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The VAR Guy

October 16, 2009

4 Min Read
Cisco Spots Opportunities, Challenges In Arizona

What does the future hold for Cisco Systems? The VAR Guy spotted Cisco opportunities and challenges this week in Arizona during two small but strategic conferences: Astricon and N-able Partner Summit. Here’s the scoop.

First, some background. Astricon, hosted by Digium, attracted roughly 620 developers, customers and partners focused on the Asterisk open source IP PBX. N-able Partner Summit attracted roughly 350 managed service providers running N-able’s remote monitoring and management (RMM) software. Cisco had a major presence at both events. Here’s why.

Cisco’s Asterisk Challenge and Opportunity

As Cisco watches the Asterisk market, The VAR Guy is reminded by the old saying: Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer. Asterisk and the related SwitchVox platform have helped Digium to grow and generate profits, according to Digium CEO Danny Windham.

Sure, some corporate IT folks aren’t familiar with Asterisk yet. But the Asterisk market is growing fast, and several solutions providers from New York mentioned that they’re now selling Asterisk rather than Nortel, Avaya and Cisco solutions. Again — Asterisk is a niche, but it’s growing.

The VAR Guy’s theory: Similar to how Linux servers have pressured the Windows and Unix markets, Asterisk will increasingly pressure the traditional PBX and VoIP markets.

Hardly surprising, Cisco is keeping close tabs on the Asterisk market. On the upside, Cisco spent time at Astricon promoting VoIP phones and other systems that link into Asterisk. But The VAR Guy predicts Cisco will reach an inflection point within two years.

Cisco will have three choices:

  • Cisco could ignore and dismiss Asterisk, asserting that it isn’t a business option. Microsoft made this mistake in the early days of Linux and is now paying the price. Cisco’s presence at Astricon suggests Cisco won’t make the same mistake in the Asterisk market.

  • Cisco could partner to learn more about Asterisk, perhaps through an API deal of some sort. Microsoft eventually made that type of move in the Linux market — partnering with Novell. But Cisco embracing Asterisk is a tricky decision, since any partnership would be seen as Cisco directly endorsing Asterisk — and potentially accelerating Asterisk-related sales that disrupt Cisco’s traditional VoIP business. It’s too soon to say if Cisco will take this route.

  • Cisco could by an Asterisk software company — namely, Digium. Again too soon to say. But nobody does acquisitions better. And if Digium appears to be getting too big too fast, The VAR Guy beleives Cisco will step in to buy Cisco.

To be clear: The bullet points above are speculation from The VAR Guy. But ultimately, Cisco will need to decide how it’s going to address Asterisk. And that’s why the company spent time at Astricon this week.

Cisco’s Revised MSP Opportunity

Meanwhile, a few miles from the Astricon conference N-able has been holding its annual N-able Partner Summit for about 350 managed service providers. Cisco is at that event as well. And the messages from Cisco have caught The VAR Guy’s ear.

Frankly, The VAR Guy is surprised Cisco hasn’t been far more aggressive working with MSPs. In recent months, the company has revamped its partner program for MSPs, allowing partners to leverage peer NOCs (network operation centers) rather than requiring partners to build their own NOCs.

But Cisco isn’t talking about MSP NOCs here at the N-able conference. Instead, the networking giant is pushing emerging opportunities like video surveillance, while also mentioning managed security, managed telephony, SaaS and storage services.

Will Cisco succeed with MSPs? Frankly, some of the best Cisco channel partners are already the top managed service providers listed on the annual MSPmentor 100 report.

Looking ahead to 2010, The VAR Guy believes there will be a land-grab involving a race to recruit Cisco VARs into MSP partner programs.

That’s good news for Cisco. But the networking company will also need to watch emerging threats in the market. And Asterisk is one of them.

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