Cisco sees telco hosted mail partners — just not yet

Shortly after the launch by Cisco of a slew of new unified communications and collaborative technologies earlier today, I was able to touch base with a company executive for some additional insights into the service provider impact of its moves.

Cisco emphasized its long-term focus of working closely with service providers and highlighted some new products likely to be delivered with the help of operators.

But perhaps the day’s most interesting new product, a hosted e-mail offering dubbed WebEx Mail that will not only compete but emulate some of the protocols within Microsoft Exchange, will be delivered solely as a cloud service directly by Cisco — at least for the time being.

“WebEx Mail, at least in the initial release, will be a Cisco-offered hosted service,” said David Hsieh, vice president of marketing for Cisco’s emerging technology group, noting that also for now, the service will be available only in the U.S.and Canada. “As we expand that market, we’ll be looking at partners,” he said.

Hosted e-mail is an important telco application, especially in the SMB market, where many providers work closely with Microsoft to offer hosted Exchange deployments.

Overall, Hsieh said, “one of [Cisco’s] great differentiators from our competitors has been our strategy to work [closely] with service providers,” noting that many of the premise-based services it outlined today would likely be offered eventually as managed services, possibly with third-party partners such as telecom and hosting providers.

Hsieh pointed to several software capabilities, including a new TelePresence directory that serves as a “white pages” for users of that sophisticated videoconferencing technology, likely to be quickly supported by service providers. To date, eight service providers have partnered with Cisco to offer inter-company TelePresence services, Hsieh said.

One of the key themes in its announcements today, Hsieh added, was a “sliding scale” approach to application deployment that “provides as much flexiblity as possibility around [deploying] hosted and cloud-based services.”

Within that concept is the notion ofa “private cloud,” which could be run by service providers on behalf of large enterprise users, as well as public cloud services, likely to be run by many companies, including software players, hosting companies, telecom operators and others. “Partnering with service providers is a key to making that sliding scale happen,” Hsieh said.

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