With Cisco's shuttering of Cisco Mail, multitenant cloud email is now (as my colleague Chris Voce called it) a battle royale between Microsoft, Google, and IBM, where the winner will have products, scale, sales channels, and big ecosystems of support.

I am not surprised that Cisco bailed on cloud email. All the signs were there:

  • The company overpaid for PostPath in the midst of a buying spree. PostPath (which made some folks a lot of money when it sold for $215M) was just one of 17 acquisitions Cisco made in 2007 and 2008. Clearly Cisco was feeling confident that it could buy its way into new markets. (And it did with WebEx.)
  • Cisco Mail was always to be released "any day now." It's fine to preannounce a product so that buyers know it's coming. But Cisco Mail never quite got shipped. The one reference customer never returned my phone calls.
  • Cisco's collaboration platform doesn't require email. Messaging is one of the four big boxes of collaboration stuff. (The others are conferencing, workspaces, and social technology.) Messaging in particular can be carved out and offered separately. Cisco doesn't need email. It has WebEx and video conferencing. (The jury's still out on presence, chat, video hosting, and social technology.)

So when Debra Chrapraty announced that Cisco would shutter its cloud email offering, it wasn't a shock and it was something I would have advised her to do. (And in fact I did advise some executives no longer with Cisco to do so.)

So what's next for Cisco? Cisco has had a great run as a premium supplier of networking and voice (and now video) equipment. But for Cisco to be a credible supplier of collaboration services, it must:

  1. Deliver great conferencing and video conferencing tools. Cisco has announced higher quality video over WebEx, more products, and better integration between presence, WebEx, and Telepresence. Cisco must deliver on time and ahead of expectations.
  2. Get prices down to drive web meeting seats. WebEx is full-featured, expensive, and often not available to individual employees. So employees are sidestepping IT and a budget discussion to solve their own problem with free or cheap web meeting services from LogMeIn, SlideShare, and Wiggio.
  3. Don't miss delivery or quality on Jabber and Show and Share. These products extend the conferencing and collaboration portfolio in meaningful ways. And they are both strategic to Cisco's core business of selling routers, switches, conferencing, and video services.