Cisco Systems this week is briefing its partners on a big new collaboration push which -- surprising many -- includes a WebEx-branded hosted email service.
Jumping into hosted email, as Microsoft and others cut prices to compete with free or near-free Google offerings, is like a person diving into a bloodbath. He can do it, but why would he want to?
And while Cisco announced the availability of Cisco WebEx Mail in the U.S. and Canada, it was not ready to talk about how partners can make any money from it.
A Cisco executive, hosting a call on Friday, said the channel program for WebEx Mail was not available yet. The service itself "is initially available under a commission model and hosted by Cisco WebEx and so is not available in a white label environment," Richard McLeod, senior director of Cisco's go-to-market group, worldwide channels, told reporters.
He did say generally that Cisco is tweaking its programs to incent partners that invest in video and collaboration, but he provided no detail.
Hosted email: Maxed out market?
The broader question is whether there's need or any profit potential for yet another inexpensive hosted email offering. Everyone, after all, already has email and it's difficult to move people off the mail they have. On the other hand, some VARs see a method to this madness.
"Email is the gateway drug [to other applications] just like tobacco is a gateway drug to harder substances," said Kevin McDonald, vice president of Alvaka Networks, an Irvine, Calif., IT solution provider. "It' s one way to get an invoice into a company and start a relationship, and once you're in with email, it's the hardest thing to change."
Gia McNutt, CEO of SOS, a Loomis, Calif., Cisco partner, said all of these product announcements -- there were 60 in all -- are a big part of Cisco's foray into cloud computing.
"They want to own computing in the cloud space. [They] have a nice platform with their WebEx purchase and WebEx Connect as a computing-in-the-cloud workspace. WebEx is the "Kleenex" of online meetings right now, that's for sure," McNutt said via email. (Cisco bought WebEx and its eponymous hosted Web conferencing service two years ago. )
Hosted mail is a big part of that cloud shift, McNutt said. Of course, every other tech company from old-timers like IBM to Gen X consumer darlings like Google have also staked out that turf.
And, whether a business will scrap an existing hosted email service for a WebEx brand is open to question. VARs say customers are weary of unwieldy Microsoft stack upgrades that affect their Microsoft Exchange email, so those shops might find a hosted solution appealing because it insulates them from hardware and software upgrades. Microsoft is trying to woo those customers with its own hosted offerings, however.
Hosted email: Welcome to the bloodbath
No one disputes that email is a commodity. Microsoft earlier this month cut the price on its hosted Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) to $10 per user per month from $15. Google charges $50 for Google Apps Premier Edition, which bundles hosted email as well as a bevy of Microsoft Office-like productivity applications.
Los Angeles recently signed a hotly contested $7.2 million deal to use Google Apps Premier Edition to replace its on-premises Novell Groupwise email. Google beat out Microsoft Exchange for this account.
On Friday's call, McLeod said Cisco WebEx Mail builds on technology acquired from PostPath and will enable overworked IT departments to offload their email. It can support up to 25,000 mailboxes.
The basic Web mail, including Ironport security and up to five GB of storage, is $3.50 per user per month. Support for Outlook clients -- a near universal requirement -- and ActiveSync is another $1.50 per user per month. Microsoft isn't standing still. Besides the aforementioned BPOS price cuts, it made Exchange Server 2010 generally available on Monday.