Entering into a new competitive segment, especially one dominated by major players with well-staked out turf, requires a level of hyperbole, dramatic positioning and a differentiable product. Cisco has certainly achieved all this and more in the first two years of shipment of its UCS product, and shows no signs of fatigue to date.
However, Cisco’s announcement this week that it is now part of Microsoft’s Fast Track Data Warehouse and Fast Track OLTP program is a sign that UCS is also entering the mainstream of enterprise technology. The Microsoft Fast Track program, offering a set of reference architectures, system specification and sizing guides for both common usage scenarios for Microsoft SQL Server, is not new, nor is it in any way unique to Cisco. Fast Track includes Dell, HP, IBM, and Bull. The fact that Cisco will now get equal billing from Microsoft in this program is significant – it is the beginning of the transition from emerging fringe to mainstream , and an endorsement to anyone in the infrastructure business that Cisco is now appearing on the same stage as the major incumbents.
Will this represent a breakthrough revenue opportunity for Cisco? Probably not, since Microsoft will be careful not to play favorites and will certainly not risk alienating its major systems partners, but Cisco’s inclusion on this list is another incremental step in becoming a mainstream server supplier. Like the chicken soup that my grandmother used to offer, it can’t hurt.
Computing is changing. The news last week showed that loud and clear, as Microsoft bet big on Skype’s voice and video technology and Google announced partnerships with Samsung and Acer to build laptops running its Chrome operating system. These developments point to a future where computing form factors, interfaces, and operating systems diversify beyond even what we have today. The “Post-PC Era” is underway, but its definition is not self-evident.
First, some history. “Post-PC” has been a buzzword in the past few months, since Steve Jobs announced at the iPad 2 launch event that Apple now gets a majority of its revenue from “post-PC devices,” including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad—a major milestone for a company that was originally named “Apple Computer.” The phrase was also part of the public discourse in 2004, when IBM sold its PC unit and former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz told The New York Timesthat “We've been in the post-PC era for four years now,” noting that wireless mobile handset sales had already far surpassed PC sales around the world. In fact, the “post-PC” concept is more than a decade old: In 1999, MIT research scientist David Clark gave a talk called “The Post PC Internet,” describing a future point at which objects like wristwatches and eyeglasses would be Internet-connected computing devices.
I'm not going to comment on the $8.5B purchase price, though I'm sure Marc Andreesen's investment company is happy with their return. And I'm not going to comment on the impact on Xbox, Hotmail, and Live.com. And I don't think this has anything to do with Windows Mobile.
But I am going to comment on the impact of the deal on the enterprise, and specifically on content and collaboration professionals responsible for workforce productivity and collaboration. When you strip it down to its essence -- Skype operating as a separate business unit reporting to Steve Ballmer -- here's what you need to know about the Skype deal:
First, Microsoft gets an important consumerization brand. Skype is a powerful consumer brand with a reported 600+ million subscribers. But it's also a "consumerization brand," meaning that it's a valuable brand for people who use Skype to get their jobs done. Consumerization of IT is just people using familiar consumer tools to get work done. It's a force of technology-based innovation as we wrote about in our book, Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, Transform Your Business. Google and Apple and Skype have dominant consumerization brands. Microsoft does not. Until now. And as a bonus, Google doesn't get to buy Skype. And more importantly, neither does Cisco.
The acquisition of Skype puts Microsoft into a commanding position in the consumer UC as a service market. To date, Microsoft has had little to say when Skype, Yahoo, AIM and others talked about enabling IM and adding voice and video. Their Microsoft Messenger voice services were less well known and less widely adopted. Today, Microsoft turned the tables, paying $8.5 billion to acquire Skype and its 170 million customers who value the “free” in free voice/video services so highly that they are willing to accept variability in quality of service and a service level agreement that specifically spells out, “Skype cannot guarantee that You will always be able to communicate with other Skype Software users, nor can Skype guarantee that You can communicate without disruptions, delays or communication-related flaws or that all Your communication shall always be delivered to other Skype Software users. Skype will not be liable for any such disruptions, delays or other omissions in any communication experienced when using Skype Software.” So, what did Microsoft get?
· 170 million customers whose online communications connections were one of the first social communications communities, and who are loyal to the Skype experience
· A worldwide peer-to-peer network that is proving increasingly able to deliver usable voice and video streams to PCs and increasingly mobile devices
· A portfolio of P2P technology media encoding algorithms with proprietary, non-public specifications