This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter - Recent posts by Zeus Kerravala.

Think of AppHQ as a business oriented Android marketplace.

Last year at Cisco Live, the company launched its Cius tablet (see “Zeus on Cius” blog). Today Cisco announced the AppHQ ecosystem, which provides the unique mobile experience for the tablet. AppHQ is an enterprise-focused repository for tablet-based applications. Think of AppHQ as a business oriented Android marketplace, which will have both a public and private element to it. I look at AppHQ as Cisco’s best attempt to get the Cisco Developer Network (CDN) program finally going.

The reason I think CDN is so important to Cisco is that it moves Cisco from being an ecosystem-supported company to being an ecosystem-led company. For years now, Cisco has been surrounded by a huge ecosystem of companies that support Cisco. This includes management platforms, testing tools and other things that make deploying or managing Cisco environments easier. Cisco is the lead and the ecosystem supports it.

An ecosystem-led approach is where the ecosystem builds solutions that sits on top of the platform and pulls through infrastructure. Microsoft is a good example of this, where ISVs create applications that run on Windows. The value is in the application, and Windows gets pulled through as the underlying platform. The ecosystem-led approach embeds the infrastructure vendor in the solution, protecting it from low-cost providers that sell merely off price. Ecosystem-led versus ecosystem-supported.

As an analyst that’s followed Cisco for many years, I’ve seen Cisco attempt to get CDN many times in the past. After the acquisition of Metreos, the company created a program called “Cisco Technology Developer Program” (CTDP), where it tried to build up an ecosystem of third party ISVs that would create applications for its VoIP phones. For those of you that know IPcelerate, they were one of the early CTDP members. Truth be told, CTDP wasn’t a bad program, but Cisco continually changed the structure of the APIs, charged too much for the support and, in my opinion, really didn’t have the desire to build a developer program.

Since then, the company has rolled out many other developer focused programs including the Application Exchange Program (AXP), WebEx Connect and Mobile Service Engine (MSE), as wall as many iterations of CTDP. All of these have had two things in common–they fell under the overall umbrella of CDN and they all failed to live up to the potential.

There’s an expression that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” so I might be getting fooled twice here, but I do think AppHQ will bear much more fruit than any of the other CDN initiatives did and here’s why:

* Focus on Android. Building a developer community from scratch can be very expensive and require a lot of patience. Ask Avaya, which spent millions on building DevConnect, its own developer environment. DevConnect struggled for years, but Avaya’s patience and the acquisition of Ubiquity created the environment that Avaya has now. Cisco certainly has the money to build its own community, but I’m not sure it has the patience to do so. The ability to tap into the Android community gives Cisco a huge number of developers to leverage. Only a small percentage of the current Android community will have an interest in corporate applications, but that’s still likely to be bigger than anything Cisco could have built on its own in a short time.

* The people running AppHQ have a software background. The previous CDN initiatives were run by individuals that had hardware backgrounds. The Cius and AppHQ leadership team includes people like Tom Puorro (from Microsoft) that have software backgrounds and understand what it takes to build a developer ecosystem.

* Focus from Cisco. Even if the above things had been in place, I’m not sure Cisco was ready to move from being an ecosystem-supported model to an ecosystem led one. It changes the way you deal with partners and your customers and, in some cases, you have to be willing to share the spotlight. Buyers won’t buy Cius because it’s from Cisco. They’ll buy it because it has unique, secure mobile applications on it that can make them more productive. I think the recent bludgeoning that Cisco has been receiving in the media has created a much more focused, aware Cisco that realizes it can’t always go it alone.

* Competitive pressure from Microsoft. Competing with Microsoft at the desktop is tough, if not impossible for Cisco. Changing the UC game to be more mobile and video oriented tips the scales in Cisco’s favor. Success with developers will lead to success with Cius, pushing customers further away from the desktop.

Cisco has talked the CDN talk for many years now but the results weren’t there. Cius, AppHQ and Android give Cisco the product and market opportunity to make this shift, so now its time to not just talk but to go walk the walk.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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