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Cisco eyeballs IBM and Microsoft with SaaS conferencing

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Cisco is offering a new collaboration portfolio and offering to whup IBM and Microsoft's collaborative asses with a software-as-a-service WebEx-based offering.

The company is once again moving up from network stack into network-based applications and updating its Unified Communications System platform to release 7.0 to support two new products: TelePresence Expert On Demand and WebEx Connect.

TelePresence is its $300,000 high-end video-conferencing product offering everything in a meeting except being there and touching and smelling your opposite numbers. It's available in a low-end $33,000 TelePresence 500 version and this underpins the Expert On Demand offering. The idea is you go into, say, a bank branch to talk money details which the branch staff don't know. Push a button on a terminal and you get a video-conference session with an 'expert'. The technology sounds great, but all you're really getting is the chance to see your call centre operator and, depending on manning policies, a message saying: "All our operators are busy today due to customer demand for our very popular financial solutions. You call is very valuable to us and will be answered shortly. It may also be monitored for quality purposes. In the meantime here is a video of a special offer today just for you." Yeuch!

WebEx Connect is a pay per person per month version of WebEx web-based conferencing, which Cisco acquired for $3.3bn last year. Cisco has added AOL-based instant messaging (IM), TeamSpaces, which is a secure virtual meeting room concept offering wikis, blogs, document sharing, email, calendaring, video, presence and click to call, and an API to let third-parties build their own apps and widgets on top - a voicemail widget for example.

Tim Stone, Cisco's European head of collaboration solutions, said Cisco had bought PostPath so as to integrate email and calendering - like Outlook integration - into the WebEx mix and is trying to buy Jabber so as to pour its enterprise-class IM in as well and, we guess, free itself from AOL-dependency.

Cisco sees internet traffic soaring through people having virtual meetings instead of flying off for face-to-face encounters. Just think, all those IP packets needing more and more routers to pump them through the net... Yum yum. It sees a $34bn market opportunity here and is acquiring companies frantically as it builds a set of coordinated offerings for TelePresence buyers at multi-national biz level down to WebEx SaaS stuff for small and medium enterprises. Cisco pushing and shoving its way to the head of the pack, like a rhino in full market-building tilt, is a formidable sight. ®

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