Cisco Pushes Into Social Networking

SAN JOSE, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- Cisco ( CSCO) is planning a major push into corporate social networks with its new Quad technology, which it claims will overcome the limitations of email.

"It brings together all the things that you do in social networking in the consumer world, with stuff that we think is important for the enterprise, like security," Murali Sitaram, vice president of Cisco's Enterprise Collaboration Platform Group, told TheStreet. "It's like a campus quad -- over time, you will find that usage patterns will move from email to things like Cisco Quad."
Cisco

A bold claim, but Cisco clearly thinks it is onto something. Many consumers, for example, rely heavily on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter for communication, particularly compared to older Webmail technologies such as Microsoft's ( MSFT) Hotmail.

Essentially a hybrid of social networking and security technology such as virtual private networks (VPNs), Quad borrows heavily from the consumer world.

The Web-based solution provides a Facebook-style activity feed and also lets users send secure instant messages and embedded videos around select groups of employees. The product is designed to work on mobile devices and desktops and Cisco's forthcoming Cius business tablet.

Email has also reached a critical point in the business world, according to Sitaram. "We feel that email is a very strong tool, but it has probably outlived its utility," he said. "Email is not going to disappear but it has sort of reached a plateau in terms of what it can give organizations."

The Cisco executive explained that while email works well for short messages between individuals, the technology is less effective for "many to many" communication. Multiple copies of the same email, for example, will often swirl inefficiently around an organization, placing an additional burden on companies' storage systems and providing a headache when data needs to be accessed for compliance or legal purposes.

Cisco's strategy is to bring communications together within the Quad platform and push the technology onto corporate users, a realm where email is still king and where convincing CIOs to rethink their communication infrastructure could be a dautning task.

Undeterred, Sitaram points to the large numbers of Gen X and Gen Y people entering the workplace. "Over the next three to five years, there will be a big transformation," he said, adding that these workers are much more used to social networking tools.

Cisco is not the only tech giant attempting to bring social networking into the corporate realm. Microsoft's Sharepoint is also widely used for sharing corporate data, and cloud specialist Salesforce.com ( CRM) recently said that its Chatter social networking technology, used by about 20,000 small and medium-sized business users, accounts for about a quarter of the company's total customer base.

Sitaram, however, claims that Quad offers more real-time communication than Microsoft Sharepoint, specifically around IM, voice and video.

Around a dozen Cisco customers have already started deploying Quad, and the technology is expected to become fully rolled out within the next 12 months. Quad apps for Apple's ( AAPL) iPhone and iPad will be launched this quarter with Google ( GOOG) apps coming in the first quarter of 2011 (coinciding with the Cius launch), and Blackberry apps arriving in the subsequent quarter.

Cisco is currently tearing out its own intranet and replacing it with Quad, according to Murali. The networking giant will have around 70,000 employees on the Quad platform by the end of October.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

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