Tuesday, November 5, 2013

From Global Knowledge Clickbait to Discourse on Cisco's UC Domination

Bopping around on Twitter Monday, I ran across this tweet by Global Knowledge:

I figured I'd bite, but quickly determined that this whitepaper does NOT tell you how Cisco carved anything in anything.  It's just an overview of the CUCM solution.  This got me thinking it would be fun (Am I weird? Don't answer that.) to write a post that took into account all the things that made Cisco the leader in the Unified Communications space. So here goes my attempt at explaining the story.

Back in the day, you had the PBX.  And the PBX was a MONSTER.  It was complicated to manage, really expensive (both up-front and for recurring maintenance), and inflexible as all-get-out.  Initially, PBX services only augmented services provided by the PSTN, namely dial-tone.  Then came voicemail solutions, and ACD solutions, and ring-downs, and you get the idea..  By the time the mid-90's rolled around computer networks, or Local Area Networks (LANs),  were becoming more mainstream and leading the vendor pack was Cisco.  Cisco was founded in 1984 as a network vendor that sold routers, used for connecting disparate network segments (and sometimes disparate protocols) together, over various transportation mediums.  These networks could be local on the LAN, or remote via circuits provided by the telcos.  In, 1993, Cisco entered the LAN switching market by acquiring Crescendo Communications. Over the next few years, Cisco rounded out the LAN switching porfolio by acquiring Kalpana and Grand Junction Networks.  With this dominance in computer networking, Cisco began to earn a loyal IT following because their solutions JUST WORKED. 

In addition to the Crescendo acquistion, another interesting thing happened in 1993...the creation of the Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) certification.  Thus began Cisco's dominance in another area: mindshare in being THE certification for the networking industry.  Cisco certifications are valued even by Cisco competitors, such as Juniper and Brocade.  Most IT departments view Cisco certifications as a requirement for positions ranging from Help Desk Technicians to Network Engineers.  By creating their certification program early-on, they got the jump on other possible industry giants that might have wanted to create as reputable a certification portfolio.

During the mid-90's, the Internet Protocol (IP) was becoming the de facto standard, and with it more and more applications as well as traditionally isolated solutions were being ported to run over IP-based networks.  One of those solutions was the PBX.  Now in most companies the PBX was owned and operated by the facilities department.  Because the PBX was a huge capital investment, akin to things like real estate and furniture, it made sense for the onus of the PBX to be on facilities.  Keep that in the back of your mind for a bit, we'll come back to it.  The first IP-based PBX was Selsius System's CallManager.  Selsius was formed in 1997, out of another company called Intecom.  Cisco took note of what Selsius was doing with IP-based voice, and decided to make an offer for them.  They successfully beat out Nortel for the bid, and acquired Selsius in November of 1998.  Oh how things would have been different if Nortel had won that bid....  If you want to read more on some history here with Selsius, check out this old post by Mark Nelson, a Cisco employee.

With IP-based solutions, the IT department started to own more and more corporate infrastructure.  Network engineering jobs saw an increase in demand, which required people with Cisco certifications like the CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE.  Therefore, Cisco's network market share increased because these certified folks wanted to work on the same gear they studied for.  See what they did there?

After the acquisition of Selsius, Cisco spent two years getting the product ready for prime-time.  In 2000, Cisco released version 3.0 of Cisco CallManager, which was the first Cisco branded release of the product.  Remember the facilities department and their grasp on the PBX?  Well, CallManager was pitched to IT departments, specifically NETWORK ENGINEERS.  This effectively supplanted the facilities department's long-held PBX vendor relationships.  Well played, Cisco, well played.   This was really a perfect storm.  Cisco was the IT department's friend, because their stuff "just worked".  Ever hear the phrase "Nobody ever got fired for buying x", where x equals a big IT vendor.  Well, because the IT department was being handed more and more solutions, it made sense for them to take the least risky path.  Even with the bugs that plagued those early CallManager releases, Cisco's world class support was there to allow those customers to rest easily knowing that they were in good hands.  This path of least risk is further proven by this brand survey, which puts Cisco at the top of the heap.  The author specifically calls out risk aversion as one of the main reasons for Cisco's leadership.

A strong component of the Cisco strategy has always been to sell and deliver solutions through the use of the Value Added Reseller channel.  The channel acts as an extension to Cisco's sales and engineering staff, without incurring direct expenses associated with the relationships.  Cisco certifications also play heavy into the channel space, because in order to be able to sell certain Cisco products, the Cisco VAR (also referred to as Cisco Partner) must have engineering talent on staff for the products in question.  Cisco Partners often sell other technology solutions as well, including those made by Microsoft, HP, IBM, etc.  This means that oftentimes, the partner sales rep has relationships with accounts that Cisco's own sales team might not have.  Talk about hedging your bets.  This channel delivery model has without a doubt been one of the key components involved with Cisco's dominance in various markets, including Unified Communications.

Oh, there's one more thing that Cisco did to help solidify their position as a market leader. Ever watch an episode of 24 and noticed a Cisco IP Phone? What better way to subtly influence a society full of TV-watchers than to put your products in the middle of TV shows! Genius! This started back in 2005, which was still relatively early for Cisco's UC portfolio.  But it got the image of those phones out there, you know, saving the world and stuff.

Everybody got the recipe for UC success?

Build a brand on a reliable premise, such as the plumbing of your corporate IT infrastructure.  Create a "club" mentality with certifications that aren't that easy to obtain, and that are respected by IT departments.  Encourage people to get said certifications because they will get you network engineering jobs.  Buy a VoIP company.  Stir new and old product offerings until well mixed.  Leverage partners for extending sales and engineering teams. Sell to your certified network engineers in IT departments everywhere. Make tons of money.  Sounds easy, eh?  Thanks for reading!


MommyWorksToo said...

I'm posting to this on Linkedin, and found it on Reddit. This is a great summation. Cisco has had a fair eye, in the past, for developing existing technology and branding their certifications. They made a grave mistake in the last decade by putting way too many hands in way too many cookie jars (Linksys, Flip, etc), but are really reigning it in and getting back to their roots by consolidating their UC offerings in small and medium business into lighter versions of UCM, as well as emerging as a front runner with UCS. Changing the licensing in CUCM 9 was a wise move, and I value my Cisco certs. However, I'm secretly glad SIP has taken precedence (mostly because debugging H323 makes me sad inside).

Thanks for the casually but well written blog post. I'm tired of reading dry articles in trade mags that are thinly veiled advertisements. :) -Lindsey

Matt Bynum said...

Thanks for the feedback, Lindsey! Yeah, SIP became my favorite protocol the second I saw an INVITE message. :) And I completely agree with you on the subject of Cisco and their broad ranging portfolio. For a while there, Cisco's product offerings didn't feel very "unified", so it's good to see things like Prime Collaboration and B2B/B2C options for the UC 10.0 releases.