Cloud is the latest buzz in the IT market, and we at Forrester have covered this quite extensively. As I reflect on 2011, this is a theme that has also played prominently in many collaboration vendor discussions — because it is a fundamentally better business model to deliver collaboration technology to users. Faster version cycle times, simplified management of deployed software, reduced TCO of a shared pool of cloud resources, and serving information workers directly are just some of the varied benefits for users, buyers, and vendors. The direct connection to end users is a key to accelerating adoption in the collaboration and growing social markets.

At their Collaboration Summit, Cisco affirmed their commitment to delivering cloud services. They described Cisco WebEx (web conferencing and meeting) and Cisco CallWay (video conferencing) as part of the Cisco Collaboration Cloud — and having used both of these, I can say with certainty that they are usable, simple, and appealing.

I believe that Cisco’s secret to success will be their robust channels approach. Richard McLeod, senior director handling worldwide channels for collaboration sales, runs programs for traditional channel partners helping to install and run collaboration solutions on premise. Others at Cisco, such as Amanda Jobbins, VP global partner marketing, spend a lot of their time thinking about service providers as channels and how Cisco can help them succeed. These leaders look for products Cisco has designed to deliver collaboration capable clouds — and is working to advance the adoption of them — for example:

  • Cisco VideoScape — a new video networking solution allowing combinations of video and collaboration content from multiple sources and to be delivered to multiple endpoints.
  • Cisco Unified Computing and Servers — a large-scale, manageable computing infrastructure to enable public and private clouds that host various collaboration solutions.

My point is not to describe Cisco’s collab strategy but to point out the layered approach to enabling collaboration clouds. Every vendor has a slightly different approach, and some examples include:

  • IBM integrating multivendor solutions into a social-based collaboration environment connected via a middleware layer leveraging WebSphere and Sametime.
  • Microsoft building data centers, offering Microsoft 365 direct and via channels, while fundamentally reengineering their application servers to enable multitenancy.
  • Cisco building cloud service capabilities and delivering discrete services, while enabling channels from VARs to global telcos to offer collaboration and social capabilities.

To succeed, vendors will need to diligently pursue the integration of cloud collaboration capabilities into cloud service provider networks and business processes. Vendors must help service provider channels do the following to accelerate adoption by buyers and users:

  1. Ensure that cloud services sales teams know how to identify sales leads and close sales.
  2. Integrate the cloud provisioning and management into existing OSS/BSS infrastructure from order-to-bill and throughout the management and monitoring process.
  3. Deliver flexible pay-as-you-go services that can satisfy the technology manager's needs for control and security as well as the end user's need for fast, flexible innovative services that help them get their job done.

The market is interested in cloud services — Forrester sees the retail cloud market growing at a 35% CAGR for the next five years. Buyers tell us they expect the cloud to deliver faster, more reliable deployments — and vendors stand to reap a rich reward as they eliminate barriers to adoption and help service providers deliver.