To Jabber, Chatter or Lync?

I don’t think I’m alone in my difficulty in keeping up with the leading IT vendors’ mad onrush to own the dominant market position in the secure, virtualized and highly collaborative desktop environment.

All the major network, software and device manufacturers have thrown their hat in the ring, coming at the computing problem from different angles. Cisco has been in this space with multiple technologies, but this week made a major move with a free license to its collaboration software, Jabber, to advance its position. launched Chatter over two years ago, to move its SFA and Service Cloud users to its vision of social media for the enterprise. And, to get broad adoption (I think they have more than three million users at last note) they gave away the application to existing Salesforce SFA users for the first year. Microsoft is also pushing Lync really hard both through its roll-out of Office 365 and as a stand-alone collaboration application with a defacto position that this will be “Skype for the Enterprise”. It offers instant messaging, click to call and all the traditional application based collaboration functions. And, of course, there’s a myriad of other independent collaboration software players, including IBM Lotus Notes, Oracle Beehive, VMware’s Zimbra and many others. And, that’s not even mentioning today’s marketshare leaders in VDI, namely Citrix and VMware.

Cisco’s position as a major software player in the market today is largely uncontested. So, these day when they make a software announcement (especially one that’s free) users and partners stand up and take notice. Today’s announcement was that Jabber would be made available for free to all existing unified communications users, both at the server and client licenses. There was a clear enthusiasm from the audience of Cisco partners, who aren’t used to the networking giant offering much of anything for free.

The beauty of Cisco’s legacy market position is that all roads, especially those in the cloud, lead to the demand for more network bandwidth. Clearly, anytime more users use high traffic (instant messaging) or high-bandwidth consuming apps (video) across any network, it creates demand for more core routing and switching. But, now they really do have nearly all the pieces of a connected and collaborative workspace solution – the desktop virtualization software, the enterprise device/tablet, the core networking infrastructure, telepresence systems, the management tools for identity and policy management, Webex collaboration, a broad security offering and now a more invasive collaboration software platform with an SDK that can be integrated with other applications.

So what does this mean to the average solution provider – beyond all the promises of the billion dollar sales opportunity? It seems to me the sales campaign needed to tackle this computing challenge holistically feels a bit like a boil-the-ocean sales effort for the average VAR. And, it requires some selling and client management skills they may not have. Collaborative workspace draws into the conversation a detailed analysis not just of integrating devices and providing multi-media collaboration functionality around the whole BYOD phenomenon, but a rework of a major computing paradigm for most companies – namely, how do users get access to their data? what applications can/can’t they use? who can or can’t they collaborate with when they’re working? (notice I didn’t’ even say “at work!”)

I have no doubt even Cisco partners with only basic certifications (non Gold) and architecture expertise can tackle an “average” SMB customers’ collaborative workspace project at the technical level. What I wonder about more is the average regional VAR having policy discussions about data sovereignty and application support, including which applications to integrate Jabber with or not, and to what specific user benefit. Ultimately, I still think this whole promise of highly mobile and collaborative workspaces begs the bigger question – namely, who’s writing the next generation of applications for these mobile workspaces?

Whether they’re highly custom applications that live only behind the firewall or public cloud applications that are “blessed” by corporate, new collaborative and mobile-aware applications will be the gasoline in the engine of the larger collaborative workspace market for Cisco partners.

As Steve Reese from leading Cisco partner, Presidio, said this week, “Let’s face it, not every device or desktop needs to be virtualized. I bought my iPad because it’s sexy, it’s with me all the time and easy to use. But I don’t want to run Windows-modified applications on it. Our clients’ employees feel the same way.” Reese points out “we at Presidio start every client engagement with a discussion about productivity gains, and we set some metrics.” Now, let’s be clear. Presidio is not the “average” Cisco VAR by any stretch of the imagination, having won Cisco Partner of the Year on too many occasions to count. However, Reese is right to point out the opportunity for Cisco partners to absolutely be involved in their customers’ mobile applications plan and in assessing and forecasting their real desired productivity gains in collaborative workplace.

Who will be the marketshare leader in three years, with a loyal and profitable channel selling the value of collaborative workplaces? Tell me your thoughts at [email protected]

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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