Cisco Attacks Microsoft Lync, But Will Anyone Care?

In 2010, Cisco Chief Executive John Chambers told reporters at the company's reseller conference in San Francisco, "We don't focus on other companies. We focus on market transitions."

The statement was a half-truth. Chambers should have said companies other than Microsoft.

On Monday, the eve of Microsoft's first Lync User Conference, Rowan Trollope, general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, posted a blog that that explained why Lync was inferior to Cisco's platform for unified communications and collaboration.

"I'm quite sure some of it will generate controversy but that's OK - it's a conversation worth having in our opinion," Trollope writes.

But as sometimes happens when brands or political campaigns "go negative," the whole thing is blowing up in Cisco's face, as analysts point out the weaknesses in Cisco's arguments.

The real takeaway, in fact, is that Cisco seems to be scared of what Microsoft is selling.

Cisco's Claims

Trollope's post isn't super nasty, at least not by Apple-v-Android standards. But he takes some shots at Microsoft Lync, calling it "a solution that's primarily been developed for a desktop PC user experience" and thus "less able to meet these wider post-PC requirements than one that has been designed and optimized for them from the outset."

An example of the latter, Trollope says, would be Cisco's UC&C, which is a set of integrated products, such as messaging, Internet telephony, video conferencing and data sharing. All the products are accessed through a single user interface.

Another of Trollope's criticism is that with Microsoft, customers need to go out and buy all sorts of different devices instead of getting everything from a single vendor. "And, in our opinion, that could lead to increased complexity, cost and risk, not to mention the hours spent trying to figure out `who's on first' when troubleshooting an issue."

And finally this:

"There are other important topics that we think should also be discussed. Does your collaboration vendor have any conflict of interest with other BYOD device vendors? Can you move from an in-house deployment to a cloud-based service and get the same functionality? We would encourage you to explore these points with us and any other vendors you are considering."

This is all pretty garden-variety competitive marketing, and certainly far less aggressive than what Microsoft does with its anti-Google "Scroogled" campaigns.

Nevertheless, analysts were quick to cry foul and to point out flaws in Cisco's arguments.

Cisco's Hypocrisy

A large part of what Trollope called a "frank and direct conversation" was a "little far fetched and hypocritical," Gartner analyst Steve Blood says.

Cisco claims Microsoft's Surface tablet represented a conflict of interest, since Lync would also support competing tablets from Apple and Google. Cisco seems to have forgotten its own entry into the tablet market with Cius, which failed miserably and was pulled last year. "It wasn't worried about a conflict of interest then," Blood says.

Cisco also has other conflicts when it comes to hardware. While its UC&C products work on other vendor's systems, they run best on Cisco's Unified Computing System. And when it comes to partners offering Cisco UC&C in the cloud, its UCS server is the only hardware option, Blood says.

Trollope claims Lync is more complex and expensive because customers need to get phones, video equipment, voice and video gateways and networking gear through hardware partners since Microsoft doesn't make those products, while Cisco sells its own integrated hardware and software.

Art Schoeller, analyst for Forrester Research, isn't buying Trollope's argument. "Each account is different in what they have, what they want, and what capabilities are important to them and what model appeals to them more," he says.

While Cisco arguably has a stronger hosted platform than Microsoft, Cisco's biggest resellers are also selling hosted Lync and Office 365, which is "a recognition by Cisco's partners that in some instances, the Microsoft solution is something they would want to propose in place of Cisco," Blood says.

The biggest problem Microsoft has in offering Lync in the cloud is with voice communications. In many countries, as soon as voice hits the cloud, it becomes a regulated service, much like that of a carrier. Microsoft and Cisco are solving the problem by partnering with carriers. "Currently, Microsoft promotes Lync on premise, if a customer wants deeper voice capabilities like conferencing," Schoeller says.

Cisco Feels The Competition

Cisco is going on the offensive because Microsoft is becoming a serious competitor, which is good for companies in the market for unified communications products. However, Cisco would do better to focus on customers, rather than spend time attacking the competition with "ill-prepared, and weak arguments such as this," Blood says.

In a recent interview with AllThingsD, Chambers said, "We love to compete, and we try to always compete with class."

If Chambers believes Trollope's blog is class, then he needs to look up the definition.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.