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Cisco brings CUCM into the Webex cloud

Cisco has brought its flagship IP-based telephony platform, CUCM, into the Webex cloud, offering large businesses private instances of the software similar to what is already available from Cisco HCS partners.

Cisco will host private instances of its flagship IP-based telephony platform in its cloud data centers to woo large businesses looking to move to the cloud with as little disruption as possible. It's the vendor's latest move to consolidate collaboration software in the Webex cloud.

The new offering, Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) Cloud, will let customers keep existing phones and third-party integrations in place as they transition to the cloud. Businesses will have the option of moving to CUCM Cloud in phases or instantly by exporting their existing user profiles to the cloud.

Businesses have had access for years to private instances of CUCM in the cloud through a product known as Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS). That offering is hosted in the data centers of Cisco's service provider partners, including Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.

In contrast, Cisco will host CUCM Cloud in the same global network of data centers that it uses to deliver Webex calling, messaging and meetings. The move is likely to renew speculation about the future of HCS, a question first raised when Cisco acquired the cloud calling provider BroadSoft last year.

Jamie Palmer, director of product management for Cisco cloud calling, acknowledged there would be some overlap between CUCM Cloud and HCS, but said the company remained committed to the latter offering. "This is not a replacement for HCS," he said.

Cisco will also sell CUCM Cloud in coordination with partners, who will manage each customer's migration to the cloud. Cisco's ten partners for the product at launch include smaller providers without a global network as extensive as Cisco's or a telecommunications giant like AT&T's, Palmer said.

"For partners who have invested in building HCS on their own, this is likely to come as unwelcome news," said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research. "But for other partners, this now opens an avenue for them to sell a cloud-based solution to existing Cisco on-premises customers."

Cisco wants to deliver as many collaboration services as possible from the Webex cloud because it is more efficient and cheaper to do so. The setup lets Cisco keep phone calls and other media traffic within its network rather than route that data through external points, such as a company's network or the costly PSTN.

Cisco also expects generate more revenue by hosting software in the Webex cloud. For example, the company will retain a larger percentage of the revenue generated by sales of CUCM Cloud than it does through sales of HCS, because it provides discounts to HCS partners for hosting CUCM in their data centers.

What's more, Cisco wants to use CUCM Cloud to boost adoption of Webex Teams and Webex Meetings. The offering comes with licenses to Webex Teams, which organizations can use as a presence and softphone client instead of Cisco's on-premises software, Jabber.

Cisco will also encourage customers that adopt CUCM Cloud to use the product in their headquarters while deploying Webex Calling -- a public cloud offering powered by BroadSoft's technology -- in branch offices.

Software vendors like Cisco ultimately hope to convince all of their customers to adopt public cloud technologies, through which businesses consume cookie-cutter versions of the same software from shared infrastructure.

But private-instance offerings like CUCM Cloud provide a necessary stepping stone for many large businesses. Customers still share physical servers in the cloud, but each is given a virtual instance, allowing for more security and customization.

"For the Cisco customer base, which is a lot of really large enterprises, this is what they want," said Zeus Kerravala, founder of ZK Research. "Every large enterprise I talk to is interested in the public cloud, but they aren't going to move 50,000 or 60,000 users over."

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