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BroadSoft cloud calling begins to eclipse Cisco HCS

Cisco is pushing BroadSoft service providers to sell into the midmarket and above, raising questions about the future of Cisco HCS.

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Cisco has begun to target its BroadSoft cloud calling platform at market segments served for years by Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution, signaling a strategic shift away from the latter's model of delivering voice through single-tenant clouds.

Cisco has sought to reassure service providers that it continues to invest in Cisco HCS despite its $1.9 billion acquisition of BroadSoft in February. At the BroadSoft Connections conference last week, the vendor said the license base of HCS had grown by 25% over the past year, to 6 million enterprise users.

At the same time, Cisco has unveiled an initiative to help BroadSoft service providers expand beyond the small businesses market. The effort is targeted at businesses with up to 1,000 seats to start, but the BroadSoft platform is already capable of scaling to support tens of thousands of users per company.

As that initiative threatens to bring BroadSoft into competition with HCS, Cisco and its service provider partners have been reluctant to say they prefer one platform over the other, a posture that may make it difficult for some enterprises to figure out which to choose.

"The idea is not to get rid of either platform but to find ways to bring them closer together and take advantage of the strengths of both," Michael Tessler, the co-founder of BroadSoft who now heads Cisco's cloud calling division, told service providers at the conference. "We continue to invest in HCS. You should continue to sell HCS."

Through Cisco HCS, which serves the large enterprise market, service providers take the same technology used to power Cisco's on-premises voice platforms and host it in their data centers, maintaining a separate cloud instance for each customer. In contrast, BroadSoft is a Multi-tenant, over-the-top platform, a cloud delivery model that is generally cheaper but less customizable.

I truly believe that's what's ahead is that truly hybrid environment where you don’t have to pick a platform.
Alvaro RieraNWN Corporation

In the short term, Cisco has said HCS remains the best choice for existing large enterprise voice customers that want to move to the cloud while protecting their investments in Cisco hardware and maintaining a familiar user interface for their employees. 

But in a trend that should offer clues on Cisco's long-term plans, service providers that had previously only sold HCS -- such as NWN Corporation -- are now working with Cisco to get set up with BroadSoft as well.

Cisco's acquisition of BroadSoft raised concerns among service providers about the future of HCS, said Chris Ludwig, a senior vice president of NWN. Cisco reassured NWN in subsequent conversations that HCS would remain viable for at least another five to seven years, he said.

In part, Cisco HCS remains relevant because BroadSoft doesn't yet support some of the more advanced telephony features large enterprises need, such as integration with customer relationship management software. But those types of features will be added in time, Ludwig said.

Within two to three years, BroadSoft should be able to satisfy the needs of the majority of businesses, Ludwig said. For large enterprises, "it's going to be HCS or maybe a blend of HCS and [BroadSoft]."

Meanwhile, Cisco plans to use BroadSoft's mobility features to enhance HCS. BroadSoft has deep integrations with service providers' mobile cores, letting users seamlessly transfer calls between desk phones and cell phones. HCS service providers that also run BroadSoft will soon be able to deliver that same service to HCS customers.

The mobility integration between HCS and BroadSoft will likely be the first of many as Cisco works to consolidate its cloud calling portfolio behind the scenes. Service providers have been pushing Cisco to create a single management console for administering both platforms.

"I truly believe that's what's ahead, is that truly hybrid environment where you don’t have to pick a platform," said Alvaro Riera, director of product and services development for NWN. "And from an end-user perspective, I should not be able to see any difference. And from an operator perspective, it should be seamless as well."

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