Technology

Google's Unified Tools Pose a Threat to Cisco


Cisco is beefing up tools that help customers communicate via the Web to brace for a challenge from the Web search leader, Computerworld reports

By Matt Hamblen

Framingham - Officials at Cisco Systems Inc. say they are closely watching Google Inc.'s aggressive foray onto their unified communications turf and plan to respond quickly by boosting the capabilities of Cisco's offerings.

In fact, analysts said Cisco's announcement late last month that it plans to offer at least some pieces of its IP voice technology as a hosted service could be viewed as a direct response to Google's recent move to start limited release of its Web-based Google Voice and Google Wave communications tools.

During a press briefing at the Cisco Live user conference in San Francisco late last month, Doug Dennerline, Cisco's senior vice president of collaboration software, acknowledged the challenge from Google and said his company is set to "invent and reinvent" its unified communications offerings.

Analysts said that the Google Voice Internet telephony service, now available to early users by invitation, and Google Wave, a hosted collaboration and communications service released to developers early this month, may pose long-term problems for companies like Cisco and Microsoft Corp.

The Google products could provide users with a less expensive common platform for delivering messaging, voice and video services to consumers and office workers, they said.

The Google Voice service was launched in March for a limited customer base: users of its predecessor, Grand Central, a service the search vendor had acquired almost two years earlier. Late last month, Google began inviting selected new users to the service, which has attracted widespread attention for its call-screening capabilities and its ability to provide a single phone number for multiple devices.

The company did not say when the free service will be generally available.

Google Wave, which has been in development for about two years, promises to give users a single platform for accessing e-mail, instant messaging, blog, wiki, multimedia management and document-sharing tools. Google also hasn't said when Google Wave will be widely available.

Though the Google offerings appear to be aimed primarily at consumers, they could quickly become attractive to small businesses, and eventually to large companies, if the products can overcome the privacy concerns raised by storing phone messages and other confidential data on third-party systems, analysts said.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc., said it could take some time for Google's product features to match those of Cisco, Microsoft and voice-switching vendors like Avaya Inc. or Siemens AG. But he predicted that over the "long term, Google will have a significant role" in the business.

"Google has the mind share and capital resources to be as big a threat as it desires to be," he added.

Some observers said that Google's maneuverings could hurt Cisco in particular as it tries to expand into the consumer market, long a Google stronghold.

For example, Cisco in March announced plans to buy Pure Digital Technologies Inc., maker of the Flip handheld camera used mostly by consumers. Cisco officials have also disclosed that the company is developing a consumer version of its TelePresence videoconferencing system.

"We think video is going to be very key in driving the next level of collaboration—Internet video, desktop video and consumer TelePresence," said Padmasree Warrior, Cisco's chief technology officer.

Cisco officials released few details of the company's plan to offer some virtual voice services, though Warrior said they will probably be offered through its service provider customers.

Kerravala said it's clear that the new service has "got to be competitive" with Google Voice.

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