For as long as almost anyone can remember anything to do with collaboration in the cloud has been fairly fragmented. But with the unfurling this week of separate cloud services from Cisco and IBM it’s apparent that a long overdue wave of consolidation of collaboration services is finally in the offing.
With the launch of Project Squared, Cisco is the furthest along in terms of delivering an offering that IT service providers can broadly implement. In the case of Cisco, the company is leveraging its Webex collaboration service base to create a new cloud service that allows end users to share messages, post files, and start voice and video calls. Files are rendered in the cloud and are immediately viewable alongside messages with no downloading of files required.
Moreover, Cisco is making Project Squared available as an application that can be deployed by cloud service providers that participate in the company’s federated InterCloud service initiative. Down the road, Cisco also plans to expose application programming interfaces (APIs) that will make it easier for IT service providers to build applications on top of both Project Squared and third-party services, such as Box, that have signed up to become part of the larger Project Squared ecosystem.
IBM, meanwhile, has a similar set of ambitions in place. A new IBM Verse cloud service will initially be made available as a freemium service aimed at end users and small businesses. Intended as a rival offering to everything from Gmail to Microsoft Office 365, IBM Verse combines email, calendaring, file sharing, instant messaging, social networking, video, and analytics inside a single unified environment. IBM plans to also build mobile applications for Verse and integrate feeds from Twitter. Longer term, IBM will also make a private cloud implementation of IBM Verse available to larger businesses and government clients that its business partners will be able to resell.
In both instances Cisco and IBM are seizing a collaboration opportunity that has resulted from the fragmentation of these services in what might be considered a period of irrational cloud exuberance. There is no shortage of cloud services that offering any one of would result in several collaboration capabilities. But in the rush to get to market, very few of them were able to build a truly comprehensive collaboration service. Most organizations would rather contract for a secure set of cloud collaboration services offered at a reasonable price than navigate a bunch of isolated services that not only have separate contracts, but also have completely different user interfaces.
Obviously, Cisco and IBM are not the only major vendors to figure this out. Both Microsoft and Google are clearly moving to put all pieces in place to offer similar services. The thing that will be interesting to watch is the degree to which these more comprehensive offerings will be able to push out a host of other collaboration services, many of which were brought into organizations because the internal IT organization wasn’t able to provide access to a viable alternative.
Of course, some might argue that many of those services are already too entrenched to be replaced. But given all the concerns organizations have about security and anything involving what appears to be a public shared service, IT service providers might find that organizations using a "consumer-grade service" are going to be very open to conversations about business-class alternatives that are not only just as easy to use, but also perceived to be a whole lot more private.