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Cisco plans to offer virtual voice service

Cisco Systems Inc. will be making aspects of its IP voice technology available virtually and selling them as a service as part of a continuing set of improvements to its cloud computing strategy, the company's chief technology officer said.

Cisco will be “virtualizing voice products [to] sell voice as a service,” said Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior, in a webconference with reporters and analysts. “Certain aspects of voice will be virtualized.”

The move was somewhat expected, since Cisco is beginning to offer more cloud computing technologies as it faces an array of competitors in both the cloud computing and unified computing arenas.

Warrior and Doug Dennerline, senior vice president of Cisco's collaboration software group, talked about strategies and directions for collaboration and cloud technologies as part of the networking company's biggest annual user conference, Cisco Live, which is being held June 27 to July 2 in San Francisco.

Warrior didn't give details about virtualizing voice, but analysts said they assume it will be offered mainly in private clouds used in major corporations that already have Cisco networks. Conceivably, that could include clouds run by voice carriers that serve both businesses and consumers.

Warrior and Dennerline also said that Cisco will differentiate itself from other cloud computing vendors by allowing customers to use their own networking gear together with the services in the cloud.

In one example, Dennerline said the company's ASR 1000 router now includes Cisco's Webex webconferencing capabilities, which means, for example, that 300 people in a corporate headquarters facility could join a Webex session on a corporate LAN, instead of each of the 300 individuals being required to reach out to a networking cloud to be part of a global Webex session.

Cisco's Webex group operates 220,000 webconference meetings per day using nine network operations centers globally, according to Dennerline. While Webex has had great success, it can be improved, he noted. In one small example, he pointed out that Webex currently supports six windows with six videoconference participants per desktop at 15 frames per second. That's “not very good,” he added, noting that the video could be high definition, and Cisco is working on that.

Webex Connect, Cisco's webconferencing tool, will be upgraded by the end of the summer, Dennerline said. The new version will feature presence technology and instant messaging capability from the cloud, combined with on-premises IP video capabilities.

Regarding the fact that telecommunications service providers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. have cloud computing offerings of their own, Dennerline said that Cisco already delivers many managed services through service providers, but it will begin to offer more that are software-oriented. “Service providers will play a large role, and some will have part of the business,” he said. “They won't want to miss out on this market.”

Cloud computing has been estimated to be a $16 billion market globally in 2009, and that figure should jump to $42 billion in 2012, according to research firm IDC.

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