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Cisco collaboration platform built for small companies

The new Cisco collaboration platform combines voice, video, instant messaging, presence and paging in preconfigured hardware for smaller midsize companies.

Cisco, which believes unified communications (UC) in many companies will be comprised of on-premises hardware and cloud-based services for years to come, has unveiled a lower midmarket product that combines a router with communication capabilities.

The BE6000S was introduced Tuesday at the Cisco Collaboration Summit in Los Angeles, one day after the company launched cloud-based collaboration software dubbed Project Squared.

The new hardware combines Cisco's 2921 integrated services router (ISR) with what Cisco defines as core communication capabilities, which include voice, video, instant messaging, presence and paging. The all-in-one box is for companies with between 25 and 150 employees.

The new product is scheduled for release early next year. Pricing was not disclosed.

Cisco believes the lower-end of the midmarket -- with midmarket defined as companies with up to 1,000 employees -- has been underserved, and needs communications hardware that is relatively inexpensive to deploy and includes management tools that small IT staffs can handle.

"The BE6000S will help Cisco continue to move down market," Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar said in an email. "It's a competitive solution against the likes of ShoreTel and Mitel."

For larger midmarket companies, Cisco introduced improvements to the BE6000. The new hardware can support 25% more simultaneous video calls, and customers can add applications like video, mobility, contact center and conferencing by buying additional licenses that unlock the feature sets.

The BE6000 runs up to nine applications, while the BE6000S can handle five.

Cisco sees hybrid UC market developing

Cisco sells most of its hardware through resellers like ComStor, Ingram Micro, KBZ and ScanSource. To lower resellers' installation costs for the BE6000 and BE6000S, Cisco will configure the hardware to a buyer's specifications before the product ships to the reseller. This option can reduce the amount of time for deployment by up to 30%, according to Cisco.

Cisco is a major supplier of IP PBXs, which provide the infrastructure for many on-premises voice-over-IP (VoIP) and UC systems.

Sales of IP PBXs have slowed as companies hold on to the expensive systems longer while adding cloud-based UC capabilities like video conferencing and online collaboration. In a survey of companies released this year, Nemertes Research found that nearly half were using, planning to use or evaluating cloud-based UC applications.

Nevertheless, Cisco is betting that hybrid environments of on-premises and cloud-based UC will exist for years. Many companies are opting to keep telephony, instant messaging and presence in-house, while adding cloud-based video conferencing and collaboration later, according to Patrick Romzek, vice president of global market development at Cisco.

"Three, four years from now there'll still be lots of people buying on-premise [systems]," Romzek said in an interview at the summit. "We're trying to give customers choice with the user experience the same [in the cloud and on-premise]."

Cisco and rivals Avaya, Mitel and Shoretel have launched cloud services to prevent fast-growing startups from taking the emerging market. A significant portion of Cisco's cloud-based UC sales is from its WebEx product for online meetings.

WebEx has its roots as a desktop application, however, so its performance on mobile devices is not as good as competitors' software built for the smaller screens.

Project Squared was developed with mobile devices in mind and presents a relatively simple interface for small groups of people to create virtual rooms for trading messages, sharing content and making voice and video calls. The online-only software is available at no charge for companies to test.

Cisco has not released a product roadmap for Project Squared, which contains collaboration features available in other Cisco products. The company also won't say publicly how it plans to commercialize the software.

For now, the product is of limited use to companies, since it integrates only with online storage service Box, and communication can only take place between users. Cisco is promising integration with WebEx and Microsoft Exchange in the future.

Next Steps

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