together so that customers are successful regardless of whose solution they choose.
“We listen to our customers and recognize that the likelihood is very high that companies will be using technology from both Microsoft and Cisco as they build out their unified communications infrastructure, so interoperability of our solutions will continue to be a top priority,” Chambers said.
Both men acknowledged that the current overlap in unified communications is minimal, but the market opportunity is overwhelming.
Ballmer said of Microsoft entry into the unified communications space that he really did not have a choice in the matter. “People would like to see it as a black and white issue, but is too complex and we need to make things work,” he said.
Jon Arnold, an independent industry analyst based in Toronto, said there are more questions than answers from this public forum.
“The concept threw me for a loop. I said wait a minute Cisco and Microsoft are talking. Didn’t Microsoft and Nortel make a working alliance?”
Arnold said that this boils down to who will own the unified communications space. “It is a battle of titans and it comes down to will you back premise based unified communications or a software based solution. That is the huge issue. Who will own it.”
This public meeting also puts into questions Nortel’s future. Arnold said that Nortel was banking on this Microsoft relationship and in turn Microsoft was hoping Nortel could lead them on a path to the SMB.
Arnold added that he does not understand what Microsoft needs from Cisco so badly that they would involves themselves in this public forum except that maybe they have lost confident in Nortel.
“They could figure that if they team with Cisco they will own this space. It does not look good for Nortel,” Arnold said.
Another interesting development is that Ballmer will meet on a regular basis with Chambers. Currently, Ballmer, who said he values time more than anything, meets with HP’s Mark Hurd, Intel’s Paul Otellini, and Michael Dell on a regular basis. Also Chambers and Ballmer will meet with 12 CIOs from large enterprises to discuss this shared vision and answer their questions through the day. CDN has learned that Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, UBS, Meijer, Ernst & Young, Baxte and Comcast Cable are on that list of 12 companies.