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Microsoft, Cisco partner on cloud UC interoperability

Microsoft and Cisco unveiled an alliance this week for better interoperability between their cloud UC products.

Microsoft and Cisco are joining forces to make it easier for businesses to use their cloud UC and collaboration products side by side.

The long-awaited partnership will allow for better interoperability between meeting room systems for Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams beginning in early 2020.

The move is an about-face for Microsoft. The company had indicated just one year ago that it was not interested in partnering with Cisco for collaboration interoperability, despite a significant overlap in customers.

But next year, Microsoft and Cisco will make it possible to natively join a meeting on the other's platform from web-enabled Webex and Microsoft Teams room systems. Today, that level of interoperability is possible only through the use of a third-party interoperability service.

The configuration relies on the latest web-based standards for real-time communication, known as WebRTC. Microsoft is also partnering with Zoom in launching the feature, and both vendors are expected to support additional partners in the future.

"This is a big deal, as it meets an increasing need for room systems to support more than one meeting vendor," said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research. "We may finally be on the cusp of room systems that can easily join multiple meeting services."

Microsoft to certify Cisco cloud services

Microsoft has partnered with several leading hardware vendors to make meeting room kits for Teams. However, many businesses have already invested heavily in software-agnostic video devices from vendors like Logitech, Poly and Cisco.

Microsoft previously certified interoperability services from BlueJeans, Poly and Pexip to let businesses connect legacy video devices to Teams through a cloud gateway using the standards H.323 and SIP.

This week, Microsoft said it would certify Cisco as a video interoperability partner in early 2020. The three existing interoperability services already work with Cisco endpoints, but Cisco said its version would be easier to implement and troubleshoot.

Nemertes Research has found that roughly half of Teams customers were planning to purchase an interoperability service. The release of Cisco's service could make it harder for BlueJeans, Poly and Pexip to sell to businesses that use Cisco gear, Lazar said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft said it would certify Cisco's session border controllers (SBC) to work with direct routing. The latter configuration lets businesses connect third-party telecom services to Teams for voice calls. The setup requires routing voice traffic through a Microsoft-certified SBC.

Microsoft, Cisco respond to customer demand

The alliance between Microsoft and Cisco will come as welcome news to the countless businesses that use technology from both vendors. However, it remains to be seen whether the competitors will extend their cooperation beyond what they announced this week.

Microsoft and Cisco compete in the markets for calling, messaging and meeting. But Microsoft has a larger footprint in many enterprises because it also sells email and productivity tools through Office 365, now used monthly by more than 200 million workers.

Until now, Microsoft has resisted working directly with Cisco on interoperability, forcing Cisco to rely on Microsoft's publicly available APIs to integrate collaboration software with Office 365. While not perfect, the integrations were important enough to Cisco for the company to highlight them in keynotes and blog posts.

"The market trend has been to integrate widely to provide the most enterprise value," said Wayne Kurtzman, an analyst at IDC. "Microsoft is catching up for lost time, and seeking greater interoperability and integration to Microsoft 365."

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