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Cisco, Microsoft Tout Benefits Of Cooperation

We have seen the rise of Web 2.0 and social networks. But where does it all go? For starters, collaboration -- which is really at the core of Web 2.0 technologies.

For Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, and John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, this next wave of innovation via Web 2.0 collaboration demands more interoperability. The tech titans promised customers will see the benefits of greater collaboration even they have to knock some of their engineers' heads together to make it happen.

During a chat today with Charlie Rose of PBS's Charlie Rose news program, Ballmer and Chambers promised to step up interoperability efforts, while painting the big picture of where communications technology is headed.

"We see the architecture of the market, and we see it as remarkably similar regarding mobility, mobile devices and where the markets are going," Chambers said. "We define them similarly. There are so many areas that if we work together, we'll be successful."

With Cisco's focus on more uses of "presence" online to foster more real-time collaboration, and Microsoft's integration of presence and unified communications across its productivity suite, the companies' products could either be on a collision course in customers' hands, or working together.

Analysts such as Jan Dawson, a vice president with Ovum Research's enterprise practices, see more of a collision course for market share, especially in the Unified Communications market.

"Cisco's purchase of WebEx was the latest major salvo in this war, but the two companies are increasingly shaping up as the two major competitive forces in this market," Dawson said in a research note. "Both companies' legendarily aggressive salesforces have been feeding this notion as they seek to sell their UC solutions in the market."

Both executives appeared to acknowledge their intensifying rivalry, while still sending a message of cooperation to their customers.

"The days of being friend or foe are over," Chambers added. "The industry's moving too rapidly for large players" for anything less than interoperability on emerging technologies.

This is especially true in the realm of unified communications, such as Voice-over IP and more uses of presence in order to collaborate online with video, text and messaging among workgroups, to name just a few.

But make no mistake, Ballmer added. "In the communications applications area, there will be areas where we compete as we do. We're working together on where the future of the data center will look like. It could bring new opportunities and new competition. It probably brings some of both."

The alliance outlined today covers seven areas across consumer, enterprise, small and medium-sized business (SMB) and public sector markets. They include: IT architecture, security, management, wireless and mobility, unified communications, connected entertainment and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Ballmer and Chambers said they see opportunities in easing adoption of converging data, voice and video in both the fixed and mobile environments.

So, memo to customers: Both companies are dedicated to developing technologies according to existing industry standards and working together with the industry to jointly design and introduce new standards.

And, yes, sometimes that means urging engineers from both companies to work harder at achieving this interoperability. But it's happening. Take Cisco's Network Admission Control (NAC) and Microsoft's Network Access Protection (NAP) protocols. They announced three years ago a plan to collaborate on making their platforms interoperable. This year, however, the two companies finally moved closer to making that actually happen as the technology for network access control matured.

Microsoft also recently announced that its NAP system would interoperate with another industry group, Trusted Computing Groups' Trusted Network Connect (TNC)

On other topics, Ballmer offered no comment on whether Microsoft was in negotiations to purchase Yahoo, which has been a topic of speculation in the industry. "We'll continue to find ways to partner with [Yahoo] where it makes sense," Ballmer said in response to a question from Rose on the possibility of a merger.

But on these big picture topics, and the collaboration that underlines the definition of Web 2.0, both executives stayed on message about what they need to do: Find a way to keep pace with change, including embracing an even deeper level of interoperability in order to help drive the next phase of communication in the Internet age.

As Dawson noted: "Hopefully they will both move a little further in the direction of interoperability, but they will both also continue to do their best to create a world where the other isn't needed."

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